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Cowan, Edith Dircksey

(1861-1932). Australian politician and social reformer. She was born in Geraldton, Western Australia, on August 2, 1861, the second child of Kenneth Cowan and Eliza Dircksey Cowan, nee Brown. Cowan joined the Theosophical Society (TS) at the Perth Lodge in Western Australia. She married James Cowan in 1879.

Cowan was a notable theosophist by virtue of her remarkable record as a trailblazer in activities that were, at the time, difficult of access for women. In 1915 she was the first woman to be appointed a justice for the Children’s Court and, in 1921, the first woman to be elected to any Australian legislature and only the second in the British Commonwealth. Cowan was awarded the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for her Red Cross work during World War I. She was an energetic campaigner for women’s rights and in 1925 was the Australian delegate to the sixth International Conference of Women in Washington, U.S. She died in June 9, 1932. On January 1, 1991, what was the West Australian College of Advanced Education became a university and adopted the name Edith Cowan University in recognition of her outstanding service to the country. In 1991 the university bought the house in which Cowan lived for the last 15 years of her life and rebuilt it on campus as a perpetual memorial to her.

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