Review Blog

Oct 17 2014

Edith Cowan: A quiet woman of note by Hazel Edwards

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Ill. by Angela Grzegrzolka. New Frontier, 2014. ISBN 9781925059021
Edith Cowan's face graces one side of the fifty dollar note but most would not be aware of her past and the reforms she was able to introduce. Known as the first woman elected to any Australian Parliament, she served the disadvantaged, especially women and children in Perth for many years prior to her election.
Edith, born in 1861, enjoyed a happy childhood at Glengarry, a station out of Geralton, until her mother became ill and died when Edith was seven years old. Not long after, the family was broken up when their father could not cope. Edith and her older sister Blanche were sent to boarding school in Perth and her younger brothers sent to live with relatives. Edith's future interest in social reform for women was cemented when her father, an increasingly violent man, was found guilty of murdering his second wife and subsequently hanged.
Edith married James Cowan, a court registrar, who through his work saw many disadvantaged families and encouraged Edith to visit and help the poor and needy. She continued her social work whilst raising five of her own children, serving the community as a magistrate on the Children's Court, receiving an OBE for her contributions to the Red Cross during WW1 and later entering parliament, all the time championing social reform for women and children at a time when they had few of the rights we enjoy today.
Whilst I found the text to be quite repetitive at times, Hazel Edwards has obviously been keen to impress the reader with the significance of Edith's achievements overcoming a socially and personally damaging childhood through education and commitment.
Sue Keane

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