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.

Dame Ivy Evelyn Wedgwood (1896–1975)

by Doug Scobie

This article was published:

Ivy Evelyn Annie Wedgwood (1896-1975), by Hollywood Studios, 1950

Ivy Evelyn Annie Wedgwood (1896-1975), by Hollywood Studios, 1950

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23371762

Dame Ivy Evelyn Annie Wedgwood (1896-1975), politician, was born on 18 October 1896 at Malvern, Melbourne, daughter of Victorian-born parents Albert Drury, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Evans. Educated in Melbourne, Ivy worked as a clerk and later an accountant with a firm of importers. At St Thomas's Church, Essendon, on 7 October 1921 she married with Anglican rites Jack Kearns Wedgwood, a Woodend motor mechanic, war veteran and descendant of Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), the master potter. Although they were to have no children, and Jack's wartime injuries added to the demands of marriage, the Wedgwoods were to remain a devoted couple for over fifty-three years.

As a result of her employment as private secretary to Prime Minister S. M. (Viscount) Bruce, Wedgwood became interested in politics. She joined the Australian Women's National League through the influence of her neighbour, and senior league member, Edith Haynes. Formed in 1904 to oppose socialism, support the monarchy, protect the interests of women and children, and educate women in politics, it was, at its peak, the largest women's political organization in Australia. It provided valuable electoral backing for selected candidates of the National, United Australia and Liberal parties. Wedgwood rose rapidly through its ranks to become a member of the executive committee.

Like (Dame) Elizabeth (May) Couchman, who led the A.W.N.L. from 1927 to 1945 and who was a close political ally, Wedgwood concluded that the heyday of separate women's political organizations such as the A.W.N.L. had passed, and that conservatively inclined women would do better to join mainstream non-Labor bodies. With Couchman and Haynes, Wedgwood was a delegate to the conferences convened by (Sir) Robert Menzies in Canberra and at Albury, New South Wales, in 1944 to revive the waning forces of Australian conservatism. She supported Menzies' efforts to found a new party which would subsume the league, and was an important champion of the merger in the often acrimonious league meetings that eventually endorsed the proposal.

Wedgwood, with other former A.W.N.L. members, was prominent in the Liberal Party of Australia. A vice-president of the party's Victorian division, she chaired the central committee of the women's section in 1948-50, presided over the Australian Women's Liberal Club for many years, and sat on the State and federal executives. On 10 December 1949 she was elected to the Senate, the third woman to enter the chamber and the first from Victoria.

Short, with 'greying hair always immaculately waved', Wedgwood impressed her fellow senators as having a 'compassionate concern for causes, for the handicapped and for people in whom she was interested' and 'sound common sense' which frequently 'put quite pompous politicians in their place'. She presented her arguments 'logically and persistently, but without fireworks'. Although she never achieved ministerial office, she played an important part in the formulation of government policy in the areas of health and welfare. She was a member of the House Committee (1950-55, 1965-68), the Joint Committee of Public Accounts (1955-71), and the joint select committees on the new and permanent parliament house (1965-71), and the Australian Capital Territory (1968). As a temporary chairman of committees in 1962-71, and thus the second woman to preside over the Senate, she headed its Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs (1968-70), and its Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committee on Health and Welfare (1970-71) which reported on the health needs of people with mental and physical disabilities.

At various times, Wedgwood was president of the Australian Council of Domiciliary Nursing, honorary treasurer of the Royal District Nursing Service and president of the After-Care Hospital in Melbourne. She was a former president of the Women Justices' Association and had been a special magistrate in the Children's Court, Melbourne. A keen advocate of the interests of middle-class working women, she served on the executive of the National Council of Women of Victoria and was a member of the Business and Professional Women's Club and the Soroptimist Club of Melbourne. She also belonged to the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Lyceum Club, and enjoyed gardening and the theatre. In 1967 she was appointed D.B.E.

Wedgwood believed that women had a duty to prepare themselves for an informed entry into the public realm by self-education on political and social questions. Despite her support for the integration of the A.W.N.L. into the Liberal Party, she acknowledged the importance of women forming autonomous associations within which they could realize their own concerns. In an article in Woman's Day in 1969 she urged: 'Get into your women's organisations and train yourself for Parliament. It is a specialised existence which requires work and study'. Her own career demonstrated the profound shift in the expectations and opportunities of middle-class Australian women during the twentieth century.

After Prime Minister (Sir) John Gorton failed to persuade cabinet to enable a husband to receive benefits from his deceased wife's parliamentary superannuation, Dame Ivy became a principal plotter in his demise in March 1971. She retired from the Senate on 30 June. Survived by her husband, she died on 24 July 1975 at Toorak and was cremated. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam described her as 'a gracious and esteemed colleague' who would be fondly remembered by all Victorians. Malcolm Fraser, the leader of the Opposition, referred to her as 'a great Australian' who had provided much useful advice throughout his political career. The Liberal senator Margaret Guilfoyle observed: 'She knew that women needed to be integrated into the political system if they were to have the influence that we believe Australian women should have in political life'.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Millar, Trust the Women (Canb, 1993)
  • D. Sydenham, Women of Influence (Melb, 1996)
  • G. Henderson, Menzies' Child (Syd, 1998)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Senate, Commonwealth), 12 May 1971, pp 1707, 1711, 19 Aug 1975, p 1
  • Woman's Day, 21 July 1969, p 21
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 June 1970
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 July 1975
  • Wedgwood papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Thematic Essay

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Doug Scobie, 'Wedgwood, Dame Ivy Evelyn (1896–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024