WEDGWOOD, Dame Ivy Evelyn Annie (1896–1975)
Senator for Victoria, 1950–71 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Dame Ivy Evelyn Annie Wedgwood, accountant and magistrate, was a founding member of the Liberal Party, and was the first Victorian woman elected to the Senate. Ivy was born on 18 October 1896 in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, the elder of two daughters of Elizabeth, née Evans, and her husband, Albert Drury, both Victorian-born. Ivy grew up in the Melbourne working-class suburb of Flemington and probably attended Flemington State School. Her father, a farmer at the time of his marriage, ran a dairy in Flemington, but he disappears from the public record after about 1908.

From 1914 until 1921 Ivy worked with the Melbourne clothing manufacturing and wholesale firm of Paterson, Laing and Bruce, specialising in confidential correspondence and other secretarial work. Her employers were ‘delighted’ by the quality of her work, and praised ‘her cheery disposition and affable nature’. By her early twenties, she was working for Stanley Melbourne Bruce, the general manager of the firm, and later Prime Minister of Australia. It was from Bruce that she gained her earliest knowledge of politics. With a head for figures, she later became accountant and cost clerk to the importing firm, H. P. Launder. On 7 October 1921, Ivy married Jack Kearns Wedgwood at St Thomas’ Church of England, Essendon. Jack was a motor mechanic from the Victorian town of Woodend, who later became an executive of General Motors-Holden’s Ltd. Having served with the First AIF in France, earning the Meritorious Service Medal for bravery under fire, Jack had ‘had a very hard war’, and his war disabilities made him increasingly dependent on Ivy’s support. They were described as a ‘devoted’ couple.

The Wedgwoods set up house in Woodend in 1922, moving to Essendon by 1927. Between 1943 and 1947 Ivy resumed paid employment as a saleswoman in the ladies’ suit department of the Myer Emporium in Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Ivy Wedgwood had joined the Australian Women’s National League (AWNL) in the 1920s, eventually becoming a member of its federal executive. By 1944, with AWNL council members Elizabeth Couchman and Edith Haynes, Wedgwood was appointed to represent the league at the two conferences of non-Labor bodies, in Canberra and Albury, which led to the formation of the modern Liberal Party. A member of the Essendon branch of the Liberal Party in 1945, Wedgwood was among the AWNL majority who supported the move by R. G. Menzies (then leader of the federal Opposition) that women’s organisations should give up their individual entities in order to work for the good of the whole party. As a result, women’s issues were swallowed up within the male-dominated party, despite the replacement of the AWNL by the women’s section within the Liberal Party.[1]

The quintessential committee woman, Wedgwood became an inaugural member of the Victorian Liberal Party’s women’s section and its library committee in February 1946. By August she was a member of a committee serving the party’s state council, as well as a member of its selection committee for the Senate, and a committee on branch development. In 1948 and 1949 she was a Victorian delegate to the Federal Council, and in 1949 and 1950 one of two women on the Federal Executive. From 1948 to 1950 she was president of the women’s section of the Victorian Liberal Party (Liberal and Country Party from 1949–65), serving also as the party’s metropolitan vice-president.

Wedgwood’s involvement with the AWNL was probably a significant factor in her appointment as a special magistrate for the Children’s Court at Brunswick in 1945. She became a Justice of the Peace in the following year. In 1949 Wedgwood was elected president of the Women Justices Association of Victoria.

