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Edith Cowan Centenary: ‘no fit place for a woman’

Death and Honour

Purple banner with image of Edith Cowan next to image of parliament house

Died aged 70 years

Edith Cowan was active with committee and social work until her last illness. She entered hospital in April 1932 having been unwell for three years. She died aged 70 years on 9 June 1932. She was survived by her husband and four daughters. The short funeral service was held at St Mary's Church, Colin Street, West Perth and graveside in the Anglican section of the Karrakatta Cemetery on 13 June 1932. There were large crowds in attendance. Edith left a modest estate of £161, as she had given away much of her salary. An obituary commenting on her marriage said ‘James had learned to appreciate the outstanding qualities of his wife’. One of her tributes stated: ‘It has been said she possessed the mind of a man’. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Margaret Brown concludes her biographical essay on Cowan: ‘She has led a group of forceful articulate women who made the Western Australian Women's movement a model; while she shared its concern with purity, temperance and ameliorative social work, she gave it her own rational analysis of issues and an austere dedication’.


‘Edith Cowan’s headstone’
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Cemeteries Board



Edith Cowan Memorial Clock

Edith Cowan's significant work and commitment to improving the welfare of Western Australian women and children has been recognised in many ways. The oldest and most famous commemoration is the Edith Cowan Memorial Clock which was organised by her colleagues to recognise her place as ‘one of Australia’s great women’. It was unveiled on a wintry day in 1934 by Sir James Mitchell in King’s Park. It is located at the entrance, at the corner of Kings Park Road and Fraser Avenue, Perth. It is thought the memorial was the first civic monument to honour an Australian woman.


‘Irene Greenwood placing a wreath on the Edith Cowan Memorial as representative of the Women's Electoral Lobby following a march through King's Park, Western Australia, 1977’.
Image courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia: BA3028/12.


Further Honour

In 1975, Edith was featured on a stamp collection to commemorate six famous Australian women. A plaque dedicated to her was laid in St Georges Terrace, Perth, to commemorate the State’s 150th anniversary in 1979. A plaque was also placed in St George’s Cathedral, Perth in 1996. In 1984, the federal electoral seat of Cowan in Western Australia was named after her. The former Western Australian College of Advanced Education was renamed Edith Cowan University in her honour in 1991. It was the first, and still the only, university in Australia to be named after a woman. In 1995, Edith Cowan was featured on the new $50 bank note issued by the Reserve Bank of Australia. She was included in the Historical Walk Trail established at the Karrakatta Cemetery in 1996. Cowan has been the subject of exhibitions, such as 'Women in Law', a permanent exhibition at the Francis Burt Law Education Centre in Perth, and in 1996 there was a national touring exhibition organised by Edith Cowan University entitled: 'A Tough Nut to Crack'. The title was a reference to Edith’s cracked gumnut brooches given to her supporters.