Fantastic female role-models you’ve never heard of: No.3, Kate Sheppard

Leader of the first successful campaign anywhere in the world to get women the vote

Kids need role models. But more than that, they need role models to whom they can relate. How many kids today can relate with rather stuffy looking middle-aged, wealthy white men with huge sideburns and whiskers? Yet these are often the people we hold up as role models and put on banknotes. I am doing my own little bit to try to address this by bringing you a new ‘fantastic female role-model you’ve never heard of’ each fortnight. Previous weeks have looked at the world’s first ever computer programmer (Ada Lovelace) and a mixed-race Brazilian composer (Chiquinha Gonzaga) who was wildly successful in her lifetime, but who is hardly remembered now. This week I’m going to look at a pioneer of votes for all (not just women) who made her country the first to give women the vote. But, no, she isn’t a Pankhurst and, no, it wasn’t in the UK. This week our 'fantastic female role model you’ve never heard of' is Kate Sheppard: the woman who made New Zealand the first country to give women the vote.

So who was Kate?

Kate in 1905

Image attribution: Author unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kate Sheppard was a Scouser, that is to say, she came from Liverpool in north-west England. She was born there in 1847, but moved to New Zealand as a young woman when her mother emigrated there after her father died.

What did she do then?

Once she arrived in New Zealand, she became part of something called the ‘Temperance Movement’. This movement encouraged people to drink less alcohol or stop drinking it all together. Very soon, though, through talking to other women in her group, Kate became interested in the idea of votes for women. For her it wasn’t simply a political subject, but a question of what was morally right. Kate said at the time, "all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome." She quickly became a popular speaker on the topic and organised many events.

Hold on a second, women couldn’t vote in New Zealand at this time?

Women couldn’t vote in general elections in any democratic country at this time. What Kate was talking about was hugely controversial and campaigners in other countries had been put in prison.

OK. So what happened with Kate?

A newspaper cartoon of the presentation of the 1893 petition to parliament.

In 1887, Kate helped with the creation of the first women’s suffrage (voting) bill. It wasn’t passed, but this only encouraged Kate to work harder and the following year she published a pamphlet entitled ‘Why the women of N.Z. should vote’. This helped to gain more support for the cause and in 1891 she led a petition which was presented to the New Zealand parliament. Again, it failed, but Kate kept going. She led another petition the following year which, again, failed. Undeterred, in 1893 Kate launched another petition and this time she gained support in parliament for another women’s suffrage bill. And this time, the bill was passed.

Kate didn’t have long to celebrate - the 1893 general election was ten weeks away and no women were registered to vote. Kate and her colleagues from the Temperance Movement toured around the country (believe me this isn’t easy even today) getting women to register. In the election two-thirds of women cast a vote, which is incredible, particularly when you consider turn-outs for elections in the UK these days.

Why’s Kate so important?

Kate's image on the NZ$10 note

Kate was the leader of the women’s suffrage campaign in New Zealand. Without her perseverance, her charisma and her flair for organisation, women would not have received the vote as early as they did. Not only that, but the successful campaign made her an inspiration for other women’s suffrage movements, including in the US and UK. She worked with campaigners in both countries, particularly in the UK where she returned briefly to live in 1903-4. Kate was not only the woman who got women the vote in New Zealand. She started the process that saw women in all the world’s major democracies receive the vote over the next thirty years.

I hope you enjoyed this latest delve into the history books. If you want to find out more about me and my books and GET YOUR FREE EBOOK, sign up to my mailing list here.

Pete’s History Picks, 23rd – 29th January

Hello again! I can’t believe another fortnight’s gone by. Well, here I am for another look at the things that happened this week in history. It was a busy week, what with emperors being assassinated, Australia kind of beginning (kind of) and the biggest empire in the world coming to an end. Oh yeah, and some annoying play which I’m having to read at school got performed for the first time. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my top picks from this week in history.

24th January, 41 AD

Claudius succeeds his nephew Caligula as Roman Emperor.