Wedgwood was preselected for the Senate for the federal election of 10 December 1949, at which the electoral system of proportional representation was used for the first time for the Senate. Advantaged by proportional representation, which provided a more accurate reflection of voters’ preferences, she was one of two successful female Senate candidates, and was elected in seventh place.[2]

Wedgwood gave her first speech in the Senate on 8 March 1950. She congratulated the Menzies Government on the establishment of a Cabinet subcommittee to review pensions and allowances to ex-servicemen and women and their dependents, and on its intention to investigate anomalies concerning aged, widow and invalid pensions. Social security and matters relating to individual hardship and suffering, especially in Victoria, would continue to engage her attention. She referred to the need for superannuation, to the problem of tuberculosis, and to repatriation, of which she had firsthand experience through her husband’s war service. That the Wedgwoods had no children gives a touch of poignancy to her statement on the extension of child endowment to the first child, that ‘family life, with all its cares, responsibilities and joys, is the keystone of human happiness’. It was, of course, also a keystone of Liberal Party policy. A contemporary description of her as ‘a dainty and feminine person, with a soft voice and a gentle manner’ may well have been true, but the fact that she was re-elected in 1951, 1953, 1958 and 1964, and was Government Whip from 1951 until 1966 indicates she was also a woman of strong character, though, in the hands of Mr Menzies, perhaps pliable enough.[3]

As an accountant, Wedgwood was interested in the estimates, especially the proposed re-establishment in October 1950 of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which had lapsed in 1931. Concerned more with how money was spent than with how much, she considered women to be ‘the money savers of the nation’. Not devoid of ambition, in June 1952 she wanted to know when the members of the proposed joint committee would be appointed. On 6 August, she asked again. In 1953 she queried reductions in funding to the committee. Appointed to the committee in October 1955, she then ensured that the committee’s reports were tabled regularly, and that indexes were included.

She kept a keen eye on the executive arm of government. On 26 November 1959 she stated that the Treasurer should be accountable for the implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. In the early 1960s a Government proposal to include capital works expenditure within the main appropriation bills for the ordinary annual services of government aroused concern among senators. The Senate could amend capital works bills, but could not amend appropriation bills. Wedgwood was one of the four-member committee of government senators appointed to examine the question of what should constitute the ordinary annual services of government. Headed by Senator Cormack, its recommendations were largely adopted by the Government. Other committee service to which she was well suited included serving as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs, which in 1970 was transformed into one of the newly established legislative and general purpose standing committees, as the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare.[4]

From 1962 Wedgwood was a temporary chairman of committees in the Senate. In September 1966 she won a party room vote to act as Chairman of Committees during the absence of the President, defeating Senator Wood, who was known for crossing the floor, and who had recently opposed rises in allowances to members of parliamentary committees. Senator Wedgwood would not have been so unwise.[5]

In March 1952 Labor’s Senator Willesee had quipped that his mother had said women should not be allowed at football matches or elections. As a lobbyist for women and their organisations, Wedgwood reminded Willesee that he owed his place in the Senate to the Labor women of Western Australia. In September 1952 she asked her party colleague, Senator Spicer, a question regarding Australia’s representation on the United Nations Status of Women Commission, a matter on which, she said, Australia was lagging behind other nations. She wanted licences for the importation of washing machines removed, and supported housekeeping services for disabled mothers.

In 1959 she had asked whether there were any qualified women included on the National Capital Development Commission’s Homes Advisory Service. In the same year, Wedgwood drew the attention of Treasurer Holt to a ‘glaring anomaly’ in the Parliamentary Retiring Allowance Act 1948, by which significant restrictions were placed upon the pension rights of the widower of a deceased female member—a situation which remained until 1973, despite the persistent efforts of Wedgwood and Nancy Buttfield to have the legislation changed. In 1962 she supported the demand of Senator Buttfield that a woman should be appointed to the board of the Australian War Memorial. In 1963 she asked why there was no woman on the United Nations conference on trade and development. She wanted to see women as representatives on overseas delegations. In the 1960s she lobbied for a women’s bureau in the Commonwealth Public Service. She supported uniform marriage law throughout the Commonwealth, as proposed by the Attorney-General, Garfield Barwick, in 1961, and an increase in the minimum marriage age. She was never aggressive, or even forceful, but continued to present her point of view quietly.[6]

