Enid Lyons

Dame Enid Lyons (1897 – 1981 ) first woman elected to the House of Representatives
Enid Lyons was a strong Catholic, who came from a very poor background.  From Australia’s most provincial state, Dame Lyons rose to become the first woman in the Australian Parliament, and the first woman Cabinet Member.

Dame Lyons once said that, “The foundation of a nation’s greatness is in the homes of its people.”

A great orator, Dame Lyons delivered what was regarded as the finest maiden speech ever. Quoting two extracts:

It was during those years that we learned those things which still characterize the great bulk of our people—hatred of oppression, love of “a fair go”, a passion for justice. It was in those years that we developed those qualities of initiative and daring that have marked our men in every war in which they have fought—qualities which, I hope, will never be allowed to die.

She closed with what must have been a very moving statement.

I hope that I shall never forget that everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart, to influence the life of some fellow being, and I believe this, too, with all my heart: that the duty of every government, whether in this country or any other, is to see that no man, because of the condition of his life, shall ever need lose his vision of the city of God.

As a Roman Catholic from Australia’s most provincial state, Enid Lyons had always had a conservative streak, despite her husband’s Labor roots. By the time she was elected to Parliament in her own right, there was very little left of her Labor ties. Her speeches in Parliament generally espoused traditional views on the family and other social issues.

Source of last para  : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enid_Lyons

Great Speeches of Rural Australia – Enid Lyons

The first woman to be elected to the Commonwealth Parliament, Enid Muriel Lyons (nee Burnell) was born in the far north-west of Tasmania at Duck River (now Smithton). In 1915, at the age of 17, she married Joseph Lyons, the then Minister for Education and Railways and Tasmanian Treasurer (he later became Prime Minister). They formed a strong political partnership and had 12 children together.

Enid was a teacher and was concerned with political issues and the public arena delivering her first political speech in 1920. Her intention was to attract the support of women and advocate in the area of public responsibility and liberal feminism.

In 1943, four years after her husband’s death, Enid Lyons became the Federal member for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin (renamed Braddon in 1955). Enid was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and, jointly with Dorothy Tangney (WA), one of the first of two women elected to the Australian Parliament.

Her concerns included:

• A belief in the right of women to a place in government
• Issues concerning families, particularly those affecting housewives and mothers
• Improvement of maternity care
• Raising the widow’s pension
• Elimination of discrimination in employment

In the new Liberal Country Party Ministry under Menzies, she was appointed vice-president of the Executive Council, making her the first woman to enter a federal cabinet.

During this time:

• She was responsible for the extension of child endowment in 1950 and the raising of the allowances paid to returned servicewomen.
• She lobbied for women’s right to retain nationality and citizenship on marriage to foreigners (passed 1948).

On retirement due to illness her public activities included:
• Working as a newspaper columnist.
• The chairing of the Jubilee Women’s Convention (1951).
• Member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
• The publication of two autobiographical volumes So We Take Comfort (1965) and Among the Carrion Crows (1972).

In 1980 she was awarded the Order of Australia. Dame Enid died in 1981.

These are quotes from Dame Enid Lyons’ maiden speech to Federal Parliament in 1943.

“I believe, very sincerely, that any woman entering the public arena must be prepared to work as men work; she must justify herself not as a woman, but as a citizen; she must attack the same problems, and be prepared to shoulder the same burdens.

“But because I am a woman, and cannot divest myself of those qualities that are inherent in my sex, and because every one of us speaks broadly in the terms of one’s own experience, honourable members will have to become accustomed to the application of the homely metaphors of the kitchen rather than those of the operating theatre, the workshop or the farm. They must also become accustomed to the application to all kinds of measures of the touchstone of their effect upon the home and the family life.”

”I am delighted that the honorable member for Denison (Dr Gaha) should have secured the honour of having introduced to this chamber, in this debate, the subject of population… I, like him, have pondered this subject – not with my feet upon the mantlepiece but knee-deep in shawls and feeding bottles… I believe that something more than decentralisation is necessary if the population of Australia is to be increased.”

Source : http://tasphotos.blogspot.com/2008/06/enid-lyons.html which includes a picture of the Lyons family at The Lodge in 1938, with their eleven children (one died in infancy).  Audio versions of Dame Enid Lyon’s speeches are also available on this website.

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