Dame Dorothy Tangney
Senator for Western Australia
Dame Dorothy Tangney, the first female senator, was elected to the Senate to represent Western Australia for the Australian Labor Party in August 1943. She was thirty-six years old at the time of her election, and she remained in the Senate for twenty-five years. Senator Tangney saw her responsibility as being far more than just the representation of women. In her first speech to the Senate, she said:
I … realise my great honour in being the first woman to be elected to the Senate. But it is not as a woman that I have been elected to this chamber. It is as a citizen of the Commonwealth; and I take my place here with the full privileges and rights of all honourable senators, and … with the full responsibilities which such a high office entails.
During her time in the Senate, Tangney was committed to an agenda of social reform which included extending federal government responsibility for social services and instituting Commonwealth assistance in education. In a crucial period between 1943 and 1946, she was a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Social Security, which made influential recommendations to the government on such matters as child endowment, invalid pensions, and medical and hospital benefits. In 1946 she chaired a committee appointed by the Minister for Immigration that recommended equal nationality rights for married women. She was the first woman to chair the Senate as a temporary chair of committees.
Tangney was a champion of the rights of ex-service men and women, deserted wives, civilian and war widows, and the mentally ill. A supporter of the establishment of the Australian National University in Canberra, she was a member of the Council of that University for many years. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1968.