Jessie Mary Cooper (née McAndrew) (29 June 1914 – 28 December 1993) was elected as a Liberal and Country League representative to the South Australian Legislative Council in 1959. She was the first female member of the Parliament of South Australia, beating Joyce Steele, who had been elected to the House of Assembly the same day, by only an hour. She served until her retirement in 1979.
Jessie McAndrew was born and grew up in Sydney. She married Geoffrey D T Cooper, who was the youngest appointed Australian Lieutenant Colonel in World War II, commanding officer of the 2/27th, and a fourth generation member of the Adelaide Cooper family (Coopers Brewery). They had one son who qualified M.B.B.S. and Ph.D. and worked in immunology research before taking his father's seat on the Cooper's board of directors and working as a general medical practitioner.
In 1895, South Australian women became the first in Australia, and some of the first in the world, to be given the right to vote and stand for election to Parliament. The following year, the first women in Australia voted at the South Australian elections. Ironically, South Australia did not have a female representative until 1959 when Jessie Cooper and Joyce Steele were elected to both Upper and Lower Houses, and it was the last Parliament in Australia to actually have women members.
In 1959, attempts were still being made to prevent women entering Parliament. In an action brought by Frank Chapman and Arthur Cockington, Jessie Cooper and Margaret Scott (the Liberal party and Labor party candidates respectively, running for the Legislative Council in the South Australian election), had to show that they were persons under the Constitution to be eligible to stand. The South Australian Supreme Court found in their favour and Jessie Cooper went on to win a seat in the Legislative Council.
Reporters asked Joyce Steele and Jessie Cooper how they would combine their domestic duties with politics: Steele said that she would have to get a housekeeper to help with the housework, while Cooper replied that "... she would fit in her housework in the same way as a male member fitted in the running of an orchard or an accountant's office." (Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 1959. p. 1)
- roots.web: Walker/Lyle Genealogy
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- Jessie Cooper interviewed by Amy McGrath, [sound recording, ca. 43 mins.], 1 May 1980.
- Jessie Cooper Study Grants for Mature Entry Women, Flinders University of South Australia.
- The important supportive role of the League of Women Voters, State Library of South Australia.