The emperor Cladius - what on earth is he wearing on his head?

This Caligula dude sounds mad as a brush. He was assassinated by his own bodyguards who had basically had enough of his crazy (although his government, the senators, were also in on it). Caligula’s crazy included claiming he was a god, regularly dressing up like different Romans gods and making his horse a priest with a plan to make him a consul (a really important political position). There are also claims that he even fed members of the audience to the lions at public games, because he was bored (well I guess that would liven things up a bit). Apparently the final straw for the senators was when he threatened to leave Rome and go and live in Alexandria in Egypt to be worshipped as a living god. The senators weren’t so fussed that the guy was clearly off his rocker. They were more bothered that if he left Rome, they would lose their political power. So, with his bodyguards they plotted his death. They then put his uncle Claudius into power, Apparently he wasn’t quite so amusingly crazy. But he did lead the conquest of Britain. By the way, apparently Caligula's name means ‘little boots’. He was nicknamed this as a little boy by the soldiers his father was in charge of because he used to wear a child’s soldier’s costume, including little boots.

26th January, 1788

Captain Arthur Phillip and British colonists hoist the Union Flag at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, now celebrated as Australia Day. Auntie Cheryl tells me that people in Europe didn’t really know Australia even existed until around this time. They didn’t have Google Earth to help them, I suppose. Some guy called Captain James Cook (not to be confused with Captain James Hook from Peter Pan) and his crew were the first British people to land in Australia (in 1770), but they weren’t the last. After Captain Cook there was a bit of a gap until some more Brits were sent to set up a penal colony (Auntie Cher says this is kind of like a prison). The plan was to send British criminals to the other side of the world so we didn’t have to worry about them anymore. The group sent to found the colony landed on 26th January, 1788 and claimed the land for the British crown. Soon after they founded Sydney. This day is now celebrated as Australia Day as it’s kind of when the modern country of Australia started to be formed.

27th January, 661

Rashidun Caliphate, then the largest empire in history, ends with death of Hasan Ibn Ali.

The Rashidun Caliphate - its inheritors would go on to expand the empire to the Pyrenees.

I’ve heard of caliphates on the news, because of some people called ISIS who want to make one. This Rashidun caliphate isn’t quite the same as the one that ISIS want to make, Auntie Cheryl says, as non-Muslims were allowed to continue to follow their own religion if they chose. This caliphate was ruled by men called ‘caliphs’, who were meant to be the leaders of all Muslims. It was created in about thirty years and grew bigger than the Roman Empire in that time. The caliphs were all men who had known the Prophet Mohammed, who was the founder of Islam, and saw it as their duty to spread the religion. This caliphate ended when the last of the Rashidun Caliphs, Hasan Ibn Ali, the grandson of Mohammed, was assassinated. A man called Muawiya, an enemy of Hasan, took over and founder the Ummayad Caliphate, which in another fifty years had spread their empire all the way to Spain!

28th January, 1807

London's Pall Mall is first street lit by gaslight This just seems mad. Burning gas in the middle of the street? Even I wouldn't do that.

29th January, 1595

William Shakespeare’s play 'Romeo and Juliet' is thought to have been first performed.

Load of old cobblers

So people have been suffering this rubbish for over four hundred years? I've been to Tudor times and even I can't understand the drivel this Shakespeare guy comes out with. They reckon that people first had to sit through this load of old cobblers about teenagers in love, people thinking people are dead, but they aren't and generally behaving like complete muppets on this day in 1595. The play wasn't actually published until 1597 though. So that's when they probably started forcing poor school kids to read it.

Top 5 weird eating habits from Ancient Rome

As the hero of my children’s time-travelling adventure series finds out, the Romans had a very different approach to eating compared to us modern types. Here are five of their strangest eating habits.

1. Oi! Use your fingers!

Did your mum ever tell you off for slouching at the dinner table or using your fingers? Well, she’d have hated dinner at a wealthy Roman house. Everyone lay on couches to eat and were quite happy to share a couch if guests turned up. They would lay one their sides propped up on one elbow while using their free hand to feed themselves.


