Joyce McConnell represented Australian women to government with an evenhanded professionalism that achieved lasting results. She was president of the National Council of Women of Australia 1973–1976 and a member of the peak national advisory bodies the National Women’s Advisory Council and the National Women’s Consultative Council from 1978–1986.
Joyce Marion McConnell was born on 21 August 1916 at Wollstonecraft, NSW, the daughter of L.J. Smith. She was educated at North Sydney Girls’ High School and Sydney University. At the time of her marriage to Hugh McConnell on 31 August 1939, both she and her husband were studying economics as evening students, and both were active student politicians. Joyce served as a director of the Women’s Union and vice-president of the Student Representative Council.
McConnell graduated with a Bachelor of Economics. Her husband’s work as a teacher took the family into country New South Wales, and later to Canberra. The marriage produced two sons and two daughters.
McConnell became active in women’s affairs in 1957, joining the Canberra Association of University Women and becoming its delegate on the National Council of Women of the Australian Capital Territory. As convenor for housing and civic affairs, she was responsible for the first 2 surveys carried out by the Council in Canberra, seeking information regarding government housing and consumer prices. She served as honorary secretary of the Council in 1957–1958, resigning to accompany her husband overseas. On her return, she held the presidency of the Council from 1962 to 1964, raising funds to establish the first Senior Citizens’ Club in the ACT. Other voluntary work in community organisations at this time included chairing the Emergency Housekeeper Committee and the Anti-Litter Campaign, and helping found the Churchill Appeal.
From 1964 to 1969, Hugh McConnell was posted to Argentina. Joyce McConnell joined the local University Women’s Club, and became a committee member of the Mission to Seamen in Buenos Aires.
In 1973, McConnell became president of the National Council of Women of Australia. Hers was the first National Board to be located in Canberra. McConnell predicted correctly that its strength would be ‘in the very nature of Canberra—in the relative accessibility of those who sit in the seats of power and who are the architects of our national policy’. McConnell quickly established good working relationships with the emerging women’s bureaucracy inaugurated by the Whitlam Labor government and, despite her active membership of the Liberal Party, communicated effectively with politicians on both sides of the parliament. She worked equitably with representatives of newly vocal groups like the Women’s Electoral Lobby in planning for Women’s Resource Centres and Rape Crisis Centres, and in preparations for International Women’s Year.
McConnell was one of the delegation of 10 women sent by the Australian government to the International Women’s Year Tribune held in association with the World Conference on Women in Mexico city in 1975. In 1976, she led the Australian delegation to the ICW Triennial Conference in Vancouver.
In 1975 McConnell, on behalf of NCWA, proposed to Prime Minister Whitlam that he establish a representative Women’s Advisory Council. The suggestion was taken up by the Fraser government, and, in 1978, Fraser appointed McConnell to the newly constituted Council, reappointing her in 1982. When Prime Minister Hawke abolished the Council and replaced it with the National Women’s Consultative Council in1984, McConnell was again appointed: the only woman to serve both governments in this capacity. In 1979, as the NatWAC convenor in Canberra, she had to negotiate extreme opposition from right-wing radical women during the mid-decade consultations for the UN Decade for Women.
She continued to work with NCWA, becoming an honorary life vice-president in 1979 and accepting the national convenorship of the Economics Standing Committee in 1980. She also returned to the leadership of the Australian Federation of University Women, organising their national conference in 1981.
McConnell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1976 for service to the community, and awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1978.
Joyce McConnell died of a massive stroke in 1991, a few days before her 75th birthday.
Explore further resources about Joyce McConnell in the Australian Women's Register.