• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: AWE0004

Ryan, Edna Minna

(1904 – 1997) Edna Ryan
  • Nationality Australian
  • Born 15 December, 1904, Pyrmont New South Wales Australia
  • Died 10 February, 1997, Canberra Australian Capital Territory
  • Occupation 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).


Parliamentary and Local Government Career

  • Alderman, Fairfield Municipal Council, 1956-65
  • Deputy Mayor 1958
  • Member, Prospect County Council retired 1972
  • Candidate, Mosman, 1953
Other Highlights
  • Participated in the first International Women’s Day 1928;
  • Organised the wives of the timber workers strike 1929;
  • Member of Communist Party and International Workers of the World 1920-35c;
  • Joined Australian Labor Party 1935;
  • Organised first residential Summer School for women for the Workers Educational Association;
  • First female Deputy Mayor in NSW 1958;
  • Alderman Fairfield Council 1959-65;
  • First woman president of the largest branch of the Municipal Employees’ Union 1960s;
  • Campaign manager for future Prime Minister Gough Whitlam;
  • Founding member of Women’s Electoral Lobby 1972;
  • Presented breakthrough submission to the Arbitration Commission to award low paid women workers the same minimum wage as men 1974;
  • Published Gentle Invaders, Australian Women and the Workforce 1788-1974 with Anne Conlon 1975.

Ryan campaigned for maternity leave and work-based child care for women workers, was an advocate of women’s reproductive rights, and campaigned on the negative impacts of enterprise bargaining and compulsory superannuation on low paid women workers. In 1984 she published Two-thirds of a Man: Women and Arbitration in New South Wales 1902-08. The following year she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Sydney, and in 1995 was again awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters, this time by Macquarie University.

Edna Ryan had three children – Julia, Lyndall and Patrick – whom she raised alone after the early death of her husband, Jack Ryan.


Published resources

Archival resources

  • National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore Collection
    • On their own terms : profiles of five very individual Australians / prepared by Tim Bowden and Ros Bowden
    • Edna Ryan interviewed by Sara Dowse [sound recording]
    • Edna Ryan interviewed by Lucy Taksa in the NSW Bicentennial oral history collection [sound recording]
    • Interview with Lyndall Ryan, Professor of Australian Studies, University of Newcastle [sound recording] / interviewer, Sara Dowse
  • State Library of South Australia
    • Yarn spinners [sound recording]
  • National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection
    • Papers of Edna Ryan, 1948-1993 [manuscript]
    • Papers of Beryl Henderson, 1973-1992 [manuscript]
    • Papers of Julia Ryan, 1947-1982 [manuscript]
    • Papers of Meredith Stokes, circa 1970-1997 [manuscript]
  • Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University
    • Edna Ryan and Sylvia Winters papers
    • Jack Kavanagh collection deposit 1
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Radio Archives
    • Interviews with Edna Ryan
  • Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection
    • Edna Ryan papers, 1965-1986
    • Edna Ryan further papers, 1961-1989
    • Pat Richardson scrapbooks relating to the Women's Electoral Lobby and women's events, 1977-2002
    • Ros Bowden - interviews conducted for radio programs and documentaries, ca.1975 - 1989
  • National Library of Australia
    • [Biographical cuttings on Edna Ryan, unionist and author, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals]
  • State Library of New South Wales
    • Audrey Blake - further papers, 1915-1998

Digital resources

Related entries

  • Daughter
    • Ryan, Julia (1937 - )
    • Ryan, Lyndall (1943 - )
  • Sponsored
    • National Foundation for Australian Women (1989 - )
  • Related Organisations
    • Women's Electoral Lobby Australia (1972 - )
  • Member
    • Militant Women's Movement (1926 - )
  • Associate
    • Winters, Sylvia
  • Granddaughter
    • Ryan, Christina
  • Related Awards
    • Edna Ryan Awards (1998 - )