The Edna Ryan Papers

From the national library

Edna Ryan’s papers spanning more than fifty years are stored at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

The letters, diaries, interviews, notebooks and other documents tell the story of the social transformation of the second half of the twentieth century, and Edna Ryan’s role in achieving greater equality for women.



1948 – 1993
6m (43 boxes)

Available for reference

The Edna Ryan Papers were received in three consignments. In January 1993 several boxes were transferred to the Library. These were once part of the collection of the now-defunct Women’s Archive, which was established by the Women’s Studies Unit at the Australian National University.

In March 1993 and January 1995, Edna Ryan donated further material to the Library. The contents of each instalment have been processed separately. The original sequence established by the Women’s Archive custodians in respect to the first instalment has been maintained. Their file numbers have been added at the end of each folder description in the following list. Because categories of material such as letters, diaries and cuttings are spread across the three instalments, a careful scan of the entire list is recommended.

An interview conducted by Sara Dowse with Edna Ryan in 1991 is held in the Oral History Collection at TRC 2742. There is also a copy of an interview conducted by Lucy Taska in 1987 for the NSW Bicentennial Oral History Collection (TRC 2301 INT.156). In 1992 Margot Oliver made a documentary videorecording, released by the Australian Film Institute, entitled ‘Edna Ryan: a political life’.

Some of Edna Ryan’s papers are held in the Mitchell Library. These were lodged there by Ms Ryan before she moved to Canberra. See Box 9 for list of some of this material.


“Edna Ryan (née Nelson), feminist and campaigner for equal pay, was born in Sydney in 1904 and died in Canberra in 1997.

One of a large family, Ryan had to leave school early to find work as a clerk, but spent many years studying at evening college. She was an early member of the Communist Party and also of the International Workers of the World but left the Communist Party after her partner, Jack Ryan, was expelled. In 1935 the Ryans joined the Labor Party. Later Edna Ryan was an early campaign manager for the future prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Ryan stood unsuccessfully for the State seat of Mosman as an ALP candidate in 1953 and was an alderman and Deputy Mayor of Fairfield Council between 1956 and 1965.

As a foundation member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby in 1972, Ryan participated in campaigns to persuade the Whitlam Government to reopen the National Wage Case. In 1974 the Arbitration Commission extended to women the same minimum wages as men. In 1993 Ryan successfully lobbied the Minister for Industrial Relations, Laurie Brereton, to ensure that his legislation guaranteed women would be no worse off under enterprise bargaining.

Ryan wrote numerous articles, conference papers, submissions to government and two books, “Gentle invaders” (1975) and “Two thirds of a man” (1984).

She accepted an honorary doctorate from Sydney University in 1985 but rejected an Order of Australia, saying, ‘They are only giving it to me because I am old’.

Edna Ryan had three children, Julia, Lyndall and Patrick, whom she raised alone after Jack Ryan died at an early age.

Papers Series List



Instalment 21 January 1993

11AAutobiographical Writings 1958, 1972-75(ms 1/1/1-160)
11Australian Labor Party : 1948-73 (Subseries 1)(ms 1/2/1-36) (f2)
12Australian Labor Party: 1970;1972-76 (Sub-series 2)(ms 1/2/37-145) (f3)
13A.L.P.(sub-series 2) cont’d : 1976-77(ms 1/2/146-268) (f4)
14Abortion: 1969-1978(ms 1/3/1-165) (f5)
15Abortion: 1980-82(ms 1/3/166-233a)
16Abortion (New Zealand) : 1978(ms 1/3/234-287) (f7)
27Women’s Trade Union Commission. Child care(ms 1/4/1-47) (f8)
28Eden Park Child Care Centre(ms 1/4/48) (f9)
29Eden Park Submission Summary(ms 1/4/48-49)
10Woodbury Estate Submission(ms 1/4/50-110a)
211International Year of the Child(ms 1/4/147-196)
212Children of working mothers(ms 1/4/198-327)
213Eden Park – Parents working on estate(ms 1/4/328-472)
214Commission for adoption of child care policy Constitution of women’s TUC.(ms 1/4/473-570)
215WEA – Mothers’ & children’s residential schools(ms 1/6/389-413) (f22a)
316Trade union matters 1967-1970(ms 1/5/1-165)
317Trade union matters 1970-1974(ms 1/5/166-353)
318Trade union matters 1968 – 1975(ms 1/5/354-388)
319Union publications 1968 – 1974 
420Press clippings: equal pay: Dec 1968 – July 1972 
421Press clippings: women: 1966-1970(f23)
422Press clippings: women: 1971-1972(f24)
423Press clippings: women: 1973(f26)
524Newspaper clippings: women: 1973 (few 1974, 1975)(f25)
525Correspondence for WEL Conference 1973 
526Appendices for WEL Conference 1973 
527WEL Conference 1982 

