Edith Cowan was an OG suffragette, social reformer, and feminist trailblazer we all should know about. Seriously, this woman is a legend. (Our AU Dollar Blanket features a bit of her shoulder and hair from the portrait on the Australian $50 bill.)
Born in 1861 in a small mining town on the coast of Western Australia, Cowan's early life was pretty rough—her mother died in childbirth in 1868 and her father was hanged for the murder of his second wife in 1876—an experience which no doubt motivated her lifelong pursuit of social justice for women and children.
Edith in her 20s.
In 1894, despite having five children at the time, Edith somehow managed to carve out enough time to co-found the Karrakatta Club, a suffragette organization that is largely responsible for winning Australian women the right to vote in 1899. From founding to freedom in only five years, dang dude.
Australian suffragettes. [Daily Inkling]
She then set about progressive causes that were—at least by U.S. standards—pretty ahead of their time: the construction of a women's hospital for the disadvantaged, founding two early feminist organizations, ending the practice of trying children as adults, and the subsequent establishment of children’s court—to which she was appointed a seat on the bench, one of the first Australian women to do so.
King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Perth, Western Australia. [Historic Hospitals]
After women won the right to run for office in 1921, Edith entered the race for a seat in parliament and won a surprise victory, becoming the first female member of an Australian parliament. In an ironic twist of fate, she unseated the man who introduced the legislation that had enabled her to enter the race in the first place. (I wonder if he regretted that one.)
While in office she continued to fight for the rights of women and children, including winning the right for women to practice law, manage their own finances after their husband's death, and instituting proper sex education in schools. She continued her work until her death in 1932 at the age of 71.
In 1995, her contributions to Australian society were honored when she was featured on their 50 dollar bill, one of many developed countries (excluding the U.S.) that puts a one woman on at least one of its bills. In fact Australia is actually the leader of numismatic gender equality, featuring women on 4 of 5 of its bills.
Australian 50 dollar bill.
The U.S. was 21 years behind Australia in women's suffrage, maybe now our time has come?
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