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1920

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Edith Cowan
Edith Cowan
Courtesy of The West Australian
May Holman
May Holman
Courtesy of The West Australian

 Western Australia's State election of 1921 was the first opportunity women had to enter State Parliament.  Of the four who nominated for seats, only one was successful - Edith Dircksey Cowan, the first female member of parliament in Australia.

Edith Cowan was in her sixties when she entered parliament, after many years of social activism.  Her aim was to make an impact in a number of areas of vital importance to women, such as divorce court reform, guardianship of children, and the reform of inheritance law.  She was also determined to open up the legal profession to women.

The initial press response was demeaning.  Cartoons in The Bulletin portrayed Edith Cowan interrupting the important affairs of parliament with a woman's `housewifely instincts'

Despite the attempted stereotyping, Edith Cowan was a forceful parliamentarian.  She introduced and saw enacted the Women's Legal Status Act, which enabled women to practice law.  It was a major milestone in the achievement of women's rights.  Although she failed to win her seat of West Perth in the next election she had opened the door to the political arena for women.

The next woman to step through the door was May Holman, first elected in 1925 and the first female Labour parliamentarian in the world.  She was to occupy the seat of Forrest for the next fourteen years, at a time when Western Australia was at the forefront of the Australian women's movement.