- Honour Roll
Enid Lyons was introduced to politics at an early age by her mother, Eliza, who was influenced by the ideas of Fabian Socialism and was a member of the ALP. Enid studied at the Teacher Training College in Hobart. Her mother introduced her to various Labor politicians including Joe Lyons. Enid began a correspondence with Joe, then the Tasmanian Treasurer and Minister for Education. Despite the eighteen-year age difference they were soon engaged and Enid was eighteen when they married.
Converting to Catholicism, she gave birth to the first of many children when she was nineteen, in spite of a divided pelvis. Soon she had five children under five years of age. In 1925, Enid ran for the State seat of Denison as her husband felt the Labor Party should run a female candidate. She was a firm believer in women's rights and had argued for equal pay. Despite being busy with seven young children, Enid fought a hard campaign and just missed out. Shortly afterwards, her ten-month-old baby died of pneumonia and then her next pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth. She had five more children.
Joe Lyons was elected Prime Minister in December 1931 as leader of the newly formed United Australia Party. In 1937, Enid was made Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire. Enid was in fact her husband's closest political ally and adviser. His first act as Prime Minister was to write to his wife that 'whatever honours or distinctions come are ours, not mine'. Joe died in 1939.
When the Federal seat of Darwin (in Tasmania) became vacant in 1943, Enid's daughter persuaded her to nominate. She became the only new member elected for the UAP in a landslide victory to Labor. She was the first woman member of the House of Representatives in Australia. She campaigned on issues relating to the importance of family life. Describing Enid in parliament, former Prime Minister Billy Hughes said, "Ah, there you sat, like a bird of paradise among carrion crows". In her maiden speech, she argued the need to examine all policies in relation to their effect on home and family life. Her greatest success was when she committed the Party and subsequently the Coalition to the extension of child endowment to first children.
After the 1949 election victory of the UAP she achieved another first as the first woman to become Vice President of the Executive Council. With deteriorating health she resigned from parliament in 1951. Although infirm, she continued to have a voice on social issues via syndicated newspaper columns. She also accepted the position of Commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) which she held for eleven years. Her husband had set up the ABC and stipulated that at least one of the commissioners should be a woman.
Enid went on to publish two books of memoirs in which she was outspoken on the nature of Australian politics, observing that 'the tradition of male supremacy still holds in a manner not matched in any country of comparable development'.
Reviewed 26 May 2022