Ryan, Edna Minna(1904 – 1997)
Activist, Feminist, Trade unionist, Writer
Edna Ryan was a leading figure in three eras of feminism in the 20th century. As a feminist and labour activist she is credited with achieving equal pay for women, maternity leave and work based child care. Ryan wrote numerous articles, conference papers, submissions to government and two books, Gentle invaders (1975) and Two thirds of a man (1984).
Henderson, Beryl(1897 – 1990)
Beryl Henderson set up the Abortion Law Reform Association in Canberra. She was an active member of Canberra Women’s Liberation, and translated the French book Abortion: the Bobigny affair: law on trial. The first women’s refuge in Canberra was named after her and in 1987 the Beryl Henderson foundation was established.
Born in England, she arrived in Australia via Israel, to settle in Victoria in 1965. She eventually made Canberra her home until the end of the 1970s when she returned to Israel.
Hunter, Thelma Anna Carmela(1923 – 2016)
Academic, Political scientist, Women's liberationist
Dr Thelma Hunter was a feminist political scientist, whose academic career was mostly spent at the Australian National University (ANU). She described herself as a teacher, scholar and writer. As well as teaching university students, she worked in schools, in adult education and in preparatory courses for mature age non-matriculants seeking university entry. Before establishing her academic career, she contributed occasional articles to UK newspapers, and was later a regular contributor to the Canberra Times. A hobby artist, she offered drawing workshops to staff and students at ANU, having earlier studied art in evening classes in Sydney and at Dartington College, Devon.
For Thelma Hunter the personal was political; her academic interests in women’s employment, the status of women and the obstacles arising from combining work with marriage and family reflected her own experience. Growing up in an Italian family in Scotland, and later migrating with her family to Australia, Thelma Hunter also identified as a migrant.
Women’s Studies Program, Australian National University(1976 – 2000)
Tertiary education institution
The Women’s Studies Program was established at the Australian National University in 1976 as the result of activism and political pressure applied by students who were connected to the Women’s Liberation movement. In the first instance, the program’s key aims were to explore the position and representation of women in Australian and other societies, the forces producing female subjectivity and women’s experiences of femininity. Moving the examination of these questions into the academy was an important step in the development of a feminist critique of existing disciplines and institutional structures and the development of feminist scholarship in general.
National Foundation for Australian Women(1989 – )
Social action organisation
The National Foundation for Australian Women was established in 1989 by the bequest of Canberra feminist, Pamela Denoon. NFAW objectives are: to advance and protect all interests of Australian women in all spheres; to ensure that the aims and ideals of the women’s movement and its collective wisdom are handed on to new generations of Australian women. The foundation seeks to strengthen and support women’s groups by: sponsoring research and advocacy; working to increase support for feminist goals in the community, and improving communication among women’s groups. NFAW founded the Australian Women’s Archive Project in 1999.
Owen, Mary(1921 – 2017)
Trade unionist, Women's liberationist
Mary Owen was founding Coordinator of The Working Women’s Centre Melbourne, 1975-1986, when it was absorbed into the Australian Council of Trade Unions. She was a staff member of AAESDA (Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors & Draughtsmen of Australia), 1965 -1975 and a member of La Trobe University Council 1983-1990. She was appointed Deputy Chancellor of La Trobe University 1989. A founding member of Emily’s List, Mary Owen was also a Member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) for over forty-three years. She represented WEL on many Government committees, making a significant impact on policies advancing the status of women, especially the fight for equal pay.
In 1986 the first Mary Owen Dinner was organised in Melbourne to celebrate Mary’s retirement. Held annually, the event lasted twenty years. There was always a female keynote speaker and the audience, normally in the order of 600 women, wearing the feminist colours of purple, green and white, was a sight to behold. The last dinner was held in 2005.
Mary Owen was a very early supporter of the Australian Women’s Archives Project, which began as a community based organisation’s response to a request from Mary Owen for help with conserving the records of her long and varied contribution to public life.
Born in 1921, Mary was a woman who effected change – and made Australia a better, more equal place for all of us coming after her. She died 23 March, 2017.
Working Women’s Centre Melbourne(1975 – 1984)
Social support organisation
The Melbourne Working Women’s Centre was the first trade union women’s research and advisory centre in Australia. Established in 1975, under the auspices of the white collar union peak body, the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations (ACSPA), it operated as an independent lobby and research group concentrating on women’s issues in employment. When the ACSPA amalgamated with the ACTU in 1979, so too did the Working Women’s Centre. It became defunct in 1984.
Street, Jessie Mary Grey(1889 – 1970)
Jessie Street was recognised nationally and internationally for her activism in women’s rights, social justice and peace. Street campaigned for equality of status for women, equal pay, the appointment of women to public office and the election of women to parliament. Co-founder of the New South Wales Social Hygiene Association (1916) and Co-founder (1928) and President of the United Associations of Women, she was the only woman on the Australian delegation to the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945 and established the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the Charter of Women’s Rights.
