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WA Parliament remembers first woman member

11 March 2021
Sepia photo of Edith Cowan

The Parliament of Western Australia acknowledges the centenary of the election of Edith Dircksey Cowan OBE to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly.

On 12 March 1921, Edith Cowan won the seat of West Perth, becoming the first woman member of an Australian Parliament, and the first woman member of a Parliament in the Southern Hemisphere.

Elected at the age of 59, Edith already had an impressive record of community service advocating for the rights of women and children, and she continued this advocacy during her term in Parliament, successfully introducing two private members bills aimed at improving the wellbeing of women.

One of those bills was the Women’s Legal Status Bill, which allowed for women to enter the legal and other professions within Western Australia.

During her community work, Edith campaigned for a specialist maternity hospital and established the first day care nursery for women returning to work. She was one of the first women appointed to the Children’s Court and one of the first woman Justices of the Peace within Western Australia.

Edith was also a founding member of the Red Cross within Western Australia and in 1920 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her charity work during the First World War.

Since Edith’s election to Parliament, 93 women have served in the Parliament of Western Australia, including Australia’s first female Premier, Hon Carmen Lawrence, and first Indigenous woman member, Carol Martin.

Legislative Council President Hon Kate Doust, who became the Parliament’s first woman Presiding Officer in 2017, said that Edith had created an important legacy for generations of Australian women.

‘There was a lot of resistance to a woman being elected to Parliament, but Edith always stood up for the right of women to participated in public life, and her community work created many new opportunities for women,’ she said.

Edith served for one term until 1924 and passed away in 1932 at the age of 70. She is commemorated on the $50 note and in 1992 became the only woman in Australia to have a university named after her, with the establishment of Edith Cowan University.

To learn more about Edith Cowan and her fascinating life –

no fit place for a woman’ contains a number of articles detailing Edith’s life and service, including her speeches to Parliament.

Edith Cowan Centenary Special Edition is a curriculum linked workbook for both primary and secondary schools.

Edith Cowan Information Pack provides an overview Edith’s life, including a timeline of key events.

Join or book a tour of Parliament House, and hear her story as told by our Education Presenters.