Wedgwood had long been an advocate of equal pay for equal work, in November 1952 drawing attention to ‘the substantially lower incomes of women than of men’. In 1957 she asked Senator O’Sullivan, then Leader of the Government in the Senate, to consider the establishment of a committee on equal pay. On 12 March 1959 she pointed out that the Boyer Report recommended that married women be no longer excluded from the Commonwealth Public Service (the marriage bar was eventually lifted in November 1966). However, on 8 December 1960, with the three other Liberal woman senators, she voted against an amendment, moved by Willesee, that the Public Service Bill be withdrawn and recommitted with provisions for equal pay for women doing equal work. The amendment was lost on party lines. In 1962, in answer to a question put by Wedgwood, Senator John Gorton stated that the implementation of equal pay for the sexes would be more appropriately dealt with by arbitration than by legislation. In June, Wedgwood blandly told the annual convention of the women’s group of the New South Wales Liberal Party that ‘evolution’ would take care of equal opportunity. Even a motion for the adjournment on 9 April 1964 supporting equal pay, moved by the ALP’s Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator McKenna, failed to engage her support, her promise ‘to fight on’ sounding somewhat hollow. On 13 October 1966 Wedgwood voted against a motion by Willesee that would have removed discrimination against women in particular divisions within the public service. In June 1967 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[7]

In his diaries, the Liberal Party’s Peter Howson, MHR, refers to Wedgwood as being at the centre of discussions surrounding the appointment of Gorton as Holt’s successor as Prime Minister in January 1968, although journalist Alan Reid observed in 1971 that her ‘early liking’ for Gorton came to be replaced by ‘distrust and disillusionment’. In June 1970 she joined MHR John Jess and Ivor Greenwood in raising vigorous party room objections to proposals by Minister for Labour and National Service Billy Snedden for a civilian alternative to national service training. The idea was dropped. She did not contest the Senate election of 21 November 1970, leaving the Senate on 12 May 1971. On 28 May, a farewell dinner to Wedgwood and her husband was given in Canberra by Victorian senators and members. On 24 July 1975 Wedgwood chaired a board meeting of the After-Care Hospital, Collingwood, (of which she had been president for three years). Feeling unwell, she returned to her Toorak apartment and died there later that evening. Jack survived her.

Wedgwood once told a Senate committee that the name of her autobiography would be ‘Men I Have Had Breakfast With’. Had such a work eventuated, it is doubtful that it would have revealed many secrets. Not long before she left the Senate, she was described as ‘a persuasive, slightly hesitant speaker’, presenting her points ‘logically and persistently, but without fireworks’. According to her colleague, Senator Withers, she ‘had the capacity of being able to cut through a lot of the male political nonsense that goes on in this place, like a hot knife cuts through butter. Many a time I saw her put quite pompous politicians in their place by the exercise of some sound common sense’.

Ivy was well aware that Australia at that time was, as she put it, ‘still a man’s world’ and that ‘the road on the way up’ to a respected position in public life for a woman was ‘hard’. She attributed much of her success in public life to Jack, and said that her greatest happiness had ‘always been going back to my husband and my own home in Melbourne’.[8]

Ann Millar

[1] Doug Scobie, ‘Wedgwood, Dame Ivy Evelyn Annie’, ADB, vol. 16; Dame Ivy Wedgwood Papers, MS 5159, folders 173, 274, NLA; CPD, 29 Aug. 1967, pp. 274–5; Wedgwood, Jack Kearns—Defence Service Records, B2455 and B844, V12572, NAA; CPD, 19 Aug. 1975, pp. 2, 4; Victorian Liberal (Melb.), Sept. 1945, p. 8; Diane Sydenham, Women of Influence: The First Fifty Years of Women in the Liberal Party, Women’s section, Liberal Party of Australia, Victorian division, 1996, pp. 51–9; Margaret Fitzherbert, Liberal Women: Federation–1949, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW, 2004, pp. 211–13, 220; Age (Melb.), 25 July 1945, p. 3.

