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A centenary of women in council

100 years ago, a single piece of legislation paved the way for women to become lawyers, stand for councils and enter parliament.

A significant social change occurred for women during World War I. Women stepped up and worked in jobs that were previously the domain of men including factories, secretarial and farming. As men fought on the front line, war opened up new opportunities for women to work.

Post war in November 1918, new laws were passed in NSW called the Women’s Legal Status Act.

For the first time, women were able to stand for election to local government and the Legislative Assembly, and to practise as lawyers.

A decade later, Lillian Fowler became the first woman elected to a local council in NSW.

Alderman Lilian Fowler JP Mayor of Newtown c. 1938. Image: State Library Victoria.

She joined Newtown Council in 1928, apparently motivated by a run-in with an inspector for nuisances. The inspector confiscated her marbles while she played on a public footpath.

Said to be a formidable woman with confidence, clarity of convictions and exceptional organisational skills, she smashed the glass ceiling of politics. She opened up opportunities for women and marginalised people in the community.

Lilian Fowler Reserve.

Lilian Fowler went on to become Australia’s first female mayor in 1937. Her work is remembered at Lilian Fowler Reserve. She helped create a number of children's playgrounds in the inner west.

Around 330 women councillors now serve across NSW.

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