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Recognition

Survived by her husband (died 18 October 1937), Edith Cowan died on 9 June 1932 and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta Cemetery. She left an estate of 161.


Edith Cowan Memorial Clock

“It has been said she possessed the mind of a man.” This was one of the many tributes that followed the death of Edith Cowan and one that would have likely amused her.


In August 1932 at a monthly meeting of the Western Australian branch of the National Council of Women, an organisation that Edith Cowan helped establish and served as President, the question was raised of a memorial to honour her achievements.

A public meeting was subsequently held, presided over by the Lord Mayor, Honourable James T Franklin. Several proposals were put forward for a memorial. It was suggested that a ward be built at King Edward Memorial Hospital and named in her honour. It was, however, thought that it would be more appropriate to erect a permanent monument at Kings Park where other great pioneers are honoured.

Other options included a model baby health centre, an honour drive in Kings Park, and a memorial pathway in the grounds of Parliament House. A number of proponents claimed that a utilitarian monument reflective of her life’s work was more appropriate.

A motion was put at the meeting that an Edith Cowan memorial committee be formed, with John Curtin, who later became Prime Minister of Australia and who seconded the motion, urging that there be no controversy over the form the memorial was to take. An Edith Cowan Memorial Fund was established to raise money through subscription to erect a permanent memorial to her.

An archway at the entrance gates to Kings Park was initially proposed however the Kings Park Board rejected this option, advising that Kings Park was reserved for monuments of national significance.

The Committee subsequently became aware that Perth City Council intended to erect a safety zone for pedestrians in the middle of Kings Park Circle with a centrepiece. In December 1932, the Edith Cowan Memorial Committee requested and was granted permission of the Council to locate a monument there.

James Franklin, who had subsequently become a member of the Fund’s Committee announced on 22 December 1932 that there was to be a memorial erected featuring a clock tower located at the proposed safety zone at King's Park circus. The clock tower was approved by the committee on 17 February 1933 at an estimated cost of 600 of which 460 would need to be raised by the fund.

Prominent Perth Architect Harold Boas and City Engineer Henry Atwell designed the monument, which was subsequently approved by the Committee, with the design for a clock tower memorial published in the West Australian in February 1933.

The Royal Institute of Architects objected on the basis that the site was the most outstanding in Perth and should be retained for some unspecified memorial in the future. The Town Planning Institute argued that it would create a traffic hazard. Other opposition centred on the fact that memorials were inherently masculine and not an appropriate form of memorial for a woman.

The Town Planning Commissioner unsuccessfully sought an injunction in the Supreme Court to restrain the Council from progressing with the monument.

There were however a large number of defenders for the site, with the National Council being most forthright in their opinions. Construction on the memorial commenced in May 1934 at a total cost of 549, with cries that ‘…if men did not hold the purse strings the fund would total thousands of pounds, not just hundreds.’

On the second anniversary of her death, 9th June 1934, the Edith Cowan Memorial was unveiled during a severe thunderstorm and in teeming rain by His Excellency Sir James Mitchell KCMG, Lieutenant-Governor. In his opening address, he extolled the many accomplishments of a woman whose life as a social and political reformer was dedicated to improving the lives of women and children. ‘The simple ceremony and proceedings honoured one whose life was stormy in quest of ideals and prompted by passionate impulse to help humanity’. (The West Australian, Friday 15 June 1934, p.6)

Halfway up the memorial is a bronze plaque of Edith Cowan appropriately situated, looking down the slope over Parliament House and her home and providing an almost unobstructed view of the city that she helped mould for the betterment of the community.

The memorial represents the first ever civic monument to an Australian woman.


Other Memorials


Edith Cowan's significant work and commitment to improving the social fabric of Western Australians has been recognised with a number of other commemorative memorials:
  • In 1975 she was featured in a stamp collection to commemorate six famous Australian women.
  • In 1979 a plaque dedicated to her was laid in St Georges Terrace, Perth, to commemorate the State’s 150th anniversary.
  • In 1984 the federal electoral seat of Cowan in Western Australia was created.
  • In 1991 Edith Cowan University was established, the first university in Australia to be named after a woman.
  • In 1995 Edith Cowan was chosen to appear on the new $50 bank note issued by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
  • A plaque was placed in St George’s Cathedral in 1996.
  • She was included in the Historical Walk Trail established at the Karrakatta Cemetery in 1996.
  • She has been the subject of exhibitions, such as ‘Women in Law’, a permanent exhibition at the Francis Burt Law Education Centre in Perth, and a national touring exhibition organised in 1996 by Edith Cowan University titled ‘A Tough Nut to Crack’.

Her ongoing importance to Western Australia and the nation is relevant today, especially as only one-third of members of the Parliament of Western Australia are women. The ongoing issues relating to women's inequality, including that of equal pay, are still contentious today.

Sources:

Edith Cowan In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Website accessed August 2015.

A unique position : a biography of Edith Dircksey Cowan, 1861-1932 / [by] Peter Cowan. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1978.

Australia On Net, Website accessed August 2015.

Edith Cowan (1861 - 1932) - Reserve Bank of Australia, Australia's Banknotes/People on Bank Notes / Edith Cowan Website accessed September 2015.

Trove Digitised Newspaper and more, National Library of Australia. Website accessed September 2015.




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