[2] Victorian Liberal (Melb.), Feb. 1946, pp. 2, 8, Aug. 1946, p. 3; Liberal Party of Australia, Federal Council records, 1949–50, Sir Robert Menzies Papers, MS 4936, box 415, folders 44 and 46, NLA; Sydenham, Women of Influence, pp. 64–5, 71–7, 157; Wedgwood Papers, MS 5159, folders 1, 139, NLA; Age (Melb.), 23 July 1949, p. 4; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 23 Dec. 1949, p. 15; Ian Hancock, National and Permanent? The Federal Organisation of the Liberal Party of Australia, 1944–1965, MUP, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, p. 108.

[3] CPD, 8 Mar. 1950, pp. 472–4, 20 Apr. 1950, p. 1635; Australian Producer (Syd.), 27 Feb. 1958, p. 18.

[4] CPD, 25 Oct. 1950, p. 1331, 28 June 1951, pp. 599–600, 17 Mar. 1964, p. 325, 3 June 1952, p. 1174, 6 Aug. 1952, p. 16, 15 Oct. 1953, p. 582; Newspaper article by Senator Annabelle Rankin, [Oct. 1955], Wedgwood Papers, MS 5159, folder 274, NLA; CPD, 14 May 1958, pp. 997–8, 19 Aug. 1958, p. 55, 26 Nov. 1959, pp. 1865–6, 11 Oct. 1960, pp. 976–7; CPP, 55/1967; G. S. Reid and Martyn Forrest, Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament 1901–1988: Ten Perspectives, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1989, p. 209.

[5] Herald (Melb.), 14 Sept. 1966, p. 3.

[6] CPD, 5 Mar. 1952, p. 813, 11 Sept. 1952, p. 1254, 12 Nov. 1959, pp. 1454–5, 8 Mar. 1950, p. 434, 18 Sept. 1958, p. 498, 7 Apr. 1959, p. 547; Letter, Wedgwood to Harold Holt, 30 Jan. 1959, Wedgwood Papers, MS 5159, folder 173, NLA; CPD, 22 Nov. 1968, pp. 2297–8; Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act Amendments, 1968–71, A5882, CO439, NAA; CPD, 29 Nov. 1962, pp. 1630–1, 19 Sept. 1963, p. 651, 6 Mar. 1962, p. 326, 7 Nov. 1962, p. 1234, 9 Mar. 1967, pp. 392–3, 11 Apr. 1961, pp. 419–20.

[7] CPD, 5 Nov. 1952, p. 4158, 17 Oct. 1957, p. 640, 12 Mar. 1959, pp. 367–8, 8 Dec. 1960, pp. 2223–5, 10 Apr. 1962, p. 859; Australian Liberal (Syd.), June 1962, p. 23; CPD, 9 Apr. 1964, pp. 531–3, 542–4, 13 Oct. 1966, pp. 1032–3, 1046–9.

[8] Peter Howson, The Howson Diaries: The Life of Politics, ed. Don Aitkin, Viking Press, Ringwood, Vic., 1984, pp. 377–8; Alan Reid, The Gorton Experiment, Shakespeare Head Press, Sydney, 1971, pp. 359–60; Peter Edwards, A Nation at War: Australian Politics, Society and Diplomacy During the Vietnam War 1965–1975, Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, St Leonards, NSW, 1997, p. 277; CPD, 12 May 1971, pp. 1708, 1711, 1723, 19 Aug. 1975, pp. 32–3; Women’s Day (Syd.), 21 July 1969, p. 17; Herald (Melb.), 6 June 1970, p. 24; Newspaper cutting, ‘Ivy Wedgwood Tells What it is Like to be a Senator’, Wedgwood Papers, MS 5159, folder 274, NLA.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 28-32.

WEDGWOOD, Dame Ivy Evelyn Annie (1896–1975)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1950–71

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1950–56, 1965–68

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1955–71

Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, 1965–70

Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, 1968

Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs, 1968–70

Estimates Committee E, 1970–71

Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, 1970–71