COWAN, Edith Dircksey (1861-1932)


COWAN, Edith Dircksey (1861-1932)
social worker
was born at Geraldton, Western Australia, on 2 August 1861. Her father, K. Brown, was the son of F. Brown who came to Australia in 1841, her mother was the daughter of the Rev. J. B. Wittenoom, the first colonial chaplain in Western Australia, who arrived in 1829. Miss Brown was sent to a school kept by the Misses Cowan at Perth, and was also instructed by Canon Sweeting at Guildford. In 1879 she married James Cowan, registrar and master of the supreme court. The care of her children and her home kept Mrs Cowan occupied for many years, but in the meanwhile her husband had become a police magistrate, and from him she learned much about cases of distress among women and children. She became interested in social questions, the franchise for women, day nurseries, and the boarding-out system. In 1912 she was appointed a member of the bench of the newly-formed children's court, and sat regularly for 18 years. During the 1914-18 war she was a prominent member of the red cross centre and other war activities, and in 1920 became a justice of the peace and was made an O.B.E. At the general election for the legislative assembly held in 1921 she defeated T. P. Draper, the attorney-general, and became the first woman member of parliament in Australia. She lost her seat in 1924, but during her three years in parliament she succeeded in amending the administration act so that mothers were placed in the same position as fathers when children died intestate, and she also introduced the women's legal status act. She had become a member of the Anglican synod in 1922, and in 1926 she was one of the first women appointed to its provincial synod. She was also one of the first women members of the Perth hospital board, and other institutions she supported and worked for were the King Edward Memorial Hospital, the House of Mercy, afterwards the Alexandra Home for Women, the Infant Health Centre, and the Ministering Children's League. She died at Perth on 9 June 1932 and was survived by her husband and three daughters.
Mrs Cowan was a well-known figure in Western Australia. She was a good speaker and a thoroughly level-headed and capable woman whose life was given up to the betterment of the community.
The West Australian, 10 June 1932; Ed. by J. G. Wilson, Western Australia's Centenary, 1829-1929, p. 168.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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