Joyce Steele and Jesse Cooper break drought in 1959 as first state female members of parliament

Jessie Cooper and Joyce Steele end long wait in 1959: First women to be elected to the state parliament.

Although South Australia in 1894 was first in the world to grant women the right to stand as candidates, no woman was elected to the state’s parliament until 1959.
The breakthrough in 1959 came via the Liberal Country League candidates Joyce Steele (for the House of Assembly) and Jessie Cooper (Legislative Council) being elected.

In her maiden speech – the first by a woman in the House of Assembly – Joyce Steele outlined the issues she intended to pursue, including food price control, public transport for disabled children, laboratories for scientific research, and coordinated social welfare.

In her second year in parliament, Steele became the first woman appointed to the Council of the South Australian Institute of Technology.

In 1963, Steele became government whip and, in Steele Hall’s government from 1968, was successively minister of education, social welfare, Aboriginal affairs and housing.

Jessie Cooper in her maiden speech proposed education reforms including schools of Oriental studies. In her 20 years in the state’s upper house, she worked for issues relating to child welfare, and pressed for equal pay and ending other discrimination. She soon discovered she did not share her colleagues’superannuation entitlements and won this right for women parliamentarians.

In 1979, Cooper crossed the floor with two colleagues to vote with the Labor government, ensuring businessman Alan Bond did not gain control of Santos and the state’s Cooper Basin oil and gas. She earned the ire of her Opposition colleagues and the following month announced her immediate retirement.


Other related ADELAIDEAZ articles

Augusta Zadow teams with Mary Lee to fight scourge of sweatshop conditions in factories

Augusta Zadow, who worked closely with Mary Lee, became South Australia’s first “inspectress under the Factories Act” in 1894, checking on working conditions for women and minors. Zadow became an advocate for women working in Adelaide clothing factories and she was a major force behind forming the Working Women’s Trades Union in 1890. With Lee, she also was a strong supporter of the Women’s Suffrage League.


Lillie Smith's Girton Girls (1915) and King's College (1920s) joined to form Pembroke School

Pembroke School – an upmarket independent coeducation and nondenominational day and boarding school in Adelaide’s Kensington Park for about 1700 students – was formed in 1974 by amalgamating Girton Girls School and King’s School for boys. Girton was one of many private girls’ schools started in Adelaide. Lillie Smith, wife of a stock broker whose fortunes varied, decided to have a regular income by buying a Kensington property in 1915 and setting up her school for girls. It flourished for nearly 50 years. King’s College came out of 1920s moves to amalgamate the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Although union didn’t happen, a new cooperative spirit led to the Baptists joining Congregationalists to form King’s College. King’s College emphasised the academic, physical and cultural rather than faith. Its only clergyman headmaster R.A. Cook (from 1957) eventually had a school chapel built in the 1960s. First headmaster J.A. Haslam, was the son of a Methodist minister, and later W.N. Oats, a Quaker with strong Methodist background, revived the school, from 1942. Among challenging views, Oats’ vision for King’s to become co-educational wasn't realised for another 30 years. In 2006, Pembroke became the first South Australian school exempted o accept more girls than boys to redress a gender imbalance in lower years. Pembroke School Foundation has supported major additions such as Diana Medlin Junior School, John Moody Technology Centre, senior and middle schools’ resource centres and Girton arts precinct.

Workplace gender equality hits pockets of resistance in the police force, public service

The South Australian Equal Opportunity Act, enacted in 1984, was among the earliest comprehensive pieces of equal opportunity legislation in Australia.
But gender equality shortfalls were highlighted in the South Australian public service and police force in 2016. The police union objected to a push for 50:50 gender equality in the South Australian police force ranks and the state government launched an audit of pay inequality in the public service.

Mary Lee a prime mover in Social Purity Society, Women's Suffrage League, women's union

A widow who'd given birth to seven children, Mary Lee, 58, migrated from Ireland to South Australia with a daughter in 1879 to care for a sick son. Lee campaigned passionately for women when they had few rights and poor work conditions. Her campaigns started as ladies secretary of the Social Purity Society, which had the age of consent for girls raised from 12 to 16. She was important in forming the South Australian Women’s Suffrage League in 1888. As secretary, Lee steered campaigns, petitions and deputations. At an 1889 meeting in Adelaide Town Hall on sweated labour, Lee called for women’s trade unions to address long hours and low pay in the clothing and boot trades. Lee was founding secretary of the Working Women’s Trade Union (1890–92). Through the 1890s depression, Lee served on the United Trades and Labour Council's distressed women and children’s committee. In 1896, Lee was appointed the first and only female official visitor to the Lunatic Asylum (1896–1908). Mary Lee’s final years were impoverished but she remained defiant and proud of her achievements.

William Bragg marries Gwendoline Todd who has a positive effect on his emotion swings

William Bragg and Gwendoline Todd became close friends from their first meeting on his first day in Adelaide. Their relationship wasn't always smooth as William became concerned about his mood swings. With a maturity beyond her 18 years, Gwen comforted and calmed “my dearest Will”. In 1889, William and Gwen were married by university vice chancellor Canon George Farr at his parish church, St Luke’s, Whitmore Square. They rented a home on LeFevre Terrace, North Adelaide.

The Misses Brown at Wilderness, Caroline Jacobs' Tormore House extend dame tradition

The Brown sisters and Caroline Jacob continued the tradition of dame schools into the 20th Century. Wilderness School started in 1884 when Margaret Hamilton Brown began educating her delicate sister Mamie at home in North Adelaide. The school grew and moved in 1893 to its present location in Medindie. Caroline Jacob reopened Tormore House in North Adelaide with sister Annie in 1898. Jacob later boaught Unley Park School, cycling between her schools several times weekly

Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback