Susan Grace Benny -1st woman in Australia elected to local government

Post date: Jan 4, 2010 12:53:32 PM

If we were having a quiz night, one question would likely be:

"Who was the first woman in Australia to be elected to local government?"

Answer: In 1919 Susan Grace Benny became the first female member of a local government council in both South Australia and Australia. She represented the newly created ward of Seacliff, part of South Australia’s Brighton Council.

SUSAN GRACE BENNY BRONZE BUST

Following a suggestion by Cr Lynda Yates (ALGWA SA Committee member), the City of Holdfast Bay commissioned sculptor Meliesa Judge to create the bronze bust of Susan Grace Benny as a lasting tribute to the first Australian woman to enter into Local Government. The launch of the bust took place on 5 September 2017 and was attended by dignitaries including Cr Betty Gill, Cr Kristina Barnett and Cr Jill Whittaker representing ALGWA SA Branch. The bronze and sandstone plinth from Liquid Metal Studios costing $30,000 is located in the garden between Ringwood House and the Brighton Library at 20 Jetty Road, Brighton , South Australia.

ALGWA SA is planning for the centenary of her election in 22 December 2019.

New Grace Benny Award announced:

Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government John McVeigh has announced a new national award to encourage more women in local government.

“The ‘Grace Benny Award’ will be added to the national local government awards from next year to coincide with the centenary of the first woman elected to any level of government in Australia—Grace Benny who was elected to the Brighton Council in South Australia in 1919,” Dr McVeigh said.

Speaking at the National Awards for Excellence in Local Government in Canberra, Dr McVeigh said he was delighted to announce the Grace Benny Award—proposed to him by the Australian Local Government Women's Association (ALGWA).

“Meeting with ALGWA national president Coral Ross and ALGWA NSW president Marianne Saliba we agreed to announce this award to recognise and support councils in their efforts to get more women involved in local government,” Dr McVeigh said.

“It was great to meet Cr Ross, from Boroondara Council and Cr Saliba, Mayor of Shellharbour City Council and agree on this important new award to recognise both the centenary of Grace Benny's election to Brighton Council and the efforts of councils nationally to encourage and support women in local government.”

Cr Ross said this was a great step in encouraging more women to get involved in local government and recognise the great work being done by councils.

“We welcome the support of the Minister for this important award and look forward to seeing plenty of nominations next year in this new category,” she said.

Dr McVeigh said the Grace Benny Award would be open to all councils that encouraged more female councillors and also more female staff in all areas of council services and operations.

Susan Grace Benny (1872-1944), by unknown photographer

Susan Grace Benny (1872-1944), by unknown photographer State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B60835

Susan Grace Benny

Born: 4 October 1872. Died:5 November1944.

After her mother died, Benny went to a girl's boarding school at McLaren Vale, then returned home and taught her younger sisters. She married, solicitor Benjamin Benny in 1896, and they had three daughters and two sons.

During World War I, Benny was honorary secretary of the Seacliff Cheer-up Society and was a member of the local progress association and spinning and croquet clubs.

Before becoming the local government member for Seacliff on 22 December 1919, she was a member of the Liberal Union Sturt District committee and president of the Brighton Women's Branch of the Liberal Union.

Suzanne Edgar and Helen Jones in their biography of Benny in 200 Australian Women : A Redress Anthology state that while with the local council, "Benny claimed credit for several improvements at Brighton: the opening of a cliff to enable free access to the beach; the installation of electric lights; and the allotment of reserves as a children's playground and public garden. She successfully supported the abolition of segregated sea-bathing, so that families could swim together." (p. 93) Also she attended night meeting, which legislators had commonly believed women incapable of doing. In 1921, she became a justice of the peace and heard state children's, police and women's cases.

In 1926, her husband resigned from the Australian Senate, to which he had been elected in 1919, due to ill-health. He was later convicted of embezzlement, sentenced to three years hard labour and declared insolvent. Relying on inherited money to support her family, Benny moved into her husband's city offices and operated the "Elite Employment Agency," during the depression.

She separated from her husband, who died in 1935 and remarried in 1940.

The Brighton Council named a crescent and a community centre for women's groups after her.

Benny died in North Adelaide on 5 November 1944 and is buried in the Scots cemetery at Morphett Vale SA.

ALGWA SA Branch sent a letters of support for the proposal to SA State Heritage that the gravesite of Cr Susan Grace Benny be included on the State Heritage Register.

Sources used to compile this entry: Edgar, Suzanne, 'Benny, Susan Grace (1872-1944)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, Australian National University, 2006, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A070272b.htm; Australia's First Female Politician, http://www.lga.sa.gov.au/education/benny.htm; Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Women's Redress Press, Sydney, 1988, 258 pp. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-78644.

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