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lip top 10: prime ministers’ spouses

Being the spouse of the Prime Minister can be a sucky job. You are required to attend official events, host parties for people you may not even like, and are stuck in the eye of the fickle public through no choosing of your own. This fortnight I thought I’d highlight some spouses who did a bit more than cop criticism for standing around and looking pretty.

1. Mary Hughes
Mary was the wife of William Morris Hughes, Prime Minster from 1915-1923. There isn’t a great deal of information around about her charitable work, but she spent a lot of time visiting soldiers in hospitals and camps during World War I, earning an appointment as a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1922.

2. Enid Lyons
Enid was married to Joseph Lyons (Prime Minster from 1932- 1939). In 1943 she was the first woman to win a seat in the House of Representatives, and was the first woman in Cabinet, serving as Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1949-1951.

3. Ethel Page
Although her husband, Sir Earle Page, was not elected Prime Minister, Ethel was a prime ministerial wife for three weeks in April 1939, after the death of Joseph Lyons. Her main community focus was on the rights of women, becoming active in many feminist groups and founded the Women’s Country Party.

4. Pattie Menzies
Pattie was married to Robert Menzies (1939-1941 and 1944-1966). In 1954 she was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire for her work in women’s hospitals.

5. Sonia McMahon
Sonia McMahon was known for her philanthropy first, and her marriage to William McMahon (1971-1972) second. She served as either a board member or patron of charities that included the Sydney Children’s Hospital, the National Brain Foundation and the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

6. Margaret Whitlam
The wife of Gough (1972-1975), Margaret served on countless boards, was a columnist for Woman’s Day and frequently appeared on panels for television and radio. Like Ethel Page, she was an advocate for women’s rights, and was especially vocal in abortion law reform. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1983, but my favourite thing about her was that she represented Australia in swimming at the 1938 British Empire Games.

7. Tamie Fraser
By her own confession, Tamie Fraser, wife of Malcolm (1975-1983), didn’t have a great interest in politics. However she was seen to wield quite a lot of power, and the inquiry that recommended Australia ban whaling in 1978 was said to have come about from her intervention.

8. Hazel Hawke
Hazel was married to Bob Hawke (1983-1991) and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2001. She was active in social welfare and furthering the right of women and indigenous Australians, and most recently spoke out about her experiences suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

9. Therese Rein
Therese Rein (wife of Kevin, 2007-2010) holds two firsts: the first businesswoman to be the Prime Minster’s wife, and the first to retain her own surname. She is heavily involved with many health and arts related charities, but is most involved with the rights of disabled people, which earned her a Human Rights Medal in 2010.

10. Tim Mathieson
Partner of Julia Gillard (incumbent), Mathieson has copped a lot as the unmarried partner of our first female Prime Minister. Nonetheless, he is an ambassador for Men’s Health and Kidney Health Australia, a patron of the Australian Men’s Shed Association, and is involved with the Indigenous Diabetes Association and beyondblue.

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