Reconstruction of a Roman dining room (triclinium) in Munich Archaeological Museum

Image credit: Mattes (Own work), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Stop eating like an animal.

If you didn’t have a lot of money (which meant the vast majority of people back then), your diet would be not much better than that of animals. Many Romans main food was millet, which was also fed to farm animals. This would often be boiled into a kind of porridge. If you were lucky it might be flavoured with a vegetable or two.

3. Fish pudding anyone?

The Romans used to flavour a lot of their cooking with a kind of fish sauce called ‘garum’. They loved it so much, they would even put it in sweet dishes, including fruit tarts.


Ruins of a garum factory in Southern Spain - bet it smelt lovely!

Image credit: Anual (Own work), Creative Commons BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Pancakes for breakfast?

You may be forgiven for thinking our American cousins invented breakfast pancakes. Wealthy Romans would often eat a wheat pancake filled with dates and honey for breakfast (I might try that myself).

5. How do you want your dormice done?

One of the top culinary delights of ancient Rome was honey-coated dormice. The tiny rodents were a popular snack in many wealthy households and would often be kept alive in little dormouse warrens called a ‘glirarium’ to provide a fresh supply. The warm confined space would encourage the dormice to hibernate and fatten up!


A 'glirarium' at the Archaeological Museum of Chiusi - poor dormouse!

Image credit: Marco Daniele (Own work), Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to find out more about life in Roman times, be sure to sign up for my mailing list to get your free 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' ebook.

Pete’s History Picks, 9th – 15th January

9th January, 1909

Ernest Shackleton reaches furthest recorded distance south


Shackleton (second from left) and some fellow male models, probably taken by James Murray (1865–1914)

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Auntie Cheryl says this Ernest Shackleton guy is a British hero. He was an explorer who wanted to be the first person to get to the South Pole (90 degrees south). He didn’t make it, but he did get to 88 degrees, 23 minutes south - the furthest anyone had gone to date. The first person to make it to the South Pole was some Norwegian dude called Roald Amundsen (NOT the guy that wrote the awesome books - that’s Roald Dahl). 

10th January, 49 BC

Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, signaling the start of civil war

Auntie Cheryl tells me that there’s a saying “To cross the Rubicon”, which means you’ve done something from which there’s no going back. It comes from this Julius Caesar bloke, who was a Roman general who did the very naughty thing of crossing a river called the Rubicon with his army. This river marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul (where Caesar governed on behalf of the government in Rome) and Italy (where the government in Rome was in charge). This was treason and led to a civil war which Caesar eventually won. The rest, as they say, is history.

11th January, 1838

First public demonstration of telegraph message sent using Morse Code


Obviously Samuel Morse's new invention couldn't order him a coat that fitted.

Photograph by Mathew Brady, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now I didn’t believe this one to begin with. People used to send messages to each other using beeps. They didn’t talk to each other. They didn’t send a text. They beeped. Well, this thing called a telegraph beeped. Apparently they didn’t have iPhones or Snapchat - how awful must that have been? Although Barford (the big loser) said it sounds like bliss. Anyway, I digress (Barford taught me that word). So, these beeps they used to send were called Morse Code and different combinations of beeps (long and short ones) meant different letters according to the code. On this day in Morristown, New Jersey, Samuel Morse (who invented Morse Code) and his mate Alfred Vail sent the message “A patient waiter is no loser” (I beg to disagree) over two miles in front of a small crowd. I’m told the crowd were very impressed and this was a massive breakthrough for telecommunications.

14th January, 1784

US Congress of the Confederation ratifies the Treaty of Paris - American Revolutionary War ends

I still think this is pretty crazy. Britain used to be in charge of the United States of America (although it wasn’t called the USA then). I mentioned that Boston Tea party thing the other week, where they chucked the tea into the sea. This was a protest against British government of America which eventually led to war between Britain and the US. Well Britain lost that war (as you probably already guessed) and on this day in 1784 the US Congress agreed to the peace treaty, officially ending the war.

