Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - LOCAL FOCUS -

AS the world cel­e­brated In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day last week, few know the im­pact one West Aus­tralian woman had on her gen­er­a­tion al­most a cen­tury ago.

Born in 1893, May Hol­man was just 31 years old when she was elected Aus­tralia’s first woman La­bor par­lia­men­tar­ian. She be­came a house­hold name in the 1930s as she fought for women’s rights and the rights of peo­ple in her elec­torate un­til she died af­ter a car ac­ci­dent in 1939.

Lekkie Hop­kins, who has re­searched the lives of ac­tivist women, has doc­u­mented Hol­man’s in­tel­li­gence, pas­sion and heart in her new bi­og­ra­phy The Mag­nif­i­cent Life of Miss May Hol­man.

She said Hol­man was revered dur­ing her life.

“When May Hol­man died, Western Aus­tralians were gen­uinely heart-bro­ken,” she said.

“On 22 March 1939, thou­sands of peo­ple lined the streets be- tween St Mary’s Cathe­dral in Vic­to­ria Square, Perth and Kar­rakatta ceme­tery to pay their re­spects and thou­sands more gath­ered at the ceme­tery to be present at her burial. It seems al­most im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine such an out­pour­ing of grief to­day.”

Ms Hop­kins said dur­ing her 14 years in par­lia­ment, Hol­man re­fused to be ig­nored be­cause of her gen­der.

“She re­sponded to the in­evitable taunts about her sex with wit rather than with anger,” she said.

“She re­mains a fine ex­am­ple of a vi­brant young woman who knows there’s work to be done, and who will with­out hes­i­ta­tion roll up her sleeves to do it.

“The kind of lead­er­ship she prac­tised – lead­ing by ex­am­ple, do­ing what you ex­pect oth­ers to do, and more – is still nec­es­sary to­day.

The Mag­nif­i­cent Life of Miss May Hol­man is avail­able from www.fre­mantlepress.

Pic­ture: Jon Hew­son­mu­ni­ d449107

Dr Lekkie Hop­kins has writ­ten a book about May Hol­man, a woman who pi­o­neered women’s rights in Aus­tralia in the 1930s.

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