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Mary Owen OAM and Sylvie Shaw

In 1975, Mary Owen and Sylvie Shaw co-founded the Working Women's Centre.

Inducted:
2001
Category:
Honour Roll

Mary Owen (1921-2017) was born on 8 February 1921 in Balwyn, Victoria. She was educated at Korowa Church of England Girls' Grammar School and Lauriston Girls' School. Following school she worked as a stenographer before marrying in 1942. She then had three children and worked in various secretarial jobs, including doing typing from home. She moved into sales and editing for the journal of the Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia, where she worked from 1963-75.

Mary became politically active in the late 1960s and was one of the early members of the Women's Electoral Lobby in 1972. Through its women's committee she co-founded with Sylvie Shaw the Working Women's Centre, which was an independent research and lobby group concentrating on women's issues in employment. They secured funding for it in 1975, International Women's Year, with a seeding grant and proceeded to set it up. Ongoing funding was received from the National Women's Advisory Council.

They employed two part-time migrant liaison officers and focused on the particular needs of migrant women in the workplace. Mary and Sylvie published a journal called Women at Work which had 6000 subscriptions in 1977 and 13,000 in 1982. The Women's Working Centre was absorbed into the ACTU in 1979 and made defunct in 1984.

Over the years, Mary attended numerous conferences and sat on various committees related to women's employment and published many articles on the topic. She was a member of the Council for Civil Liberties, the Committee for Constitutional Change, Political Economy Group and the Australian Women's Education Coalition. She was a member of the La Trobe University Council 1983-90 and was appointed Deputy Chancellor in 1989. Mary was awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 and the Order of Australia in 1984.

In 1986, the first Mary Owen Dinner was organised in Melbourne to celebrate her retirement. It is now held annually with a female speaker and is attended by hundreds of women wearing purple, green and white.

Reviewed 27 May 2022

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