Since November 30, 1971.

Vale Mary Owen, feminist champion and Club friend

Mary Owen at the launch of Mal Walden's memoir, The Newsman, in October 2016.


Feminist, working women’s champion and Melbourne Press Club friend Mary Owen has died, aged 96.

Mary, an outspoken and dedicated advocate for the empowerment of women, was among the earliest members of the Melbourne Press Club, and was attending lunch events as recently as October last year.

In the early 1970s Mary Owen, representing the Women’s Electoral Lobby, was such a regular questioner at the lunches of the newly established club that a rule was passed to prioritise the questions of working journalists.

The rule was quickly abandoned, though, according to Press Club historian Keith Dunstan, when journalists at the lunches failed to demonstrate the same level of enthusiasm for the task as Mary along with Bill Cook from the Rationalists Society.

Born in 1921 to Tyrrell and Mary Evans (nee Withers, the daughter of Heidelberg School painter Walter Withers), Mary was someone whose life reflected the changing times she lived through, particularly the emergence and growth of the women’s movement.

Working as a typist, clerk, editor and at one point selling mixmasters, she raised three children, then went to university, thanks to the Whitlam government, became politicised and actively engaged in public life.

She was a coordinator of The Working Women's Centre Melbourne (which was later absorbed into the Australian Council of Trade Unions), a role she shared with Sylvie Shaw; a founding member of Emily’s List and a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby for more than 40 years.

In an online tribute, the Women’s Electoral Lobby expressed “sadness at the death of our dear friend and colleague”, “ an outstanding feminist working for the rights of all women”, who was “a persistent advocate for a fair society” and had a significant impact on policies advancing the status of women, especially the fight for equal pay.

For 20 years from 1986 a Melbourne dinner was held in Mary’s name featuring female keynote speakers and attracting hundreds of women decked out in the feminist colours of purple, green and white.

"She made a difference to so many lives,” the Women’s Electoral Lobby wrote.

Mary passed away on 23 March 2017.

She is survived by her children Rosemary, Wendy (who worked as a journalist for The Age and various other international news organisations) and David.

A celebration of Mary’s life was held on Thursday 27 April at the Swanston Hall, Melbourne Town Hall.
 

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