Millie, Lady Peacock MLA Victoria 1933-35
‘Proud that I have been able to stand up in this House’
The election of Lady Peacock to the Legislative Assembly of Victoria in 1933 made her the first woman to sit in the Victorian parliament, and Australia’s sixth pioneering woman parliamentarian. She won the seat of Allandale in a by-election held on 11 November 1933, four weeks after the death of the sitting member, her husband Sir Alexander Peacock, who had held it since 1889.
On the day she took her seat, 21 November, the gallery of the Legislative Assembly Chamber was crowded with women to witness the swearing-in, most of them from the Australian Women’s National League, formed in Victoria in 1903 to organise anti-Labor supporters. The League initially opposed women in parliament, including the first women federal candidates who stood in 1903. Thirty years later one of these, Vida Goldstein, was among those who saluted the first appearance of a woman in Victorian parliament.
Melbourne’s Age newspaper, on 14 November 1933, proclaimed ‘another step has been won in the woman’s fight for complete freedom and equality’. It had been a very slow step, ten years after women in Victoria gained the right to stand for their State parliament, and 24 years after they had won the right to vote in State elections.
Lady Peacock’s only speech to the Parliament was on 5 September 1934, a moving support for the Factories and Shops Bill which had been of particular interest to Sir Alexander Peacock. She emphasised the plight of female outworkers, praising her husband’s role in establishing the Wages Board system to fix fair wages and conditions for Victorian workers, concluding ‘I feel very proud that I have been able to stand up in this House, which is truly representative of the people, and give my support to this legislation which, I feel, is not only due and necessary, but reflects the highest instincts of humanity.’
Asked whether her decision not to seek re-election in 1935 was because she thought politics not a woman’s sphere, she responded ‘I would not say that, but I would say that representing a country electorate is really a man’s job.’
Politics before parliament
When elected at the age of 63, Lady Peacock had long been involved in political life and community affairs, particularly during the three decades of her marriage. Sir Alexander Peacock, a strong supporter of women’s suffrage, held several ministries including education, labour, and forests, and was Premier of Victoria three times. Lady Peacock had delivered speeches on his behalf and was so closely involved in political activities and local affairs that the Sydney Mercury (13 November 1933) reported her election with the observation that she had long been referred to in the electorate as ‘the deputy Member’.
Lady Peacock was prominent in the Red Cross, the Ladies Benevolent Society, the Children's Welfare Association and the Auxiliary of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. Despite her long public career, she was apparently a reluctant parliamentarian, persuaded to stand for the seat by RG Menzies – at her husband’s funeral. Menzies was then a young minister in the State government and, like Sir Alexander Peacock, a founding member of the new United Australia Party.
In mourning throughout her brief election campaign, Lady Peacock made no speeches, nor any public appearance. The speakers at her campaign launch on 29 October 1933 were the Victorian Premier, and the founder of the Australian Women’s National League, Elizabeth Couchman. On election day she retained the seat for the United Australia Party with a respectable majority, the powerful support of the Australian Women’s National League a key factor. In the view of Melbourne’s Argus newspaper, the League’s backing was essential to any United Australia Party candidate in Victoria.
Little is known of Lady Peacock’s early life. She was born to Irish immigrants John and Marianne Holden at East Framlingham in the colony of Victoria in 1870 and was educated in Port Fairy and at the Methodist Ladies College. She married Alexander Peacock, a prominent pro-Federationist, on 1 January 1901, the day the Commonwealth of Australia was established. The couple had no children. Lady Peacock died aged 77, on 7 February 1948.
Born: 3 August 1870, at East Framlingham, Victoria
Died: 7 February 1948, at Creswick, buried Creswick cemetery
Education: Port Fairy and Methodist Ladies College
Married: 1 January 1901 to Alexander James Peacock
Election: 11 November 1933
First sitting day: 21 November 1933
Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly: 1933-1935
Electorate: Allandale, Victoria
Party: United Australia Party
Browne, G, Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament 1900-84, 1985
Fitzherbert, Margaret, Liberal Women: Federation to 1949, Sydney, Federation Press, 2004
Gregory, Alan, 'Peacock, Sir Alexander James (1861-1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 11, Melbourne University Press, 1988
Gregory, Alan, ‘Peacock – The Laughing Premier’, Victorian Historical Journal, February 1981
Jenkins, Cathy, No Ordinary Lives, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008
Victorian House of Assembly Hansard,3 September 1934, pp.1638-39
Parliament of Victoria – Women in Parliament
Parliament of Victoria – Database of Members
Themes: Parliamentary Women
This image appears in WHM 2009: Pioneering parliamentary women