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Lady Millie Peacock

 

 

Lady Millie Peacock- the first woman elected to the Parliament of Victoria.

In 1933, ten years after women in Victoria gained the right to stand for state Parliament, Lady Millie Peacock succeeded in becoming the first female Member of the Parliament of Victoria. She was elected at a by-election for the Legislative Assembly seat of Allandale, caused by the death of the sitting member in office on the 7th October 1933.  That sitting member was Sir Alexander Peacock, the husband of Lady Peacock. 

Millie Gertrude Holden was born on 3rd August 1870, the daughter of pioneer settlers of Port Fairy.  She married Alexander J. Peacock on the day the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated, 1st January 1901.  Alex Peacock (United Australia Party) had been a Member of Parliament since 1889.  He was to be a Member of Parliament for 44 years, during which time he held various Ministerial portfolios, was Premier on three occasions and was elected Speaker in 1928 – a position he held until his death in 1933 at the age of 72 years.  He was knighted in 1902.

Lady Millie Peacock took a keen and active interest in the affairs of the Allandale district. The Sydney newspaper, the Mercury (Nov. 13. 1933) commented, Indeed so familiar did she make herself with the people of her part of the country and their needs and problems, that Sir Alexander was often heard to say that she knew more of the electorate than he did and she was popularly known as “the deputy Member”.  She was the first President of the Creswick branch of the Australian Red Cross Society, founded in 1914 and gave 26 years of service to the Red Cross.   Lady Millie Peacock was a popular supporter of her husband’s political campaigns and often made speeches on his behalf.

On the day of her husband’s funeral, Lady Millie Peacock was approached by Mr (later Sir) R.G. Menzies, a member of the Victorian Parliament at the time, who later became Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister.  Menzies encouraged Lady Millie Peacock to stand for her husband’s seat.  Evidently, she was not keen on a political career for herself and stood reluctantly, on the condition that some aspects of political work such as speeches were not required of her.  Lady Millie Peacock was in mourning during the campaign for her by-election so she made no speeches or public appearances during the campaign.  Men of the United Australia Party spoke on her behalf.

On November 11th 1933 the hotly contested by-election for Allandale was held.  Lady Millie Peacock won the election by over 1,500 votes.  The Argus newspaper viewed the result as “a clear call to continue her service” to the electorate (Nov. 13, 1933).  The Age newspaper wrote, “another step has been won in the woman’s fight for complete freedom and equality” (Nov.14, 1933).  Vida Goldstein, the first woman to stand for Parliament in Victoria (and indeed in the British Empire) when she contested the Commonwealth Senate election of 1903, expressed her gratification at the election of Lady Millie Peacock.  She felt that women would have a good representative in Lady Peacock, whose husband had always been a supporter of women’s suffrage.

At the age of 63, Lady Millie Peacock was sworn in as a Member of the Legislative Assembly on 21st November 1933.  The Speaker’s gallery and the public gallery were crowded, mostly with women, including representatives of many women’s organisations.  Lady Millie Peacock made only one speech during her time in Parliament.  She spoke on the Factories and Shops Bill, in particular the part dealing with outworkers.  This type of legislation to protect the wages and conditions of workers had been of special interest to her late husband, who was known as the “Father of the Factories Act”. 

Lady Millie Peacock served the rest of her term in Parliament, but did not seek re-election.  She retired from Parliament in 1935, declaring that it was no place for a woman.  Lady Millie Peacock died on 7th February 1948 after a long illness.

Sources; Gregory, A. “Peacock – The Laughing Premier” Victorian Historical Journal, Feb. 1981

http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/women.htm

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