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One historic outcome of the first state general election in Western Australian after World War I was the election of Edith Dircksey Cowan to the Legislative Assembly. At the age of sixty she had already established an outstanding record as a pioneer of women's involvement in public life.

During the hostilities, in addition to her social welfare roles, she had become immersed in the war effort, leading to being awarded the OBE. However, it is the distinction of being the nation's first woman parliamentarian that has given her such prominence and led to her being one of the most celebrated of Australian women.

Edith Cowan was interviewed in 1921 and gave her Impressions of Parliament in which she has admiration for the comradeship that existed among the members in the corridors of the House. She commented that "it didn't matter how bitter the exchanges have been in the chamber, once the members get outside all invective is dropped...That is a pleasant state of affairs, and makes Parliamentary life tolerable". She said that "it is extremely lonely in the Assembly for me. I want to see at least four women there. They will be a force worth counting...Their points of view and their votes will receive a lot of attention, whereas one cannot be expected to have very much power...The more experience I have in Parliament the more convinced I am that women should assist in the making of law".

During Edith Cowan's time in parliament she contributed robustly to debates and the legislative process. She asked many questions and was responsible for two Private Member's Bills which both passed:

In her maiden speech in the Legislative Assembly on 21 July 1921 she discussed a wide range of topics:
  • First Woman in an Australian Parliament
  • State Children Act
  • Platform of the Nationalists
  • The Deficit
  • Arbitration Court
  • Metropolitan Water Supply
  • Education
  • State Children's Department
  • Mental Defectives
  • Price Fixing
  • Old Age and Invalid Pensions
  • Compulsory Voting
  • Proportional Representation
  • Child and Maternity Endowment
  • Basic Wage, Women to Vote in Unions
  • The Two Sexes in Parliament

"May it please Your Excellency. We, the members of the Legislative Assembly of the Parliament of the State of Western Australia in Parliament assembled, beg to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech you have been pleased to deliver to Parliament."

"I have much pleasure in submitting this motion. 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, and perhaps I should remind Hon. members that one of the reasons why women and men also considered it advisable to do so, was because it was felt that men need a reminder sometimes from women beside them that will make them realise all that can be done for the race and for the home. I have been sent here more from that standpoint than from any other. You Mr Speaker, are aware that everybody said when the elections began that there were three old women putting up for Parliament. I am the only old woman who got in, but then I am the only genuine one of the lot." |Read the full speech|

Edith Cowan continued to contribute to the debates in the house in her Address-in-Reply 8 August 1922 in which she covered a wide range of topics:
  • Home for Aged Women
  • Home for Mental Deficients
  • Elective Ministries
  • Cotton Growing
  • Civil Service
  • Hospitals' Bill
  • Hospital Accommodation
  • Poultry Farming
  • South-West Settlement
  • Closer Settlement
  • Woman on the Farm
  • Examination of Immigrants
  • Arbitration Act
  • High Wages for Boys
  • Age-Wage System
  • Eight Hour Day
  • Gambling
  • Picture Shows
  • Como Tramway
  • Allowance to State Children
  • Federation|Read the Full Address|





Her Address-in-Reply speech a year later also covered a wide range of issues:
  • Early Settlers' Grievances
  • Lighten the Burden
  • Premier's Defiant Optimism
  • President of the Primary Producer's Association
  • New Arrivals' Wages
  • Agricultural college
  • Women's Immigration Auxiliary Council
  • Civil Servants
  • Mental Detention Ward Site
  • Town Planning Bill
  • Protecting Child Life
  • Health Expenditure
  • Immoral Literature
  • Manufacture of Pipes|Read the Full Address|






Sources:
The voice of Edith Cowan, Australia’s first woman parliamentarian, 1921-24 by Harry CJ Phillips. Churchlands : Edith Cowan University, 1996



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