Te Papa highlights the legacy of female suffrage

On 19 September, exactly 125 years since Aotearoa became the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the vote, Te Papa will open a pop-up exhibition and launch a new Te Papa Press publication to mark Suffrage 125.

Dr Bronwyn Labrum, Te Papa’s Head of New Zealand and Pacific Cultures and her team are using stories from the last 125 years to reflect on gender rights today.

“This year provides us with an opportunity to look at the legacy of female suffrage – to celebrate the milestones that have been fought for and won, but to also acknowledge that the battle for equality is ongoing,” she says.

“I remember the centennial suffrage celebrations in 1993, and the reality is that not much has fundamentally changed in terms of advances in women’s rights in the last 25 years. There is still pay inequality, while sexism and sexual abuse are experienced at every level of society.

“However, the tide certainly feels like it’s turning. There’s renewed energy, a braveness to ‘call it’ and momentum for change. I feel very hopeful about the changes we’ll be able to examine for Suffrage 150.”

Pop-up exhibition: Te Tohe mō ngā Take Wāhine | Doing It for Themselves: Women Fight for Equality

To honour Suffrage 125, Te Papa curators have initiated a special collecting project, sourcing contemporary items related to women’s rights. Recent acquisitions include a breast pump from former Green MP and writer Holly Walker, the NopeSisters T-shirt which addresses sexual abuse, a menstrual cup from MyCup, a company committed to ending period poverty, a suit worn by Dame Jenny Shipley on her first day in office as New Zealand’s first-ever female Prime Minister, and Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban’s puletasi (formal Sāmoan outfit) which she wore to give her maiden speech as New Zealand’s first Pacific Island female Member of Parliament.

Dr Katie Cooper, who is heading the collecting project and curator of the exhibition says: “We’re in discussions with a number of female leaders, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, about acquiring items from them for the national collection and this project will continue throughout this anniversary year.

Some of these recently acquired items, along with objects from Te Papa’s extensive collections, will feature in the pop-up exhibition.

“With this exhibition, we honour women who fought and continue to fight for gender equality. We’re presenting the tools they have used to make their voices heard, and markers of their success,” says Dr Katie Cooper.

Te Tohe mō ngā Take Wāhine | Doing It for Themselves: Women Fight for Equality will be located on level 3, Te Papa and will run until the end of February 2019.

Te Papa Press book: Women Now: The Legacy of Female Suffrage

Several objects from the exhibition also feature in a new publication from Te Papa Press, which will be launched on 19 September at Te Papa.

Women Now: The Legacy of Female Suffrage, edited by Dr Bronwyn Labrum, is a collection of essays by 12 authors in response to an object in Te Papa’s collections.

Dame Fiona Kidman reflects on contraceptive pills, Grace Taylor on a Pussyhat from the controversial Pussyhat Project in response to Donald Trump’s expressed disrespect for women, Sue Bradford on New Zealander Frances Parker’s Suffragette Medal for valour on hunger strikes, and Tina Makereti on a poi created by Ngahina Hohaia as a reflection on whakapapa, power, and grace, amongst others.

“The book aims to prompt readers to reflect on and rethink their ideas about women’s rights and where we are going 125 years on from that historic moment,” says Dr Bronwyn Labrum.


There is also a range of events taking place at Te Papa around and in the lead-up to the anniversary of Suffrage 125 including:

  • Young Feminist Hui – Sat 15 Sep 10am–5pm, Te Huinga Centre, Level 3, Te Papa, free
    In collaboration with a team of young Wellington feminists from local high schools to discuss what the feminist landscape of modern Aotearoa looks like from a variety of different perspectives. To book your place visit tepapa.nz/hui

  • Exhibition tours and talks – throughout October 2018
    Join us for a series of curator lead tours of Te Tohe mō ngā Take Wāhine | Doing It for Themselves: Women Fight for Equality

  • Kids Polling Booth – Sat 24 & Sun 25 November, free
    To mark the day that women first voted in 1893, Te Papa invites young people and their whānau to participate in a Kids’ Polling Booth, in partnership with Barbarian Productions.


Te Papa has a range of female spokespeople, all experts in their fields of study who would be happy to reflect on what this Suffrage 125 anniversary means to them.

  • Dr Bronwyn Labrum, Head of New Zealand and Pacific Cultures

  • Puawai Cairns, Head of Mātauranga Māori

  • Dr Susan Waugh, Head of Science

  • Charlotte Davy, Head of Art

For exhibition and Te Papa related interview requests please contact:

Andrea Tandy
029 601 0010

For book giveaways and Te Papa Press interview requests please contact:

Belinda Cooke
021 481044

Notes to the editors

On 19 September, 125 years ago – 25 years ahead of the United Kingdom – New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the vote. Ten weeks later on 28 November 1893, women flocked to polling booths to make sure their votes counted.



  • Breast pump: An electronic breast pump used by Holly Walker while she was a Member of Parliament for the Green Party, which reveals some of the complexities of balancing motherhood and paid employment.
    Image credit and caption: Electric breast pump, about 2012, South Korea, by Unimom. Gift of Holly Walker, 2018. Te Papa.

  • Pussyhat: This Pussyhat represents the Pussyhat Project which was launched after Donald’s Trump election as President of the United States to prepare for the Women's March on Washington and Sister Marches around the world on 21 January 2017.
    Image credit and caption: Pussyhat, 2017, New Zealand, by Erin Kennedy. Gift of Erin Kennedy, 2017. © Te Papa. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (GH018161)

  • Women can do anything badge: A ‘Women can do anything’ badge worn by writer Anne Else as a symbol of her solidarity with the women’s liberation movement.
    Image and credit: Badge, ‘Women can do anything’, 1970s-1980s, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of Anne Else, 2004. Te Papa (GH014496)

  • Suffragette medal: New Zealander Frances Parker’s Suffragette medal awarded in the 1900s for her bravery as a suffrage activist. More info: Who was Frances Parker?
    Image credit and caption: Frances Parker’s Women's Social and Political Union Medal for Valour, 1912, England, by Toye & Co. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (GH024772)

Download images