Edith Dircksey Cowan


2 August 1861
Glengarry, near Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia
9 June 1932
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Community worker, Lawyer, Magistrate, Political activist, Politician and Public servant

Edith Cowan, the first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament in Western Australia in 1921, was described in her entry in Australian feminism, a companion, as 'a committed, tireless and public campaigner for women's and children's rights from the early twentieth century'. Married at the age of seventeen to James Cowan, registrar and master of the Supreme Court, they had five children. She was the founding secretary in 1894 and later president of the Karrakatta Club, a women's club in Perth, which campaigned for female suffrage. Her commitment to women's well-being resulted in her active involvement in the establishment of the Western Australian National Council of Women in 1911. She was a foundation member of the Children's Protection Society in 1906 and the first woman to be appointed to the Children's Court bench in 1915. She became a Justice of the Peace in 1920. In the same year her work was acknowledged with her appointment to the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to the Western Australian division of the Red Cross Society, of which she was a founding member in 1914.

A clock tower at the entrance to King's Park in Perth was erected to her memory in 1934 and in 1995 her portrait was printed on the Australian fifty dollar note.

Sources used to compile this entry: Faith, Hope and Charity Australian Women and Imperial Honours: 1901-1989, Australian Women's Archives Project, March 2003, http://www.womenaustralia.info/exhib/honours/honours.html; Biographical cuttings on Edith Cowan, former first woman member of an Australian parliament, 1861 - 1932; National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room; Black, David and Phillips, Harry, 'Making a Difference: Women in the West Australian Parliament 1921-1999', Parliament of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, 2000; Brown, Margaret, 'Cowan, Edith Dircksey (1861-1932)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, Australian National University, 2006, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A080137b.htm; Bulbeck, Chilla, 'Breaking the monumental mould: how the Edith Cowan clock was built.', International review of women and leadership, July 1996, 1996, pp. 86-90; Cowan, Edith Dircksey, 1861-1932, letter, 1922 15 December, 1922, ACC 2125A, 4th Floor, Private Archive Stack; Cowan, Edith Dircksey (1861 - 1932); JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia; Cowan, Edith Dircksey, 'Early social life and fashions', Journal and proceedings ( Western Australian Historical Society), vol. 1, no. 3, 1928, pp. 1-17; Cowan, Edith Dircksey, 'Bishop Hale and secondary education', Journal and proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol. 1, no. 7, 1930, p. 11; Cowan, Edith Dircksey, 'Some pioneer women', Journal and proceedings ( Western Australian Historical Society), vol. 1, no. 10, 1931, pp. 44-51; Cowan, Edith Dircksey, The voice of Edith Cowan, Australia's first woman parliamentarian 1921-1924, Phillips, Harry C J, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, 1996, 206 pp; Cowan, Peter, 'Edith Cowan', Early days, vol. 7, no. 8, 1976, pp. 55-68; Cowan, Peter, A unique position: a biography of Edith Dircksey Cowan, 1861-1932, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, Western Australia, 1978, 298 pp; Daniels, Kay, Uphill all the way, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1980, 335 pp; Davidson, Dianne, Women on the warpath : feminist of the first wave, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, WA, 1997, 320 pp; De Vries, Susanna, The Complete Book of Great Australian Women: Thirty-six women who changed the course of Australia, HarperCollins, Sydney, 2003; Edith Cowan memorial committee minute book, 1932-1952, 1932 - 1952, MN 927, 3rd Fl;oor, Battye Shelves; ACC 482A, Private Archive stack; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia; Fitzherbert, Margaret, Liberal women : Federation to 1949, Federation Press, Sydney, 2004, 305 pp; Grahame, Emma, 'Cowan, Edith', in Barbara Caine (ed.), Australian feminism a companion, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998, pp. 403-04; Jenkins, Cathy, No ordinary lives: pioneering women in Australian politics, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2008, 207 pp; Kerwin, Hollie and Rubenstein, Kim, 'Law', in The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia, Judith Smart and Shurlee Swain (eds), Australian Women's Archives Project, 2014, http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/biogs/WLE0624b.htm; National Library of Australia, 'The National Library of Australia's Federation Gateway', in Cowan, Edith Dircksey ( 1861-1932 ), National Library of Australia Information Services Division, 2002, http://www.nla.gov.au/guides/federation/people/cowan.html; Oliver, Bobbie, ''In the thick of every battle for the cause of Labor' : the voluntary work of the Labor women's organisations in Western Australia, 1900-1970', vol. 81, November 2001, 2001, pp. 93-108; Popham, Daphne; Stokes, K.A; Lewis, Julie, Reflections : profiles of 150 women who helped make Western Australia's history; Project of the Womens Committee for the 150th Anniversary Celebrations of Western Australia, Carrolls, Perth, Melbourne [etc.]:, 1979, 266 pp; Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Women's Redress Press, Sydney, 1988, 258 pp. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-78644; Smart, Judith and Swain, Shurlee (eds), 'Cowan, Edith Dircksey', The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia, Australian Women's Archives Project, 2 May 2014, http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/biogs/WLE0162b.htm; Steadman, Margaret, 'Edith Cowan', in Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian women, Women's Redress Press Inc, Sydney, NSW, 1988, pp. 77-78; Women's Service Guilds of Western Australia Records, 1909 - 1992, ACC 2530A, 4343A-4347A; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia; Women's Service Guilds of Western Australia Records, 1896 - 1959, ACC 1949A; JS Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia; Wycherley, Paul, Mrs Cowan's clock: the location of the Edith Cowan Memorial, Edith Cowan University, Churchlands, Western Australia, 1997, 39 pp.

Prepared by Rosemary Francis