Enid Lyons

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Honourable
Dame Enid Lyons
Enid and Joseph Lyons in the 1930s
Vice-President of the Executive Council
In office
19 December 1949 – 7 March 1951
Preceded by William Scully
Succeeded by Robert Menzies
Spouse of the Prime Minister of Australia
In office
6 January 1932 – 7 April 1939
Preceded by Sarah Scullin
Succeeded by Lady Page
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Darwin
In office
21 August 1943 – 19 March 1951
Preceded by George Bell
Succeeded by Aubrey Luck
Personal details
Born Enid Muriel Burnell
(1897-07-09)9 July 1897
Smithton, Tasmania
Died 2 September 1981(1981-09-02) (aged 84)
Nationality Australian
Political party UAP (1943–44)
Liberal (1944–51)
Spouse(s) Joseph Lyons
Children 12
Occupation Teacher
Religion Roman Catholicism

Dame Enid Muriel Lyons AD, GBE (née Burnell; 9 July 1897 – 2 September 1981) was an Australian politician and the first woman to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives as well as the first woman appointed to the federal Cabinet. Prior to these achievements, she was best known as the wife of the Premier of Tasmania and later Prime Minister of Australia, Joseph Lyons. She fought for women's equity and equality. She had 12 children.

Early life and career[edit]

Lyons was born Enid Muriel Burnell in Smithton, Tasmania, one of three daughters of William and Eliza (née Taggett) Burnell, and educated at the Teacher's Training College, Hobart and later became a school teacher. Her mother was an activist in Labor and community groups in Tasmania. She was one of the first women appointed as a Justice of the Peace in Tasmania. Eliza Burnell apparently introduced her teenaged daughter to Joseph Lyons, a rising Tasmanian Labor politician. The two married two years later. Enid had been brought up a Methodist but became, at Lyons' request, a Roman Catholic.[1][2]

On 28 April 1915, when she was 17 and Lyons was 35, the couple wed, at Wynyard, Tasmania; they would have twelve children, one of whom died in infancy.[3][4]

Enid Lyons

In 1931 Joseph Lyons left the Labor Party and joined the United Australia Party (UAP), becoming prime minister at the subsequent election.[4] Enid Lyons was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in the Coronation Honours of 1937.[5][6] Joseph Lyons died in 1939, aged 59, the first Australian Prime Minister to die in office, and Dame Enid returned to Tasmania. She bitterly resented Joseph Lyons's successor as leader of the UAP, Robert Menzies, who had, she believed, betrayed her husband by resigning from the Cabinet, shortly before Joseph's death.[1]

The Lyons family in the 1930s on the lawns of The Lodge.

At the 1943 election Dame Enid Lyons narrowly won the Division of Darwin in north-western Tasmania for the UAP, becoming the first woman in the House of Representatives. Her Labor opponent, who received more primary votes than she did, was the future Tasmanian Premier Eric Reece. At the same election, Dorothy Tangney was elected as a Labor Senator for Western Australia, the nation's first woman Senator.[7] In 1945 the UAP became the Liberal Party of Australia.

On 23 August 1944 Enid Lyons was one of four speakers in a debate on population which became the Australian Broadcasting Commission's "largest controversy during the war years"[8] Lyons devoted a chapter to this Australian Broadcasting Corporation debate in her 1972 autobiography, calling it 'one of the most disturbing experiences I was to know as a member of parliament'. Her fellow debaters were Norman Haire, Jessie Street and the economist Colin Clark.[1]

By the time she was elected to Parliament in her own right, there was very little left of her Labor ties. Her speeches in Parliament generally espoused traditional views on the family and other social issues. In 1949 the Liberals came to power under Menzies' leadership. The frosty personal relations between Menzies and Dame Enid thawed slightly when Menzies gave her the role of Vice-President of the Executive Council. This was a largely honorary post which gave her a seat in Cabinet but no departmental duties. Nevertheless, her health declined under the strain of regular travel between Canberra and Tasmania, and she retired from parliament prior to the 1951 election.[1]

Later life and legacy[edit]

In retirement, Dame Enid's health recovered. She was a newspaper columnist (1951–54), a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1951–62), and remained active in public life promoting family and women's issues. She published three volumes of memoirs, which embarrassed the Liberal Party by reviving her complaints about Menzies' 1939 behaviour towards her husband.[1]

She was nevertheless made a Dame of the Order of Australia (AD) on Australia Day 1980,[9] the second woman to receive this honour. She was the first Australian woman to receive damehoods in different orders. She died the following year and was accorded a state funeral in Devonport, Tasmania, before being buried next to her husband at Mersey Vale Lawn Cemetery.[1]

An informal political faction of the Liberal/National opposition parties called the Lyons Forum was formed in 1992. The group's name alluded to Lyons' maiden speech to the House of Representatives. The faction was considered to be defunct in 2004.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Profile Australian Dictionary of Biography, adb.anu.edu.au; accessed 19 August 2014.
  2. ^ A. Henderson, Faith and politics - Dame Enid Lyons, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society 31/2 (2010/11), 68-74.
  3. ^ Hart, P.R. (1986). "Lyons, Joseph Aloysius (1879–1939)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 22 January 2008. 
  4. ^ a b "Joseph Lyons, before". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2008. 
  5. ^ "Joseph Lyons, Enid Lyons". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2008. 
  6. ^ "Lyons, Enid Muriel, The Order of the British Empire – Dame Grand Cross – Civil". It's an Honour. Government of Australia. Retrieved 22 January 2008.  Note: site says it was granted in 1957.
  7. ^ National Film and Sound Archive: Recording of Dame Enid Lyon's maiden speech in Parliament on australianscreen online
  8. ^ Diana Wyndham. (2012) "'Norman Haire and the Study of Sex'".  Foreword by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG. (Sydney: "Sydney University Press". ), p. 343, quoting Alan Thomas (1980) Broadcast and be Damned: the ABC's First Two Decades. (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press), p. 110
  9. ^ "Lyons, Enid Muriel, Dame of the Order of Australia". It's an Honour. Government of Australia. Retrieved 22 January 2008. 
  10. ^ Grattan, Michelle (13 November 2004). "A quiet man's revolution". The Age (Melbourne). p. 5. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Enid Lyons, So We Take Comfort (1965)
  • Enid Lyons, The Old Haggis (1969)
  • Enid Lyons, Among the Carrion Crows (1972)
  • Anne Henderson, Dame Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation (2008)
  • Kate White, Political Love Story: Joe and Enid Lyons (1987)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William Scully
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Robert Menzies
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
George Bell
Member for Darwin
Succeeded by
Aubrey Luck