At 61, an age most people think of retirement, Margaret Edgeworth McIntyre made history as the first woman to win a seat in the Tasmanian Parliament. She was elected to the Legislative Council on 8 May 1948 as an Independent, representing the seat of Cornwall. Well known not only in her home city of Launceston, but throughout Tasmania, she had been awarded an OBE in the New Years Honours List that year.
Although Tasmanian women had won an equal right to vote for the parliament in 1904, in 1948 voting in elections for the Upper House, the Legislative Council, was still restricted to property owners and those with war service.
Committed to enabling women to have a greater role in government, Margaret McIntyre advocated, and demonstrated, active citizenship. At a public meeting in 1948 she asked ‘Isn’t it time we women tried to use more influence in national affairs? It is no use just sitting back and bewailing the state of the world and thinking how helpless each of us is to alter it.’
Politics before parliament
She was prominent in many organisations including the New Education Fellowship, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Women Graduates’ Association, and the Launceston Players; she also served on the ABC Advisory Committee. In 1940 she had also become State Chief Commissioner for Girl Guides – a position her mother had earlier held in New South Wales. In the late 1940s, Margaret McIntyre helped establish the Brooks Community School with a curriculum initiated by the Launceston Progressive Educational Association.
Margaret McIntyre was also keenly involved in the National Council of Women in Tasmania. On 28 September 1948, three months after her historic election win, she was returning from an NCW conference in Brisbane when her plane crashed near Quirindi in New South Wales. There were no survivors.
Born in the New South Wales town of West Maitland in 1886, she was the daughter of Caroline David, community worker, and Tannatt Edgeworth David, geologist and Antarctic explorer. Margaret David was educated at home, largely by her mother, a trained teacher and progressive thinker.
Two years after Margaret David graduated from Sydney University in 1907 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, she married mining engineer William Keverall McIntyre. They moved to Mount Bischoff in Tasmania; when their first child was born there she developed a near-fatal puerperal fever. After her convalescence the McIntyres went to Edinburgh, where William McIntyre graduated in medicine, specialising in obstetrics. He enlisted in 1915 and after the war ended, the family returned to Australia, settling in Launceston.
There they raised four children, William McIntyre became a well-known obstetrician and Margaret McIntyre became involved in the public life that shaped her career, and Australian parliamentary history.
Born: 28 November 1886, at West Maitland, NSW
Died: 2 September 1948, near Quirindi, NSW. Buried in Tamworth cemetery
Married: 28 September 1909, to William McIntyre at Ashfield, NSW
Member of the Legislative Council: 8 May – 2 September 1948
Election: 8 May 1948
First sitting day: 29 June 1948
Honours: OBE 1948
Ferrall, RA, ‘McIntyre, Margaret Edgeworth (1886 – 1948)’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, MUP, 2000 http://www.adb.online.edu.au/biogs/A150746b.htm
Jenkins, Cathy, No Ordinary Lives, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008
Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian Women, A Redress Anthology, Sydney, Women’s Redress Press, 1959 www.200australianwomen.com/names/128.html
Vallance, TG & DF Branagan, ‘David, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth (1858-1934)’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, 1981 www.adb.online.edu.au/biogs/A080242b.htm
The Parliament of Tasmania www.parliament.tas.gov.au/history/tasparl/mcyintrem495.htm
Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/cdd/women/leadership/tasmanian_honour_roll_of_women