Lilian Fowler

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Lilian Fowler
Alderman Lilian Fowler JP Mayor of Newtown c. 1938.png
Member of the New South Wales Parliament
for Newtown
In office
27 May 1944 – 22 May 1950
Preceded by Frank Burke
Succeeded by District abolished
Mayor of Newtown
In office
December 1938 – December 1939
Preceded by Isidore Ryan
Succeeded by Raymond Beaufils
Personal details
Born Elizabeth Lilian Maud Gill
(1886-06-07)7 June 1886
Cooma, New South Wales
Died 11 May 1954(1954-05-11) (aged 67)
Sydney, New South Wales
Nationality Australian
Political party Lang Labor
Spouse(s) Albert Edward Fowler
Occupation Labor organiser

Elizabeth Lilian Maud Fowler MBE, JP (7 June 1886 – 11 May 1954) was an Australian politician, and Australia's first female mayor.

Early life[edit]

Fowler was born at Cooma, New South Wales. She was the third daughter of farmer Charles Gill and Frances Rebecca, née Gaunson. After receiving a primary school education[1] she became closely involved in Labor politics with the assistance of her father, a local councillor and Labor League organiser. On 19 April 1909, while working as a waitress in Sydney, she married bootmaker Albert Edward Fowler, a widower, at Whitefield Congregational Church.[2]

Early political career[edit]

Fowler was made secretary of the Newtown-Erskineville Political Labor League, and from 1917 managed the electorate of Newtown MP Frank Burke, an anti-conscriptionist.

Elected to the central executive of the Australian Labor Party 1920–21 and 1923–25, she and Jack Lang were behind the move to admit James Dooley at the 1923 conference.[3] Fowler was also instrumental in the anti-corruption moves at the conference which led to the exposure of sliding-panel ballot boxes.[2] She resigned from the central executive in 1932.[4]

She was president of the Labor Women's Central Organising Committee 1926–27, lobbying New South Wales Premier Jack Lang to implement widows' pensions and child endowments. She also petitioned the governor regarding the appointment of women to the Legislative Council, and organised the first interstate Labor Women's conference.[2]

Appointed justice of the peace in 1921, one of the first women so appointed, she separated from her husband shortly before she was elected to Newtown Municipal Council in 1928; she was the first woman elected to any local council in New South Wales. She held office sporadically after that point (1935–37, 1938–40, 1941–44, 1948), but on 7 December 1937 became Australia's first female mayor, holding the mayoralty until 1939.[2][5] In recognition of her achievements Fowler was presented with an illuminated address signed by former Premier Lang and Federal shadow Minister Jack Beasley.[6]

State politics[edit]

"Just call me Lil". Fowler as pictured in The Argus, on her election to state parliament in 1944.

In 1941, Fowler unsuccessfully ran against Burke for the seat of Newtown as an independent Labor candidate. She ran again as a Lang Labor candidate in 1944, campaigning for reduced taxation, better housing and more day nurseries and baby clinics, and defeating Burke to become the third woman elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly since its inception in 1856.[6][7]

In Parliament she condemned the Labor Party's centrist tendencies and opposed intervention from Canberra in New South Wales affairs. Her principal legislative achievement was an amendment to the Lunacy Act in 1944 to secure the release of Boyd Sinclair from a lunatic asylum where he had been held since 1936 so that he could stand trial in a criminal court for the alleged murder of a Sydney taxi driver.[a][8] A fierce critic of bureaucracy, she supported regrouping local councils, and lost her own council seat when Newtown was merged with the City of Sydney in 1949. Fowler was re-elected in 1947, but was defeated in the 1950 election by the "official" Labor candidate Arthur Greenup.[1][9] In 1953 she was unsuccessful in an attempt to win election to Sydney City Council.[2]

Later life and legacy[edit]

Fowler did not long survive her retirement from politics; she died in King George V Memorial Hospital on 11 May 1954 from coronary occlusion and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery with Methodist rites. She was survived by a daughter.[2] The federal division of Fowler is named for her.



^[a] Sixteen year old Boyd Sinclair was accused of murdering Sydney taxi driver John Smilie in 1936, found unfit to be tried on grounds of insanity, and confined without trial to a lunatic asylum.[10] Fowler's 1944 legislative amendment permitted Sinclair to argue before a jury that he was fit to plead his case.[11] A jury found that while Sinclair may have been insane at the time of the crime, he was now sane enough to be tried. Sinclair was arraigned before the Criminal Court where he pleaded not guilty, but was nonetheless convicted of the murder and resentenced to life imprisonment.[12] Shortly afterward, he was again declared insane and returned to the asylum.[13]


  1. ^ a b "Mrs Lillian Fowler (1887 - 1954)". Parliament of New South Wales. September 2008. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Radi, Heather (1981). "Fowler, Elizabeth Lilian Maud (1886-1954)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  3. ^ McMullin, Ross (1991). The Light on the Hill. Oxford University Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-19-554966-9. 
  4. ^ "A.L.P. Executive: Two Resignations". The Canberra Times. Federal Capital press of Australia. 1932-03-03. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-06-19. 
  5. ^ "The City of Sydney Newtown Project: Mayors and Councillors 1863 - 1948". City of Sydney. 2005. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  6. ^ a b "Marrickville Council Online History Exhibition". Marrickville Council. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  7. ^ "Mrs Fowler". The Melbourne Argus. Argus Office. 3 June 1944. p. 11. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  8. ^ "Women Shaping the Nation: Victorian Honour Roll of Women" (PDF). Centenary of Federation Victoria. 2001. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  9. ^ "Mr Arthur Edward Greenup (1902 - 1980)". Parliament of New South Wales. September 2008. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  10. ^ "Trial for 10-Year Old Murder". The Canberra Times. Federal Capital Press Australia Ltd. 30 July 1946. p. 3. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  11. ^ "Trial Authorised". The Canberra Times. Federal Capital Press Australia Ltd. 6 December 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  12. ^ "Sinclair Guilty of Murder". The Canberra Times. Federal Capital Press Australia Ltd. 1 August 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  13. ^ "Court to Investigate Prisoner's Sanity". The Canberra Times. Federal Capital Press Australia Ltd. 1 June 1954. p. 1. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
Civic offices
Preceded by
Isidore Ryan
Mayor of Newtown
1938 – 1939
Succeeded by
Raymond Beaufils
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Frank Burke
Member for Newtown
1944 – 1950
District abolished