Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Beyond the Suffrage Petition - History from Below

Women working in the Roslyn Woollen Mill. MNZ-0704-1/4-F. Alexander Turnbull Library /records/23246571

Making the invisible visible, and telling history from below – these are some of the key themes that have stuck with me from our biographical work on the 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition.

The lives of ordinary, working-class, nineteenth-century women can be hard to find in government archives. The opportunity to rescue their stories and make them visible has been a major success of the project. We now know a lot more about women who may not have been active organisers or community leaders, but who nonetheless added their name to the cause of women’s franchise – women such as Elizabeth Rosevear, housekeeper; Henrietta McKaigue, domestic servant; and Fanny Oliver, the wife of a bricklayer. These are individuals who, by acting together, made history.

This is not only a type of history from below – an historical narrative that emphasises the perspective of common people rather than leaders – but a history by and for below. This has very much been a project of collaboration and crowdsourcing, motivated by love of the documents and the stories they tell rather than for material gain or academic prestige. 

Thanks to the passion and energy of family historians, students, librarians, archivists, and other researchers, these stories are now not only visible, but accessible. Anyone with an internet connection can explore the online database, read the research, and make their own contribution through the comments function. It is only fitting that the suffragists’ struggle for wider participation in society finds its ideals echoed, all these years later, in the way these biographies have been created and shared.

My contribution to 'Beyond the Suffrage Petition', a Facebook Note by NZHistory.

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