Can Alien Ladies Vote?

Updated 17 December 2015

New Zealand is very proud of the fact that it was the first “country” (it was still really a British colony) to give women the vote.  The Electoral Act 1893 was enacted on 19 September 1893 in preparation for 28 November elections.

My gg-grandmother Emily Kinley Wilson, Mrs Robert William Black had signed the 1893 Petition and was likely a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) as the Black family were noted as being teetotal (some more research is needed here!).

But I couldn’t find her on the 1893 Electoral Roll.  I originally thought that perhaps she just signed the petition because everyone else was, until I realised one small detail – Emily was an alien.

No, not a little green man, but a person who was not born a British subject.

Emily had been born in Pennsylvania and as an American was an alien.  However, under section 6 of New Zealand’s 1866 Aliens Act, upon her marriage to Robert William (born in Ireland therefore a British subject) she became a naturalised British subject by marriage.

So why, on 26 September 1893, did she lodge naturalisation papers?  In order to vote?  Surely she didn’t need to?

Photos 2015-11-18 003

This letter to Canterbury’s Star newspaper (from Papers Past) on the same day shows that there was some confusion over alien women and naturalisation by marriage:

Star - 26-09-1893 Can Alien Ladies Vote - header

Star - 26-09-1893 Can Alien Ladies Vote

Another news item in the Bruce Herald (Otago) on 6 October indicates that the question came up in Parliament on 2 October.  The Hon Sir Patrick Buckley confirmed the right of alien women married to British Subjects to vote.

I asked Graham Langton, previously of Archives NZ, about the situation.  He said that firstly I should check the Supplemental Rolls for the 1893 Electoral Roll.  Many women voters were listed on the Supplemental Rolls because some of the main Rolls had been finalised months before the new legislation allowing them to vote had been enacted.

He was right – there was Emily.  So she was able to vote in that election.

He also suggested that I check back at Archives to see when Emily’s naturalisation was granted.  Which I have done.  And it wasn’t (see below for how to access the naturalisation list).

So, it would appear that Emily did not need to be naturalised to vote.  As she already was, by marriage.  But briefly a mountain was made out of a molehill!

Some further sources

Women, the vote and the 1893 election – New Zealand Parliament

Search the 1893 Suffrage Petition for you ancestress

Archway – search for naturalisation papers

Archives NZ Guide to Citizenship

Archives NZ – Register of Persons Naturalised in New Zealand before 1949 – listed alphabetically by surname – click on the relevant page number on the left – remember married women generally were not naturalised as they got their citizenship through their husbands

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