This year marks the 80th anniversary of the first two women elected to the Australian federal parliament - Dorothy Tangney to the Senate, and Enid Lyons to the House of Representatives. To mark this milestone and celebrate these trailblazing women, we are sharing two newly digitised items from their collections which are held at the National Library.

Two pages of an old letter written in blue ink.
Letter from Dame Enid Lyons to Harold Adams,10 October 1962, nla.obj-3150225043

Dame Enid Lyons wrote a letter to Lieutenant Commander Harold Adams, Executive Officer of HMAS Swan, in October 1962 after the vessel’s 25th anniversary dinner. Dame Enid had launched the ship in March 1936 at Cockatoo Island, as wife of then-Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. The letter between Dame Enid and Lieutenant Commander Adams discusses the anniversary dinner and mentions souvenirs given to Dame Enid at the anniversary party, which Dame Enid intended to pass onto to her grandchildren. This letter demonstrates Dame Enid’s ongoing connection to the vessel she launched 25 years prior, and the growth of her importance as a public figure in her own right. It also demonstrates Dame Enid’s family as another significant aspect of her life; the Lyons’ had 11 children and many grandchildren.

Dame Enid used her political platform to champion women’s rights, the need for community housing, child endowments, maternity services, family benefits, and the free distribution of essential medicines.

View the Letter from Dame Enid Lyons to Harold Adams in Trove

A three-page typewritten letter in black ink.
Letter from Senator Dorothy Tangney to Senator D. Cameron, 30 September 1947, nla.obj-3120706807nla.obj-3120696734; nla.obj-3120706935

In 1947, Dorothy Tangney addressed the opening session of the Conference of the Commonwealth Telephone Operators Association. After hearing from delegates regarding the problems facing telephone operators, Dorothy wrote to Senator D. Cameron, Postmaster General. This letter details the inequalities facing female telephonists, but many of these inequalities, such as equal pay for equal work and equal access to work opportunities, were also common to women in a range of industries at the time.

View the Letter from Dorothy Tangney to Senator D. Cameron in Trove

Two portrait photographs side by side. The one on the left is a sepia toned image of a woman with a 1950s hairstyle and a fur around her neck The one on the right is a black and white image of a woman with a 1950 hairstyle wearing a dark velvet-looking dress.
Antoine Kershaw, Portrait of Dame Enid Lyons c.1950nla.obj-136193179Portrait of Dame Dorothy Tangney, c.1940s, nla.obj-136682831

Dame Enid Lyons became the first Australian woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1943, holding the seat of Darwin in Tasmania. She was one of the first two women elected to Parliament, along with Dame Dorothy Tangney, and served as a Member of Parliament from 1943 to 1951. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1937. The Library holds the papers of Dame Enid Lyons and recently acquired this letter to expand upon what we know and hold relating to this significant Australian women.

Dame Dorothy Tangney became the first Australian woman elected to the Senate in 1943, and the first woman from the Australian Labor Party to be elected to the Australian Parliament. She was one of the first two women elected to Parliament, along with Dame Enid Lyons, and served as a Senator for Western Australia from 1943 to 1968. The Library acquired her papers in 1968 upon her retirement, the same year she was appointed a Dame of the British Empire. This extensive and unique collection documents the life of one of Australia’s first female politicians and reveals the tireless work she undertook to improve the lives of everyday Australians, in particular women.

The National Library is currently digitising the papers of Edith Lyons and Dorothy Tangney that are held in its collection. Some of these papers will soon be available on Trove.