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 seventeen 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.
Radi, Heather (ed), 200 Australian Women: a Redress Anthology, Broadway, NSW: Women’s Redress Press Inc., (n.d.)
Millar, Ann, Trust the Women, Women in Federal Parliament, Canberra: Department of the Senate, 1993.
Tasmaniana Collection State Library of Tasmania
The Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women 2005