Ryan, Lyndall(1943 – )
Academic, Educator, Feminist, Historian
Lyndall Ryan was a member of the first Sydney Women’s Liberation Group in 1970. In 1974 she joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a policy analyst on women’s health and child care. She became an academic in 1977 and has held positions in Australian Studies and Women’s Studies at Griffith and Flinders Universities. She was appointed to the position of Foundation Professor of Australian Studies and Head of School of Humanities at the University of Newcastle in 1998.
Levy, Anne(1934 – )
Anne Levy was the first woman to preside in any house of any Parliament in Australia. She was elected to the South Australian Legislative Council in 1975 where she remained until 1997. In 1986 she became the President of the Legislative Council – the first woman to be a Presiding Officer of a House of Parliament in Australia. She held various Ministerial positions between 1989-1993, including first ever Minister for the Status of Women in Australia.
Journalist, Parliamentarian, Political candidate, Politician, Public servant, Tutor, Writer
Robyn Read was an independent member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in the seat of North Shore from 1988 until 1991. She failed to gain re-election in the 1991 by-election. Prior to her parliamentary career, Robyn was a successful local councillor and was Alderman for the North Sydney Municipal Council from 1970-77 and 1987-91 and was also Deputy Mayor from 1974-75.
Australian Women’s Charter(1943 – )
The Australian Women’s Charter was a program of reforms put forward by women for incorporation into government planning of postwar reconstruction. Described as ‘the feminist agenda for postwar reconstruction’ and ‘a landmark feminist manifesto’, the charter documented a wide range of issues and objectives that were discussed at the Australian Women’s Conference For Victory in War and Victory in Peace, held in Sydney in November 1943. It ranged over a series of issues – women’s right to paid work, the necessity for adequate child care, the particular needs of rural and Aboriginal women amongst them – and reflected the conference participants’ agenda for women in the post war world, an agenda that was influenced heavily by women’s wartime experiences. A series of publications, programs and follow-up Charter conferences were organized to plan and campaign for the implementation of its aims.
National Women’s Advisory Council(1978 – 1984)
Social support organisation
The National Women’s Advisory Council was established as a new channel of communication between the Women’s Affairs Branch of the federal government and the wider community of women. Chaired by Beryl Beaurepaire it had Aboriginal, migrant, rural and trade union women among the members.
International Women’s Day(1928 – )
March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated throughout the world. Australian governments first officially recognised the day in March 1974, when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced Australia’s participation in the United Nations’ International Women’s Year for 1975. Since then International Women’s Day has become a regular event in every State and Territory, with a program stretching over the full week.
The first IWD was held on 19 March 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and other European countries. The date was reputedly chosen by German women because, on the same date in 1848, the King of Prussia had promised votes for women among other reforms. The promise was made in the face of an armed uprising, and remained unfulfilled (see www.isis.aust.com/iwd/stevens/firstiwd.htm)
The first unofficial IWD in Australia took place in the Domain in Sydney on March 25 1928, organised by the Militant Women’s Movement and calling for equal pay for equal work; an 8 hour day for shop girls; no piece work; the basic wage for the unemployed and annual holidays on full pay.
Another rally took place in 1929 in Sydney and Brisbane. The late Edna Ryan – feminist and unionist – took part, and during the Whitlam years she successfully campaigned on equal pay before the Industrial Relations Commission. The movement spread, especially among trade union women.
(entry researched and written by Marie Coleman)
Durack, Sarah (Fanny)(1889 – 1956)
Sarah (Fanny) Durack battled local swimming authorities to become the first Australian woman to compete at the Olympic Games. In 1912, at Stockholm, she won the gold medal in the 100 meters freestyle event, beating her compatriot and training partner, Wilhelmina (Mina) Wylie. She went on to break numerous world records until she retired from competitive swimming in 1921.
Geason, Susan(1926 – )
Editor, Journalist, Women's liberationist, Writer
Most of Geason’s professional life centred on politics and writing, often a combination of both, including positions as a researcher in Parliament House, Canberra; Cabinet Adviser in the New South Wales Premier’s Department; and head of information in what is now the Environment Protection Authority. Since 1988 she has worked as a freelance writer and editor, and from 1992 till 1997, was literary editor of the Sydney weekly newspaper, the Sun-Herald.
Coleman, Marie Yvonne(1933 – )
Educator, Feminist, Journalist, Medical Social Worker, Public servant, Researcher, Social activist, Statutory Office Holder
Marie Coleman was the first woman to head a Commonwealth Government statutory agency, and the first woman to hold the powers of Permanent Head under the Public Service Act. She was founding Secretary of the National Foundation for Australian Women, one of the NFAW Board of Directors who worked to establish the Australian Women’s Archives Project (AWAP), and remains active in community organisations and public life in her retirement. She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 1989 for contributions to public administration. In 2001 she was awarded the Centenary Medal. In 2011 she was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia.