Saturday, September 26, 2009

Edith Cowan

Who is Edith Cowan? I don't know. I'm betting she's dead though. Lately, the people I've been writing about are ones from long ago.

Let's go see.....

Edith Cowan is famous for being the first Aussie female elected into Parliament. That's a pretty big honor.

I was right. Lord Wiki says she's dead. She died in 1932. That's four years before Mary Poppins was published. To those reading this, that might seem like a random statement. To me, it's not because I have the Mary Poppins book sitting in front of me.

Anyway, we should probably rewind and get to the birth of Edith Cowan. She was born 2 August 1861 in Geraldton Western Australia. I recently finished reading A Fortunate Life, and some of it takes place in Geraldton.

I'm going to find it on Google Maps. It's about five hours north of Perth. It's a coastal city. I think I want to move there. I just looked at the weather. It's warm all year round....well at least the averages are warm. I want to live in a place where I can wear shorts and sun dresses every day. Although it might be better if we moved to the east coast of Australia since most of my friends are there.

Let's get back to Cowan....

She had a traumatic early childhood. When she was seven, her mother died in childbirth. Young Edith was sent to a boarding school in Perth. Her father, Kenneth Brown, remarried, and he also got into the whole drinking thing. When Edith was fifteen, her dad killed her stepmom. He was hung for the crime.

This was not the first huge drama in the family. Edith's uncle (Kenneth's brother) was the leader of the La Grange Expedition. In 1865 in Western Australia, three white people went missing. Maitland Brown and his mates went out to find them. They managed to find the guys, but they were dead....killed by indigenous Australians. The expedition people ended up avenging the death of their friends by killing 6-20 Indigenous Australians. There's controversy on how this all happened. Some say they walked into an ambush...maybe they were both seeking revenge and protecting themselves. Others say they just walked into a camp and killed indiscriminately.

Yeah. The Brown family has some major stories in their history. There's even some rumors and conspiracy theories. Lord Wiki says that Kenneth Brown's daughter from the second marriage claims she saw her father in America. So there's a rumor that he wasn't actually hung. His brother Maitland helped him to escape. Could it be true? Probably not. But you never know....

I'm trying to figure it out.  What happened first.... Kenneth's execution or the La Grange Expedition? I need to do some math.

Oh, okay.   that was easy. Edith was four years-old when her uncle led the massacre of the Aborigines. Her father killed her stepmom much later.

After her father was executed, Edith left boarding school and went to live in a suburb of Perth called Guildford. Lord Wiki says that MAYBE she lived with her grandmother. I guess he's not exactly sure.

When Edith was seventeen, she married a guy named James Cowan. They lived together in Perth.

As an adult, Cowan started concerning herself with social issues and the legal system. This might have been influenced by her husband's career. When she met him, he had been working for the Supreme Court. Although she could have also met him because she was INTERESTED in the legal system. It could go either way...or neither.

Cowan was most interested in social and legal issues in regards to women and children. When she was about thirty-three, she helped start something called the Karrakatta Club. It was the first women's club in Australia. The name of the club comes from the suburb of Perth were the club members met. It's purpose was to give women a political purpose in life. In the 1890's they pushed for women's suffrage. By 1899, Western Australian women had the right to vote. That right was extended to all white Australian women in 1902. It wasn't given to American women until 1920. Swiss Women didn't receive that right until 1973. What's the deal with that? They're not as bad as Saudi Arabia though. Lord Wiki says women there STILL can't vote. Is that true? I'll have to confirm that. Well, according to this CBS news article, not only can women not vote....they also can't drive. Yikes.

Lord Wiki says that the Karrakatta Club was also responsible for bringing the RSPCA to Western Australia. These are the people who help animals.

They did good things, these Karrakatta people. But these days, they're seen as more of a social club. Lord Wiki says people accuse them of being irrelevant. I can't find a website for them. You'd think there'd be one.

I'm going to go feed Jack some breakfast. He's hungry. He's been sitting with me on my chair. We looked at women's suffrage together. He was quite fascinated by it. I should have him sit with me while I do research more often. He might learn a lot....

I'm back. Breakfast is done. Actually, it was more like lunch.

In the early 1900's, Cowan concerned herself with welfare issues. Because she believed children should not be tried as adults, she founded the Children's Protection Society. A children's court was established. In 1915, she sat on the bench of the court. She was in that position for eighteen years. What does it mean to sit on the bench of the court? Does that mean you're the judge? I think it does.....

