On 8 March the Museum of Australian Democracy celebrates International Women’s Day. This year marks some significant anniversaries for women in the political sphere and there is no better place in Canberra to mark these events than at the museum, located in Old Parliament House.
One hundred and ten years ago, in December 1903, the majority of Australian women gained the right to both vote in and stand for election in the new nation’s second federal election. Four women did just that—Vida Goldstein, Nellie Martel and Mary Ann Moore Bentley all nominated for the Senate and Selina Anderson for the House of Representatives. Aboriginal men and women were excluded from taking part in this and every other federal election until 1962. The four women were unsuccessful but polled well and Vida Goldstein was particularly persistent, standing for election another four times until 1917.
Another significant anniversary in 2013 is that seventy years ago, in 1943, the first women were finally elected to federal parliament. Enid Lyons, the widow of former Prime Minister Joe Lyons, became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and, later on, the first woman in federal Cabinet. She was elected for the United Australia Party, which survived only two more years and was then absorbed into the new Liberal Party of Australia. Dorothy Tangney, from Western Australia, was the second woman elected when she won a Senate seat for the Labor Party.
The museum will be marking both these significant anniversaries with free entry for all visitors on 8th March. As well, at 10.30am that day Senior Historian Libby Stewart will give a curator talk in the House of Representatives chamber highlighting museum collection items that belonged to significant political figures whose lives are linked with the building.
We hope to see many visitors in the building on 8 March to help us celebrate the enormous and continuing contribution of women to national politics.