15 Dec 2020

Kate Sheppard House opens doors as public museum

From Afternoons, 1:25 pm on 15 December 2020

The Kate Sheppard House in Christchurch officially opened as a public museum yesterday, 132 years after the pioneering feminist moved into the property.

Prime Minister Ardern officially opened the house in the Christchurch suburb of Ilam. Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, spoke to Jesse about the opening which has been a long time in the making.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons / By Schwede66 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Pickles says it was a beautiful Canterbury day and a number of women MPs and decedents of Sheppard were gathered at the event.

“It was a big event with a lot of excitement. It marks a whole new history for the house and the public site, it belongs to the nation after its 132 years of private ownership.”

The house is a wooden villa built in the late nineteenth century and is more famous for its cultural heritage than any architectural flourish.

“It’s most significant because it’s not only where the [Sheppard] family lived, but it was where Kate worked for the vote and, as we know, New Zealand was the first place in the world to enfranchise all women in 1893, so this is the epicentre, the global epicentre where suffrage for women – which is the cause celebre of the last 200 years of modern western feminism – that’s where it happened, on that piece of ground in that little wooden villa.”

Pickles says Sheppard’s campaign for suffrage was tied into her involvement with the temperance movement and she believed that if a bunch of unruly men could vote, then sensible and maternal women should be able to as well.

Because women couldn’t stand for Parliament, the work carried on from home after success with suffrage. Sheppard and her colleagues continued to fight for women’s causes including the right for maternal custody of children.

Pickles says that unlike other home museums, such as Katherine Mansfield’s which are owned by trusts, Kate Sheppard’s house is in full public ownership.

“This house now belongs to the nation. It’s up to all citizens to make of it what they will. We own it, everybody owns it. It’s a collective.”