15th January, 1559

Elizabeth the First crowned Queen of England


Wow! I met her mum and dad! It was on my most recent time-travelling mission in Tudor England. Anyway, I digress (Note from Barford - I wish I hadn’t taught him that word). Elizabeth would never have expected to become queen as she had a younger brother, Edward, (until recently the eldest son would always become king, even if he had a big sister). He died as a teenager, but even then she had an older sister, Mary, who became Queen before she did. Mary also died and Elizabeth was the only one of Henry’s children left. Queen Elizabeth was unusual in many ways for the time. She followed straight after another queen (Mary) and she wasn’t married (apparently that was a big thing for a queen in those days). She’d spent her sister’s reign in prison (wish I could put my brother, Jim, in prison) and now here she was at the head of the country. Elizabeth’s reign was one of the most important periods in British history according to Auntie Cheryl as it was the start of building an empire.

That's it for this week. If you want to get hands-on with history, sign up for Barford's email list here for your free 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' ebook.

Why and how to make a New Year’s Plan with your kids

Christmas and New Year are over and the kids are going back to school. By now you've probably broken any new year's resolutions hastily made at midnight on New year’s Eve (sorry, but the chances are phenomenally high that I am right). We adultsfullsizeoutput_5ad make (and break) new year's resolutions all the time. But things are generally easier to stick to (and more fun) if we do them with other people. This year, don't make new year's resolutions on your own that you won't keep. Instead make a fun New Year Plan with your kids. As I say, you’re more likely to stick to it with all of you involved. It also teaches the kids the importance of using their time intentionally. And finally, it just increases the likelihood of you spending time together. Who knows, it may also just mean you have your best year yet all together.

To do the plan, you just need to get together and answer five simple questions. Make sure someone's writing the answer's down! You’re going to need to place the list somewhere prominent so you can track how well you stick to the plan.

1. What will you do more of?

What did you want to do in 2016, but just didn't get round to? Did you try to have more dinners all together, but it just didn't pan out? Did you plan to cycle more, but time and the weather got the better of you? Commit to do one thing more this year as a family and decide how often it needs to be done (daily, weekly, monthly). Don’t pick more more than one - life's busy enough as it is and this will make failure much more likely. Now keep track of every time you do it.


2. What will you do less of?

For many of us there's probably one obvious answer - spend time in front of a screen (whether it be a computer or your smartphone). But whatever it is, pick one thing that's getting in the way of you spending more time together as a family and commit to reduce it. So, taking screen time as an example, set yourselves a daily limit of perhaps two hours after school / work (that’s TV, tablet and smartphone by the way!). Again, you need to track it. The ones most likely to struggle with this one are the grown-ups.

3. What will you learn?

Learning is fun and learning together is even more fun. And these days it doesn't have to cost much, if anything. There are plenty of YouTube videos to help and even free or very low-cost classes offered locally. So pick a skill you’re going to learn this year as a family. It could be singing, sewing, playing the ukulele (actually scratch that one - the idea of a family ukulele band makes the blood run cold), learning a foreign language. It doesn’t matter. You just need to set a regular time to do it.


4. Where will you go?

OK, here you can pick more than one thing. What are three places you've been meaning to go for ages now, but just haven't got round to it? It can be an attraction in your local town, a nearby city or, even another country. Just note them down and make sure that by 31st December you've been there.

5. Who will you see?

There's always those people that you regularly stop and say, "I haven't seen them in ages," but haven't done anything about yet (I'm always doing this). Pick three and make sure you see them at least once before 31st December. I’ve done this myself in the past and have been surprised to find it’s led to me seeing those people even more than just the once in the year.

So get a big piece of paper, write up your plan, stick it on the kitchen wall and get cracking!

