The Mitchell Library Reading Room will be closed to the public on Monday 29 April. To access collections and services on this day, please visit the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room.
I stand here today in the unique position of being the first woman in an Australian Parliament. I know many people think perhaps that it was not the wisest thing to do to send a woman into Parliament … The views of both sides are more than ever needed in Parliament today. If men and women can work for the State side by side and represent all the different sections of the community, and if the male members of the house would be satisfied to allow women to help them and would accept their suggestions when they are offered, I cannot doubt that we should do very much better work in the community than was ever done before.
Edith Cowan, Debut speech in the House of Assembly (WA) 21/7/1921, Hansard, pp 15-19.
On this day, 12 March 1921, Edith Cowan was elected to the Western Australian Parliament, the first woman to be elected to an Australian Parliament.
Edith Cowan was born Edith Brown on 2 August 1861 on Glengarry Station near Geraldton, Western Australia. She married magistrate James Cowan when she was 18, and his work opened her eyes to the suffering of wives and children when the man of the family was sentenced to gaol. After becoming a magistrate of the Perth Children’s Court, a position she held for 18 years, Mrs Cowan campaigned heavily for the rights of children.
Although South Australian women had gained equal parliamentary rights with men towards the close of the 19th century, women in Western Australia had to wait until 1920. In 1921, Edith Cowan stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Party in West Perth, for the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia. On 12 March 1921, Mrs Cowan narrowly defeated the sitting member, state Attorney-General TP Draper, by just 46 votes. Read the biography of this remarkable woman - Australian Dictionary of Biography