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Lyons, Enid (1897–1981)

Lyons, Enid (1897–1981)

Australian politician and newspaper columnist. Name variations: Dame Enid Lyons. Born Enid Muriel Burnell on July 9, 1897, in Tasmania; died on September 2, 1981; daughter of William Burnell (a sawyer) and Eliza (Tagget) Burnell; attended Stowport and Burnie State Schools and Hobart Teachers' College; married Joseph Aloysius Lyons (1879–1939, a politician and prime minister of Australia, 1932–39); children: 12 (one of whom died in infancy).

Enid Lyons was just 17 and newly graduated from the Hobart Teachers' College when she married Joseph Aloysius Lyons, the 36-year-old minister for education and railways and Tasmanian treasurer who would later become prime minister of Australia. Over the course of her 24-year marriage, Lyons would have 12 children (one of whom died in infancy) and would become her husband's valued political partner. Between confinements, she accompanied him to state and federal Labor conferences and even ran for a contested seat in the 1925 election, losing by only 60 votes. Between 1932 and 1939, when her husband was prime minister, Lyons was invaluable in securing support among women constituents. A women's rights advocate and a skilled speaker, she addressed women's associations and conferences around Australia, encouraging women to fulfill their public responsibilities as citizens.

When Joseph Lyons suffered a heart attack and died in 1939, Lyons was overwhelmed with shock and grief. Adding to her sorrow was the fact that many objected to an annuity the government proposed for her and her family. She retired to her home in Davenport until 1943, when she returned to politics, running for the Tasmanian seat of Darwin which had been vacated by a retirement. Winning the election, she became the first woman member of the federal Parliament, and later the first woman to hold ministerial office. Dubbed "the mother figure in Parliament," Lyons continued to champion women's issues and humanitarian concerns.

Enid Lyons retired from politics in 1951 for health reasons; she had suffered a pelvic fracture during the delivery of her first child that went unchecked for 40 years. Although her condition required several surgeries, she managed to keep up with her public work, chairing the Jubilee Women's Convention (1951) and serving as a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission from 1951 to 1962. She worked as a columnist for the Sun (1951–54) and Woman's Day (1951–52), and wrote three books: an autobiography, So We Take Comfort (1965); a volume of political reminiscences, Among the Carrion Crows (1972); and a book of short essays and sketches, The Old Haggis (1969). Lyons was awarded the Order of Australia in 1980, a year before her death.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Wilde, William H., Joy Horton, and Barry Andrews, eds. Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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