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Female Firsts Portraits

Since the election of Edith Cowan in 1921, the Parliament of Western Australia has witnessed many significant achievements by women. The ‘Women’s Firsts’ portraits in the newly named Edith Cowan Foyer honour those women who were the first in Western Australia to achieve parliamentary or ministerial office.

Edith Dircksey Cowan

First woman member of Parliament in Australia

Edith Cowan was the first woman member of Parliament in Australia. She was also the first woman elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. Cowan was elected on 12 March 1921, the year after Western Australia allowed women parliamentary representation, to represent the West Perth electorate as a Nationalist. Cowan won the seat by 46 votes. Ironically, she defeated the man who had fought for the right of women to enter Parliament. The distinction of being the nation's first woman Australian parliamentarian gave Cowan much prominence, including representation on Australia’s $50 note and the naming of Edith Cowan University. The government of the day, led by Sir James Mitchell recognised the ‘symbolic significance of her presence’ and gave Edith Cowan the honour of moving the Address-in-Reply speech, the annual response to the Governor’s opening of Parliament…

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Edith Cowan portrait by Portia Geach

May Holman

First woman Labor member of Parliament in Australia

May Holman was the first woman Labor parliamentarian in Western Australia, Australia and the Commonwealth. She was only the second woman member of Parliament in Australia after Edith Cowan. She was elected to the seat of Forrest in the WA Parliament at a by-election on 3 April 1925. Holman’s father had held the seat until his death. May Holman was endorsed over nine men for her father’s safe seat. Holman was re-elected four times and was the first woman in the British Empire to serve in a Parliament for more than 10 years. Holman was not a regular speaker in Parliament, however she advocated strongly for the timber workers, and the women and children of her electorate. May Holman represented the Forrest Division until her own tragic death, following a car accident in 1939. She had just been re-elected for a fifth term two days before…

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May Holman

Dame Florence Cardell-Oliver

First woman Cabinet Minister in Australia

Dame Annie Florence Cardell-Oliver became Australia’s first woman minister on 7 October 1949. At 70 years old, she was also the oldest person to be appointed to cabinet. She was responsible for Health, Supply and Shipping. Cardell-Oliver was elected on 15 February 1936 to the seat of Subiaco in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly, as a Nationalist member. Cardell-Oliver defeated two other endorsed Nationalists and the Labor sitting member on preferences. She was ‘an outspoken and often controversial’ member with views frequently different to her party. Her inaugural speech attacked the Government’s balancing of the budget and argued for providing milk to ‘under-nourished’ children from poor families. Cardell-Oliver held the seat until 7 April 1956, becoming one of the longest serving women parliamentarians in WA…

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Florence Cardell-Oliver

Ruby Hutchison

First woman member of the Legislative Council

Hon Ruby Hutchison was the first woman member of the Western Australian Legislative Council. Hutchison was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Council on 8 May 1954 and began her term on 22 May, representing the Suburban Province for the Labor Party. Hutchison had first contested the Suburban Province in 1950 and again in 1953 at a by-election. She later represented the North-East Metropolitan Province from 22 May 1965 to 21 May 1971. She was the first woman elected to an Australian Legislative Council and only the fourth woman elected to WA Parliament. ‘Red’ Ruby Hutchison was described as ‘rebellious but passionate and tenacious in crusading for the causes in which she believed’. During her 17 years of service, she was the only woman MP in the chamber. Following Hutchison’s marriage to FRH Lavery on 14 May 1966, she became the first woman to serve with her husband in an Australian Parliament…

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Ruby hutchison

Dr Carmen Lawrence

First woman Premier in Australia

Dr Carmen Lawrence became Australia’s first woman Premier on 12 February 1990. Dr Lawrence was elected to the WA Parliament in 1986, as the member for Subiaco, the first Labor Party member to win the seat in 30 years. She had unsuccessfully contested the seat of East Melville in 1983. She was quickly nominated to the significant Public Accounts and Expenditure Review Committee. Following the 1988 election, she became a member of the Dowding Ministry as Minister for Education, and Aboriginal Affairs (from 1989). The seat of Subiaco was abolished in a redistribution and in 1989, Dr Lawrence won the seat of Glendalough. In February 1990, when Dr Lawrence was elected Premier, she also assumed the role of Treasurer. Following Labor’s defeat at the 1993 election, Lawrence became WA’s first woman Leader of the Opposition until she resigned in February 1994. She was elected to the seat of Fremantle for the Australian House of Representatives at a by-election on 12 March 1994. Lawrence was the first woman to serve in both Parliaments…

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Carmen Lawrence portrait

Carol Martin

First Aboriginal woman member in Australia

Carol Martin was the first Aboriginal woman elected to an Australian Parliament. She was elected to the Western Australia Legislative Assembly on 10 February 2001, succeeding Hon Ernie Bridge, representing the Kimberley electorate as a Labor member. Martin was Chair of the Education and Health Standing Committee from 2001 to 2005. She was re-elected in 2005 and 2007 but retired from Parliament on 9 March 2013…

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Carol Martin

Hon Kate Doust

First woman President of the Legislative Council

Hon Kate Doust was the first woman elected as President of the Legislative Council in Western Australia, and served in the role from 2017 to 2021. Doust commenced her term as a member for the South Metropolitan Region on 22 May 2001. After Labor’s election loss in 2008, Doust became Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council while also serving as the Shadow Minister for Energy, Science and Innovation. She has also been responsible for other shadow ministries including Industrial Relations; Commerce; Small Business; Trade and Electoral Affairs. Doust is still a member for the South Metropolitan Region, making her one of the longest serving members in the WA Parliament…

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Kate Doust

Michelle Roberts

First woman Speaker of the Legislative Assembly

Hon Michelle Roberts was the first woman elected as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in Western Australia. She was elected to the role on 29 April 2021. Roberts, a Labor member, won former Premier Carmen Lawrence’s seat of Glendalough in a by-election on 19 March 1994. In the same year, she was appointed Shadow Minister for Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs, Water Resources and Seniors. In 1994, the seat of Glendalough was abolished and at the 1996 election, she won the seat of Midland, which she still holds. In 2001, she was appointed Minister for Police and Road Safety, the first woman to hold the ministry in an Australian Parliament. She is also the longest serving member in the Parliament of Western Australia and is the first Mother of the House…

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Michelle Roberts