Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial

Public Art : Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial (also known as the Edith Cowan Memorial clock)

Artist and Architect : Created by artist Margaret Johnson and architect W. Olgilvy from designs by architect Harold Boas and Engineer Henry Atwell.

Date Unveiled : The Edith Cowan Memorial was unveiled on the 9th of June 1934 by Lieutenant-Governor James Mitchell. This day marked the second anniversary of Cowan's death. It was re-dedicated on 12th of March, 1996, on the 75th anniversary of Cowan's election to parliament.

Edith Cowan MemorialDescription of the Edith Cowan Memorial : A 6m high Art Deco clock tower made from Donnybrook freestone. Featuring a working clock and art deco style light fixtures and wings. Underneath the clock face is a bronze plate depicting Edith Cowan's face and another plaque bearing an inscription. Access to the clock is via a small opening. 

Cost : £507

Location : Technically not in Kings Park the memorial is located at the entrance of Kings Park at the top of a hill on a traffic island at the junction of Kings Park Road, Malcolm Street and Fraser Avenue.

Inscription :

Erected in honor of
O.B.E., J.P.
By those who admired
her many good works for humanity
First woman member of Parliament
in Australia
A Life Of Service

Background of Edith Dircksey Cowan : Edith Dircksey Cowan (August 2, 1861–June 9, 1932) was born Edith Brown in the Western Australian town of Geraldton. Following the death of her mother, she went to boarding school in Perth which was run by the Cowan sisters, who would later become her sisters-in-law after she married their brother James. Edith was greatly influenced by the former teacher of Sir John Forrest, Cannon Sweeting. As Edith grew up she developed a keen interest in social issues and the injustices in the legal system, especially where it concerned women and children. In 1894 she help found the Karrakatta Club a group of women determined to better improve their standing in the male dominated community. Oh yes, they even successfully campaigned for women's suffrage, successfully gaining the vote for women in 1899. The Karrakatta Club was a force to be reckoned with and so too Edith Cowan. Among her many achievements were helping to establish the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in 1916, co-founder of the Western Australia's National Council of Women, founded the Children's Protection Society, chairperson of the Red Cross Appeal Committee and this was all prior to her entrance into politics. The year was 1920 and Western Australia had finally passed legislation to allow women to stand for parliament. This year would be Edith Cowan's most memorable, she was appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire, a Justice of the Peace and was about to run as the first woman of the Nationalist candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of West Perth. Her victory surprised everyone and she would soon found herself in the history books as the first woman to be elected as a representative in an Australian parliament. Ironically the candidate whom she defeated in the election was none other than Attorney General, Thomas Draper, the man who had introduced the legislation to allow women to vote.

Edith Cowan Memorial, Kings ParkHistory of the Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial : Very shortly after Edith Cowan's death the Western Australian branch of the National Council for Women held a meeting to discuss the best way to honor her. Several different proposals were discussed including a ward to be named after her at King Memorial Hospital, an honour drive in Kings Park or a pathway on Parliament House grounds. All were given the flick in favour of a monument in Kings Park. Unfortunatley the Kings Park board members weren't all that excited about the idea and rejected the plan. During this time the  Perth City Council were in discussions about erecting a safety zone for pedestrians near the entrance to kings Park. Rumors of a monument to be erected had reached the ears of the Edith Cowan Memorial Committee and they were soon stating their case. They were up against strong opposition as other proposed ideas for the location included the relocation of the Observatory clock, Memorial to John Forrest or the State War Memorial. The Perth City Council eventually approved the Edith Cowan Memorial Committee's proposal and architect Harold Boas and City Engineer Henry Atwell were given the job of designing it. In 1933 the search was on for an artist to model a plaque of Edith Cowan. Wanting to have a local artist, the decision came down to four local artists, Muriel Southern, John MaCleod (Paddy Hannan sculptor), Justin Walsh and portrait painter Margaret Johnson. The eventual submission chosen was that of Margaret Johnson who was paid 49 guineas for her troubles. There was a delay of sorts in the commencement of the memorial due to the closing down of the Donnybrook quarries owned by the late S. B. Alexander but architect Olgilvy was able to smooth talk them into reopening for a short time. It is believed this memorial is the first civic monument erected in Australia to honour an Australian woman.

Controversy over the Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial : Right from the very get go, when it was decided to have a memorial erected in honor of Edith Cowan, arguments, indecision and controversy persued. Firstly those Kings Park Board members responded less than enthusiastically to having an Edith Cowan Memorial in the park "the Board have other suggestions in view re the Main Gates, and are disinclined to favourably view the erection of further memorials other than National ones, within the Kings Park." Did the board not think Edith Cowan was of national significance (imagine their faces if they knew she was on Australian currency)? This pales in significance to the drama which lay ahead. After the Edith Cowan Memorial Committee was given approval to erect the memorial near the entrance to Kings Park, a copy of the planned clock tower was published in the West Australian newspaper. Well, didn't that start a floury of complaints led by none other than the Kings Park Board, the Royal Institute of Architects and the Town Planning Institute. Many of the arguments centred around the fact that the proposed site was "the" prime location in Perth and should be reserved for a memorial of national significance (would that be meaning reserved for a man ?). Some even went so far as to suggest, monuments were "masculine" in appearance and wouldn't be fitting for a woman (see, I knew where this was heading). I guess Edith would have turned in her grave knowing sexism (gender bias) was still alive and kicking in WA. The debate continued for the better part of the year, reaching its climax when the Town Planning Commissioner, David Lomas Davidson, sought an injunction against construction of the monument in the Supreme Court. The injunction was eventually denied and the monument built. It seems ironic now, as it is no longer the prime location in Perth for a monument and today very few people even notice it.

Interesting tidbits about Edith Cowan : Her uncle was Maitland Brown.

Following the death of her mother, Edith Cowan's father remarried. It didn't go particularly well, he shot her dead and was later hung for his crime (little wonder she later fought for the rights of women and children).

Her face appears on the back of the Australian $50 note.


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