Woman Hall, Edith

Disability rights activist and Women's rights activist

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Edith Hall was a leading advocate on behalf of people with disabilities both nationally and internationally. Born to Robert and Adelaide Greig, in Melbourne in 1933, she contracted polio at the age of six. The disease and subsequent treatment left her with limited use of her legs and her right hand but, through the use of a wheelchair, she was able to move around as well as the environment would permit,. She spent five years in institutions, returning home aged eleven to a much happier life and school. At Santa Maria College in Northcote, Melbourne, she became a skilled debater and graduated with a leaving certificate and good typing skills. Unfortunately, these skills did not transfer immediately into paid employment: she claims she was able to paper her bedroom wall with rejection slips before landing her first job as a typist clerk.

After working for five years, she enrolled in law and politics at the University of Melbourne but was unable to complete her degree. The campus was hopelessly inaccessible at the time and the physical effort required took its toll. She resumed full time work as a credit manager in the building industry in the early 1960s, at the age of 28, and began to fully appreciate the discrimination experienced in the workplace by women in general and women with disabilities in particular. Her experience upon leaving was particularly instructive. 'My job was taken over by a man who got twice the pay, a car and two secretaries,' she observed later (Public action, politics and a lot of patience). This, and other experiences in the workplace, including a stint working in an employment agency, led to her setting up her own employment agency (in partnership) so she could make recruitment 'a more human process' (Public action, politics and a lot of patience).

Hall's forty year involvement with the disability advocacy sector began in a voluntary capacity, with the Paraplegic and Quadraplegic Association of Victoria (later Independence Australia). In time, she was paid for this work, first on a part time basis and then as the Executive Director. From this position, her expertise and effectiveness was highly sought after and she represented the needs of people with disabilities in a variety of forums. She was one of three women (alongside Elizabeth Hastings and Rhonda Galbally) who advised Phillips Adams on the media strategy for the International Years of Disabled Person (IYDP), and served as Deputy Chairperson of the National Committee of Non-Government Organisations for IYPD between 1980-82. She held many state based positions in Victoria including that of President of the Disabled Motorists Association of Victoria. Ensuring access rights for people with disabilities was her major interest and her choice of committee involvements reflected this preoccupation. She was a member of the first Planning Committee of the Melbourne City Council's Access Committee and the Institute of Architects Access Committee.

Her national profile was considerable and demonstrated her concern for women's interests. As well as serving on the committee for the planning of IYPD, she was a member of the Disabled Women's Sub-Committee of the Commonwealth Government's National Women's Advisory Council, eventually becoming convenor of the National Women's Consultative Council for a term in 1984. Her knowledge of the issues and her effective communication style equipped her as an ideal Australian advocate for women with disabilities at international events. She was Australia's delegate at the United Nations' End of Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, as well as being a representative at two United National Rehabilitation international conferences. In 1988 she was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia for service to the community, particularly people with disabilities. She became a life member of the Australian Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled (ACROD - now National Disability Services) in 1991 and in 2001, she was an inaugural inductee on the Victorian Women's Honour Roll.

Hall lived most of her life in Victoria but retired with her second husband, Stan, to Port Macquarie on the New South Wales coast in 1987. She didn't scale back her community involvement once retired. She played a leadership role on the Hospital Action Group, formed to oppose the privatisation of the town's public hospital, served on Hastings Council for six years, three of them as deputy mayor, and was chair of the Hastings Macleay Community Transport Association, the New South Wales Boundaries Commission and foundation chair of the Mid North Coast Area Health Board. She was an active worker for the Port Macquarie branch of the Australian Labor Party. A friend from her Port Macquarie days said that it was impossible for the community not to be aware of 'this dynamic woman in a wheelchair, who challenged politicians and bureaucrats in a measured way'(Edith Hall Triumphed).

Fundamental to Hall's effectiveness as an advocate was her patience and her general regard for the essential goodness of people. According to her nephew, Hall 'never gave up on anything or anyone, was a changer of attitudes and a special person in every way' (Edith Hall Triumphed). In negotiations, she was mindful of the fact that there was always a need for tangible outcomes, and of the need to position her message clearly. 'How could the needs of people with disabilities be presented to politicians and public servants who were lobbied by many interest groups?' she would ask herself (Public action, politics and a lot of patience). Another factor in her success was that she always felt supported, through her education and by her family. In particular, Hall's marriage to Stan, according to her nephew, 'was a major positive influence that put essential aspects of her life into balance' (Edith Hall Triumphed).

Edith Hall died in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, in January 2011. A friend described her as 'a woman of determination and achievement, a lady of compassions and understanding, a fighter for social justice' (Edith Hall Triumphed).

Archival Resources

National Archives of Australia

  • NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Disabled Women's Sub-Committee, 02 November 1982 - 21 January 1983, 7902685; National Archives of Australia. Details

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Hosking, Chris and Adams, Phillip, 'Brave, Sensual, Feisty, Warrior: The Passionate Spirit, The Enquiring Vigorous Minds, and the Steadfast Love - Our Friend and Colleague Elizabeth Hastings - Born 21.1.1949 - Died 13.10.1998', Australian and New Zealand Psychodrama Association (ANZPA) Journal, no. 7, December 1998, pp. 4 - 19. Details

Magazine Articles

  • Lees, Caroline, Bashing one's head against a brick wall: Interview with Edith Hall, The Bulletin, Interview Transcript, Hall, Edith, 13 December 1988, 148,151-152 pp. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • Tisdell, Lisa, 'Edith Hall triumphed over personal circumstances', Port Macquarie News, 28 January 2011, p. 12. Details

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Disabled Women's Sub-Committee
Digitised Paper Resource
02 November 1982 - 21 January 1983
National Archives of Australia
National Archives of Australia