Academic journal article Hecate

Six Queensland Women Parliamentary Pioneers

Academic journal article Hecate

Six Queensland Women Parliamentary Pioneers

Article excerpt


With the passing of the Elections Acts Amendment Act on 25 January 1905 Queensland became the second last state in Australia to enfranchise its women. Victoria was the last state three years later. Despite its tardiness in granting women's suffrage, however, Queensland was to make amends with the passing of the Election Act on 23 November 1915 by which it became the second state, after South Australia, to permit women to stand for parliament.

That women's enfranchisement in Queensland took longer to achieve than in most other states should in no way be construed as a shortcoming of the various suffrage organisations of the time. In fact the Queensland organisations such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the Women's Equal Franchise, Association (WEFA), the Women's Suffrage League (WSL), the Women Workers' Political Organisation (WWPO), and the Queensland Women's Electoral League (QWEL) toiled as long and hard as their counterparts in the other states. They were all invigorated by intelligent, determined, and formidable women such as Elizabeth Brentnall and her daughter Flora (later Mrs E. B. Harris), Leontine Cooper, Emma Miller, Margaret Ogg, Eleanor Trundle, Agnes Williams and others.

Between them these various groups represented most of Queensland society - the non-Labor establishment, the Labor organisations and unions, and the churches. The suffragists often cooperated with one another and with their sister organisations in the other states, and adopted the same tactics of petitions, deputations, rallies, meetings, and relentless leafleting of members of parliament.

Western Australia became the first in Australia to elect women to parliament (Edith Cowan in 1921 and May Holman in 1925), followed by New South Wales (Millicent Preston Stanley in 1925). Queensland was close behind with the election of Irene Maud Longman in 1929. From that point, however, Queensland was not only overtaken by all other states in terms of the number of women elected to their parliaments, but also saw 37 years elapse before the second woman, Vi Jordan, was elected in 1966. During that time another ten women had been elected in New South Wales and two in Western Australia, plus six in Tasmania, three in Victoria and three in South Australia. Clearly Queensland had some catching up to do, and catch up it did.

Although Queensland voters had elected a woman (Annabelle Rankin) to the Senate in 1947, prior to 1989 very few women were elected to the Queensland Parliament. With the sole exception of Anne Warner in 1983, no Labor woman was elected to the Queensland Parliament between 1966 and 1989. Several Coalition1 women were elected to State Parliament during that time, however, including Victoria Kippin and Rosemary Kyburz in 1974, Beryce Nelson in 1980, Yvonne Chapman and Leisha Harvey in 1983, Diane McCauley in 1986, and Judy Gamin in 1988.

Many of these women may have been considered 'tokens' by their Parties at the time, but most of them were extraordinary women who not only managed to survive, but also on occasion carved out quite distinguished careers. They paved the way for the flow of women into the Queensland Parliament throughout the 19805 and 19903, that by the new century had become a torrent.

Across Australia a small number of Labor women were elected to State parliaments from the 19205 onward, and in 1943 Labor's Dorothy Tangney became the first woman from any Party to be elected to the Senate. The Labor Party had a poor record in the House of Representatives however, and although Australian women had gained the franchise and the right to stand for the Federal Parliament in 1901/02, no Labor woman was elected until 1974.

Throughout the 19805 there was a gradual increase in the number of women pre-selected for winnable seats and elected to Federal Parliament. Up to the end of the 19705, 11 women from the Coalition Parties had been elected to Federal Parliament (nine to the Senate and two to the House of Representatives), while Labor had a total of five (four to the Senate and one to the House), and the Australian Democrats had one senator. …

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