During World War I, she helped soldiers. She collected food and clothing for them, and also helped those who had returned from the war.

In 1920, Western Australia passed a law that said women could now be in Parliament. She ran for the Western Australian Legislative Assembly in the seat of Perth. The funny thing is she ran against the man who introduced the legislation that allowed women to be in Parliament.

Cowan won. She was part of the Nationalist Party which was actually conservative. Yeah. I'm sorry. It does surprise me. If a female politician today pushed for the rights of children and women, I'd assume she was part of a left political party. If a right-wing politician says they want to protect women and children, I'm likely to assume what they mean by this is they want to protect families from homosexuals, socialists, and pagans. Sorry. I'm probably stereotyping.... And I know I'm wrong. I know there are American Republicans and Australian Liberals who want to protect women and children from unfairness and abuse.

Lord Wiki says Cowan was one of the first to promote sex education. Now that doesn't seem like something a modern conservative would do.

In 1924, Cowan lost her seat in Parliament. She tried to regain it in 1927, but didn't win. In her last years of life, she remained active with social issues.

In King's Park in Perth, there's an Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial Clock. I'm guessing Dircksey was her middle name. Lord Wiki says it's believed that this is the first Australian civic monument built to honor a woman.

There's a university named after Cowan. Lord Wiki says it's the only university in Australia named after a woman. Although I don't know of many big famous Australian universities named after ANY person. The only ones that come easily to my mind are Alfred DeakinLink University and Monash University.

 Actually, I'm not sure if Monash IS named after a person. Was there a Mr. Monash?

Okay yes. There was. Lord Wiki says it was named after John Monash. He was a military general in World War I. And he was Jewish. How exciting is that.

The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts is part of the Edith Cowan University. This is the school that Hugh Jackman went to.

I'm done with Lord Wiki. I shall go to that Australian Dictionary of Biography now.

The boarding school that Cowan attended as a child was run by her future husband's sisters. Interesting.

The website says that the trauma of her early teen years made Cowan a solitary person. Solitary? She seems pretty active to me. You can't really be a solitary person and be in Parliament. Although maybe in her FREE time she was solitary. Maybe she was the type of person who, if she had a spare moment, preferred sitting alone to chatting with friends.

Mr. Cowan...the husband was the registrar and master of the supreme court. I'm not quite sure what that means. I don't know what those job titles entail. Plus, I'm not even sure what supreme court they're talking about. Is it the supreme court of Perth? Is there a supreme court of Perth?

Nope. But there is a Supreme Court of Western Australia. I'm guessing Mr. Cowan worked for them. I'm still not sure what a registrar and master is. I did a LITTLE work trying to figure it out, but didn't find anything fast enough. I'm ready to move on. What's probably important is that the job brought in enough money to make Mr. and Mrs. Cowan financially comfortable. They were secure. Sometimes such security makes people blind to the injustices of the world. I'm doing great! Who cares about anyone else! But for people like Cowan, sometimes their own financial security pushes them to be concerned for those in less secure lives.

Cowan was the Karrakatta Club's first secretary. Later, she was vice-president, and then president. She was involved with other organizations and boards, including The North Fremantle Board of Education, Ministering Children's League, and Alexandra Home for Woman (for unmarried mothers).
She was part of the Women's Service Guild. Their work led to the eventual building of the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women. Their hospital provides a Family Birth Centre. You get a homelike atmosphere with double beds and your own little garden. It's great for families who want a homebirth, but don't quite really want a homebirth. judging by the photos, it looks more like a hotel room birth. Still. That's much better than a hospital room birth. At least in my opinion.

You know, I just wrote all this stuff about how Texas doesn't have stuff like that. I was wrong. Fort Worth has a nurse midwife program. It's actually part of the hospital where I had Jack. I wish I had known about it. They say, We view the components of healthcare to include the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the individual. Pregnancy and childbirth are viewed as normal life processes and every woman should be allowed to actively participate in the decision-making and planning of her care. That SOUNDS really good. It sounds very different from the philosophy and attitude of OB/GYN we used.

I'm really not sure where to go from here.

I can't even think of a good conclusion.

I guess I'll end by saying women have come a long way. But we still have many miles (or kilometers) to go.

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