Legendary ladies: The women history forgot, No.2 – Chiquinha Gonzaga

Children need strong role models. Not only that, but they need role models which reflect the diversity of humankind - role models who look like you or come from a similar background to you are always easier to relate to. However, most of the role models our society holds up today are male and white, meaning many children and, in particular, girls are left out. I am passionate about doing my small part to address this. In this vein, the second of my blog posts on the amazing women that history forgot looks at a pioneering, mixed race, female composer from the nineteenth century - Chiquinha Gonzaga. In spite of her success at the time, few beyond musical circles in her native Brazil, have heard of her. But, before I get into her story, I'll begin with some interesting facts about Chiquinha that you can share with your kids.

Interesting facts to share with the kids:

  • Chiquinha Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1847 and became one of the first famous, female composers in the world.
  • What made her even more rare in those days was that she was mixed race and she was a divorced mother.
  • Many in those days believed that people like her were not meant to be composers. They thought it was something only white men should do.
  • Chiquinha struggled against prejudice like this her whole life, but she did not let it defeat her.
  • She became a famous and highly successful composer in her own country of Brazil and even did tours in Europe, including the UK.
  • Because of the difficult challenges she had faced, Chiquinha wanted to help make things better for other people and was a leader in many social campaigns. She campaigned for the end of slavery in Brazil and for women to be given the vote. Both these things happened in her lifetime.
Chiquinha, aged 18
Chiquinha, aged 18

An unusual childhood

Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga, better known as Chiquinha, was a Brazilian composer, conductor and anti-slavery and votes for women campaigner. One of the first women in the world to gain fame and earn her living as a composer, Chiquinha is largely forgotten today. She was the daughter of a wealthy white father and a poor mother of mixed race. Though this wasn't particularly unusual at the time, what was unusual was that her parents were married and Chiquinha was brought up like any other wealthy young lady. She was taught to read and write, she became a talented mathematician and excelled at the piano.

Saved from disaster by music

Chiquinha was married off at the age of 16, very much against her will. Her dowry was a piano. The marriage was a very unhappy one and Chiquinha was very poorly treated by her husband. She managed to secure a divorce, a scandalous thing in nineteenth century Brazil, but her husband gained custody of their youngest two children. Chiquinha was left completely alone with her eldest son as her father now disowned her. Fortunately, she had continued her piano playing during her marriage and supported herself and her son by teaching piano and playing in musical instrument shops.
A very energetic-looking Chiquinha, aged 78
A very energetic-looking Chiquinha, aged 78

Success in the face of prejudice

She also composed her own music, mainly for popular dances such as the polka, tango and waltz. This is where her contribution to music really began, as she adapted the traditional sounds of the piano for the modern requirements of popular entertainment. At the age of 30, she gained her first big success with the polka 'Atraente', which was so popular it was printed and copies sold. And this was in the face of considerable criticism for her working in a male industry, for her composition of 'vulgar' popular music and for being a single mother.

Chiquinha, the campaigner

Chiquinha continued to compose and at the same time became engaged in a number of social movements. Her social engagement was inspired in part by her mother's poor origins and the discrimination and struggles she herself had faced. It included the campaign to abolish slavery in Brazil, which finally succeeded in 1888. As part of the campaign she had sold her sheet music door-to-door to raise funds. She was also politically engaged, campaigning for votes for women and becoming involved with the group who overthrew the Brazilian emperor in 1889 and declared Brazil a republic. Throughout this time, Chiquinha's popularity rose and rose and she moved into composing operettas and even opera. In the 1880s she also began to conduct, the first woman in Brazil to do so. She scored a major success in 1911 with the operetta 'Forrobodó' which ran for 1500 shows straight following its premiere.

Success beyond Brazil

As Chiquinha's popularity grew in Brazil, she began to be noticed in Europe too, and toured there on numerous occasions between 1902 and 1910, including trips to the UK. Not only was Chiquinha talented and popular, but she had great stamina too and continued composing into her eighties. She wrote her last composition, the opera 'Maria', only a year before her death at the age of 87. Her impact on Brazilian music and Brazilian society is huge. But she was also a pioneer for women and people of mixed race the world over and for this she deserves to be much better known. Are there any fantastic female role models you think should be covered in a future instalment? Let me know in the comments below.