I’ll be raising a glass to Edith Cowan today. This is why.

On this election day, I am grateful to be a working, voting citizen of Australia, a democratic and lucky country. I owe thanks to the women before me who made…

By Tara Moss

Sep 7, 2013

On this election day I am grateful to be a working, voting citizen of Australia, a democratic and lucky country. I owe thanks to the women before me who made this possible.

Among other pioneering women who helped forge a more democratic Australia, I’ll be raising a glass to Edith Cowan today.

Cowan did not have it easy. She was only 7 when her mother died in childbirth. Her father remarried and sent his daughter to a boarding school in Perth. When she was only 15 her father shot and killed his second wife while drunk. He was hanged for his crime, leaving Cowan orphaned.

Cowan overcame those personal tragedies to help form the Women’s Service Guilds in 1909 and become a co-founder of the Western Australia’s National Council of Women. She believed that children should not be tried as adults – something we take for granted today – and she founded the Children’s Protection Society.

Edith Cowan believed that if you really wanted something changed, you had to run for parliament. So she did.

At the age of 60, she broke existing gender stereotypes by becoming Australia’s first ever female parliamentarian, winning the seat of the incumbent Attorney General, Thomas Draper in 1921. By becoming the first woman elected to an Australian parliament, she paved the way for a more democratic and representative parliament, but more than 90 years later there is still some way to go. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women comprise just over half of Australia’s total population (50.2 per cent as of 2010) but comprise less than one-third of all parliamentarians and less than one quarter of cabinet members. Many have argued that the leadership of Australia’s first female Prime Minister, (Julia Gillard, 2010-2013) was derailed in part by gender-based stereotypes and criticisms, among other difficulties including division within her party.

As the The Constitutional Centre of Western Australia points out, the initial press response to Cowan in the 1920s was openly demeaning. ‘Cartoons in The Bulletin portrayed Edith Cowan interrupting the important affairs of parliament with a woman’s `housewifely instincts’.’

This did not stop her. Among other achievements, she proposed the formation of a housewives union, and childcare nurseries for working mothers. She also got the Women’s Legal Status Act through in 1923, making it possible for women to work in the legal profession in Australia for the first time. She successfully championed women’s rights, migrant welfare, social justice and infant and child health and protection.

Cowan passed away in 1932, aged 70, and her house, which was directly across from parliament, was moved in the 1990’s to its current location sitting by a lake in the middle of Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. You may recognise her as the face on your 50 dollar bill.


Edith Dircksey Cowan (née Brown), MBE (2 August 1861 – 9 June 1932).

Today I am going to raise a glass for this iconic Australian heroine of democracy and justice.

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  1. ArtsBeatLA

    Wonderful tribute to a pioneering woman – thank you!

  2. Chrissa Reed

    What an inspiration Edith Cowan was (and still is). Thanks so much for sharing about her, Tara – and it’s a good reminder that there’s still so much more to be done!

  3. this is a wast of time

    women are usless wasts of space and should all kill themsleves. Who gives a crap about a women getting into parliament. Men have been in parliament for ages. Women will never be equal to men.

  4. Tara Moss

    Dear Mr Wast,
    Thank you for your interesting feedback. I do wonder, though, if women ‘all kill themsleves’, as you suggest they should, who would make up your preferred Parliament? I wonder this as, without women, there would soon be no men. Another species, perhaps? Do you have one in mind?
    Best wishes,

  5. Rachel

    THANKS SOOOOO MUCH!!! I was stuck on who to choose to do for my project.

  6. Vicki Norton

    Thank you Tara. My glass is raised also. Vx

  7. Don Bone

    Thank you Tara. A very insightful article about a remarkable and inspiring Australian. She sounds like a woman who would not be out of place in the modern world. I’m sure that her influence continues to this day.

  8. Naoimh

    Thankyou very much for opening my eyes to how important Edith Cowan truly is. I currently attend Edith Cowan University, and I will be visiting her house by the lake to pay my respects.
    I am so grateful that people like her came before me to path the way for a brighter future.

  9. Kenneth Marie Mendoza

    Dear Mr./ Mrs. Tara Moss

    I am a six-grade student at Kalakaua Middle School in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I am writing to request information for a school project.
    My Social Studies class is involved in a large project called “National History Day.” Each year this project follows a different theme that is set by the National History Day office, and for the 2016-2017 school year our theme is “Taking a Stand in History.” I am investigating women’s rights during the World War II. For this assignment, we are required to study the person/idea/event/issue itself, the background and context in which it happened, and the impact/influence/change it brought about.
    I am writing to ask for any articles or documents you could send me with information about the beginning of the women’s rights movements, particular women who led the fight for voting rights, and actual events through history that influenced our representatives to pass legislation allowing women to vote.
    Any information you can send me would be very helpful. I appreciate your time and assistance. My e-mail address is kenneth.mendoza@kalakauamiddle.org. Thank you in advance.

    Kenneth Marie Mendoza

  10. Tara Moss

    Dear Kenneth Marie Mendoza,
    Thank you for your interest. I recommend following some of the links in the blog and searching reputable online libraries and university resources on the subject.
    Best wishes,


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