Woman Longman, Irene Maud

Community Worker and Politician

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Irene Longman was born in Franklin, Tasmania in 1877, the daughter of Congregationalist clergyman, James Bayley and his wife, Mary. After secondary education in Sydney, she completed a kindergarten diploma, with Maybanke Anderson as an important mentor, and worked as a teacher in private schools in Sydney and Rockhampton until her marriage in 1904 to newspaper publisher and naturalist, Heber Longman. Having no children, the couple worked together in Albert's business, but, after their move to Brisbane in 1911, Irene expanded her interests to community work.

Longman was involved in a range of organisations involved with the welfare of women and children. She enjoyed her positions of leadership and focused her contribution on addressing meetings and attending functions rather than the more mundane task of fund-raising (Fallon, p. 126). A supervisor and trainer for the Creche and Kindergarten Association, and a founding secretary of the Playgrounds' Association, she was also president of the state National Council of Women from 1920 -1924 and an honorary life member after her retirement. Later she held office in the Lyceum Club, the Queensland Women's Peace Movement and the Association for the Welfare of Mental Deficients. In this position she advocated segregation for the intellectually disabled, but resisted moves for compulsory sterilisation, except for those who had the capacity to remain in the community (Cairns Post, 14 June 1934).

In 1929 Longman became the first woman to win a seat in the Queensland State Parliament when, encouraged to stand by the Queensland Women's Electoral League, she defeated the sitting Labor member, taking the seat of Bulimba for the Country and Progressive National Party. On her election she was described as 'a crusader in the cause of women' (Queensland Figaro, 4 May 1929), remarkable for 'her intelligence, her sense of humour, and her complete sincerity' (Townsville Daily Bulletin, 13 May 1929). She constituted her decision to accept the nomination in terms of obligation rather than personal ambition: 'being convinced of the need for women in our Legislature ... I decided to accept and perhaps lead the way for others' (quoted in Fallon, p. 30). As she was forbidden access to the parliamentary dining room her sanctuary in the Parliament was the library. She was not confrontational, arguing that 'the co-operation of men and women in public life is the keynote of our modern life, and gives hope for the future' (quoted in Fallon, p. 47). 'As a sex women were practical, and they had shown in public work that their judgment was by no means sentimental or ill-balanced' (Brisbane Courier, 16 April 1929). However, her opponents were not above criticising her on the basis of her gender, attacking her for accepting a salary while depriving workers of a rise in the basic wage (Worker, 10 February 1932). 'Is a woman Member expected to work without a salary?' she replied (Queensland Figaro, 11 June 1932).

Her parliamentary success was short-lived. She lost her seat in 1932 and would not see another women elected during her lifetime. During her term she made 39 speeches, 31 of which were concerned with the welfare of women and children (Fallon, p. 65). She could count amongst her successes the introduction of the first women police, the change in location for the Children's Court and the appointment of a panel of men and women to deal with juvenile delinquency but failed to make substantial progress in campaigns for equal pay for equal work, family allowances, or more equitable divorce laws.

Interviewed in 1953, Longman reflected on her brief parliamentary term. 'There were only a few men on either side of the House who were as mentally alert as the women with whom I have worked ... It was very, very strenuous but I enjoyed it, and I wouldn't have missed it for worlds' (Courier-Mail, 21 January 1953). She understood her political activity as complementary with rather than in opposition to men, arising 'rather from a sense of duty than from a sex antagonism' (quoted in Fallon, p. 17). After her defeat she urged younger women to stand for public office: 'they are really interested in public affairs, but I wish they would hurry up and come forward to give that interest practical form by undertaking the services of which they are capable' (Brisbane Courier, 28 January 1933). Although her views had not always conformed to those of her party, she urged women to work within the party system as 'unless you have the balance of power you get nowhere' (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 1934).

The women leaders that Longman admired were rebels, but in a constructive sense, 'women who revolted against evil conditions and false conventions ... the few who thought today what the rest of the world would think tomorrow' and sought to bring about change rather than revolution (Queenslander, 11 July 1929). Women, she believed, needed to 'possess their own souls' before they could effectively help others (quoted in Fallon, p. 114). Central to possession of the soul was economic autonomy, either through an equal right to work, or through direct payment to mothers whose service lay in raising children at home (Fallon, p. 138). 'I do not see that it would be any worse for a woman to be paid the basic wage than a single man who may never marry', she insisted, 'because if a woman should marry she would always help towards the upkeep of a home' (Brisbane Courier, 31 August 1933). Marriage should be an 'equal partnership' with wives entitled to a share in 'any house or business which they might have helped to build' (Courier-Mail, 18 September 1936). She also argued that women should take control of their bodies (Fallon, p. 142-3). 'Intelligent women are no longer breeding machines ... They recognise the right of children to be well born ... And yet there are no signs of a decrease in either maternal or paternal love' (Northern Miner, 14 July 1933).

Longman retired from public life during World War II to care for her husband. However, she maintained a lively interest in women's issues, writing in the year before her death to the founders of the Queensland branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom regretting women's failure to 'join together and forget party affiliations' in order to bring about change (Irene Longman letter). She died in Brisbane in 1964. A federal electorate is named in her honour.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • McCulloch, John, '100 Years of Women's Suffrage in Queensland 1905-2005: Some Important Firsts', Queensland Review, vol. 12, no. 2, November 2005, pp. 63-72. Details

Newspaper Articles


Online Resources