Birthday: July 9, 1897
Died At Age: 84
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: First lady Enid Lyons, Enid Muriel, Dame Enid Muriel Lyons
Born in: Smithton
Famous as: Politician
Spouse/Ex-: Joseph Lyons
children: Barry Lyons, Brendan Lyons, Desmond Lyons, Enid Lyons, Garnet Lyons, Kathleen Lyons, Kevin Lyons, Moira Lyons, Rosemary Lyons, Sheila Lyons
Died on: September 2, 1981
Enid Lyons was the first woman to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives. A popular politician, she was also the first woman appointed to the federal Cabinet. Prior to becoming a politician in her own right, she was the wife of the Prime Minister of Australia, Joseph Lyons. As the wife of the prime minister, she was involved in several official duties and party campaigning, and is regarded as the most committed prime ministerial wife in Australian political history. The mother of 12 children, she managed to fulfill her official responsibilities in the most efficient way along with managing her huge family. Born as the daughter of an ambitious woman who harbored great dreams for her daughter, Enid was sent to good schools and encouraged to pursue a professional education. She received her training from Teacher's Training College and became a teacher. Eventually she married Joseph Lyons, a prominent politician who rose to become the prime minister. Following her husband’s death, she ventured into politics herself and was able to establish herself as a successful politician. A skilled speaker, she gave speeches on several topics, many of which were of particular relevance to women, and also on topics of national relevance. She remained active even after retiring from politics and served as a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during her later years.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Enid Muriel Burnell in Smithton, Tasmania, on 9 July 1897 as the daughter of William and Eliza Burnell. She had two sisters. Her mother, an independent minded and ambitious woman, was an activist in Labor and community groups in Tasmania.
Her mother wanted all her daughters to get a good education and embark on professional careers. Young Enid inherited her mother’s industriousness and ambitions. After receiving her primary education from Burnie State School, she went to the Teacher's Training College and became a professional teacher.
Enid was also trained in elocution and blossomed into an eloquent speaker.
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Enid married early. She was introduced to a man named Joseph Lyons, a rising Tasmanian Labor politician, while still a teenager. Lyons was much impressed by the bold and ambitious young woman and proposed marriage to her. The couple wed in 1915 when Enid was just 17.
Her husband’s political career flourished over the years. Their family also grew at a fast pace and several children were born to the couple. Enid Lyons proved herself to be a very hardworking wife and mother, taking care of all the family responsibilities while her husband focused on his career.
In addition to her familial responsibilities, she also played an active role in her husband’s career. She was instrumental in the Tasmanian election campaigns in 1922, and made speeches to women on topics of relevance to them. Joseph Lyons became premier in 1923.
A few years later, her husband moved to the House of Representatives in 1929, and she began taking more interest in his political career and thoroughly supported his ambitions.
With her support he broke away from the Australian Labor Party in 1931 and became involved with the United Australia Party. Joseph reached the peak of his career in 1932 when he became the Prime Minister of Australia.
As the wife of the prime minister, her political responsibilities increased manifold. Already the mother of 11 children, she gave birth to her 12th and last child in 1933. Managing the huge family along with her political duties took a toll on her health yet she continued to work as hard as ever. She travelled a lot, attending meetings and making speeches, along with managing her home and the children’s education.
Joseph Lyons died in 1939, leaving Enid devastated. She plunged into a depression though she managed to recover fully with the support of her children. Encouraged by her family to enter politics herself, she stood for the House of Representatives.
In August 1943, Enid Lyons was elected member for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin, becoming the first female member of the House of Representatives. Her maiden speech, in which she talked about social security, the declining birth rate, housing, the family, and the importance of looking ahead to postwar policies, was a big success.
Blessed with great oratory skills, she became a popular politician by voicing her opinions on several topics, many of which like baby foods, child endowment, maternity services, service women’s pay, and widows’ pensions were of particular relevance to women. She also spoke well on topics of national importance like atomic energy, finance, population, and industry.
She was easily re-elected in 1946 and 1949. She was appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Menzies government in 1949. She suffered from various ailments during this time because of which she retired from politics in 1951.
Her health improved following her retirement and she became a newspaper columnist in 1951. She also served as the commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from 1951 to 1962.
A highly industrious and ambitious woman, Enid Lyons is best remembered for becoming the first woman to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives when she won the Division of Darwin in north-western Tasmania for the UAP at the 1943 election.
Awards & Achievements
She was made a Dame of the Order of Australia (AD) on Australia Day 1980.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married Joseph Lyons, an upcoming politician, in April 1915. She was 17 and Joseph 35 at the time of their marriage. They had 12 children, of who one died of an illness in infancy. She was a devoted wife and dedicated mother in addition to her hectic political responsibilities.
During her later years she suffered from a slew of health problems like cancer and a thyroid issue. She remained active throughout her life despite her ill health and died on 2 September 1981, at the age of 84.