Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Hilma Olivia Edla Johanna Parkes (1859–1909)

by Heather Radi

This article was published:

Hilma Olivia Edla Johanna Parkes (1859-1909), political organizer, was born on 10 May 1859 at Skövde, Skaraborg, Sweden, daughter of Birger Lorentz Ekenberg, tradesman and chemical manufacturer, and his wife Emilie Matilda, née Toutin. The details of her education are uncertain though her friends believed she had begun studying medicine before emigrating to Australia about 1883. In Sydney she became a ward-sister at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital: Dr James Graham praised her handling of operation cases. On 23 June 1888 she married Charles Molyneux Parkes, clerk and later company secretary; they had no children.

They lived in Brisbane and on a North Queensland sugar plantation. Back in Sydney Mrs Molyneux Parkes, as she was known, joined the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales in 1897, becoming one of its eight vice-presidents. In 1902, when New South Wales women were enfranchised federally and by the State, Mrs Parkes was present at the meeting which resolved to reconstitute the Suffrage League as the Women's Political Educational League. She believed, as did Rose Scott, that women's interests would be ignored unless women organized but, unlike Scott, she recognized the party basis to politics and in December 1902 formed the Women's Liberal League of New South Wales 'to cultivate the spirit of true liberalism, to raise the standards of public life and to improve the position of women in all spheres of life'. She became president and honorary organizing secretary and from 1906 edited its Monthly Record.

Hilma had observed the tension between Labor supporters and others in the Suffrage League. She was confident women could be persuaded to vote in the Liberal interest. She travelled to country districts to establish new branches and after 1904, when the Australian Women's National League was formed in Victoria on the model of the Women's Liberal League, she attended interstate league meetings. She worked closely with A. B. Smith, sharing intellectual interests, and with Laura Bogue Luffman. Under pressure to convert her league into a women's branch of the Liberal and Reform Association she refused: 'women who join men's organizations lose their identity, sacrifice their point of view and … become the blind tools of Party'.

She supported the Liberals on immigration, professed a horror of war, favouring a citizen army, and campaigned against the 1907 tariff. She vigorously pursued feminist issues, notably the raising of the age of consent to 17, the establishment of a children's court, and a wife's right to a share in her husband's property. She persistently asked that agricultural training be made available to girls and called for a school of domestic economy. She fought her own party to secure the withdrawal of its contagious diseases bill for the much modified Police Offences (Amendment) Act of 1908. She was a temperance advocate and a member of the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance.

The league ran debating contests where Mrs Parkes frequently appeared with Millicent Preston Stanley. She never lost her Swedish accent. Her eyesight was poor and she regularly wore spectacles. Her daily routine was rigorous: 6.30 rise and dumb-bells; breakfast at 7.30, after which she gave her orders, read the papers, made notes; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 3 to 5 she attended to league business; she then cycled and at 6 o'clock dressed for dinner. She had 'a passion for collecting shells'. Survived by her husband, she died suddenly on 25 March 1909 and was buried with Anglican rites in Gore Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Dawn, 1 May 1904, 1 June 1905
  • Red Funnel, Aug 1905, p 77
  • Women's Liberal League, Monthly Record, 1906-09
  • Women's Voice, 1916
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26, 29 Mar 1909
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 26, 27, 29, 31 Mar 1909
  • Scott family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Parkes, Hilma Olivia Edla Johanna (1859–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Ekenberg, Hilma Olivia Edla Johanna
  • Molyneux Parkes, Hilma

10 May, 1859
Skövde, Skaraborg, Sweden


25 March, 1909 (aged 49)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.