Newspaper clippings

Personal correspondence, jottings on book, amendments to Social Services Act 1974


Personal correspondence 1974-76

Establishment of Children’s Commission

530Various newsletters and publications, women’s groups, 1971-1976 
631Press clippings: various women and issues: Jan-April 1976(f27)
632April – December 1976(f28)
633January – June 1977(f29)
634July – December 1977 (+few 1978)(f30)
735Press Clippings: General trade union matters from 1962, 1970-71, Jan-Nov 1973(f31)
736Industrial : Sept 1978 – May 1979(f32)
737Industrial : Jan – March 1981 (some 1979 & ’80)(f33)
738Industrial: April – June 1981(f.34)
739BLF : 1981(f22c)
840Press clippings: Film submission(ms 1/4/111-146)
41-42Death duties(ms 1/6/261-387) (f21)
843-45Statistics (workforce)(ms 1/6/1-260) (f20)
846WEL, industrial law, etc(ms 1/7/1-30)(f22b)



Instalment 17 March 1993

9Pocket diaries1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985 
9Desk diaries1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 

May 1980-1981

March 1981

November 1981 – June 1983

March 1983

14 March 1984 – 7 June 1985

June 1985

July – November 1985

September 1985 – April 1986

February 1986 – August 1986

October-November 1986 (Notes on tour of Greece & Israel)

November 1986 (after tour notes)

List of material sent to SLNSW 1986

10 Press clippings: 
1047Federal election 1987 
1048Women, social security, etc 1987(f1)
1049Women, society etc, June 1987(f2)
1050Women, society etc, May 1987(f3)
1051Gallery of women 
1052Women & Anglican Church 1987 (also women generally) 
1053National Wage 1988 and women’s wages 
1054Issues for women (interviews) 1988 
1155Early papers written by Edna Ryan, 1973 – 1982 

NSW Bicentennial Oral History Project – 1987 Transcript of Tapes 1 & 2

‘One Pub’s Enough’ – A drama in three acts by Edna Ryan

1157Miscellaneous mss and correspondence 1973 – 1987 (draft submissions) 


Some useful bibliographies & biographical dictionary

Profiles: Wendy McCarthy

Wendy Fatin

Mum Shirl

SMH article on Ann Summers, Sandra Yates and Jane Pratt ‘Owning a magazine’.

Three papers by EMC., June 1987

‘Reflections on Beauty and the Beast’ – Pamela Denoon

Memorial Lecture delivered by Pat O’Shane, March 1990

Paper: ‘The crisis of Australian unionism’ by Haydon

Manning 1990

‘Female convict workers’ by Deborah Oxley



Speech by Gough Whitlam: opening of Women & Politics Conference August 1975

National Women’s Conference, Sept/Oct 1990


Women: Employment & training (pay rates) 1982

‘Peace by Order: the resignation of Mr Justice Higgins, President of the Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Court’, Edna Ryan, 1981

Women & Unions: Pilot study by Monash Uni Union, 1979

1161Film Australia correspondence, 1980 – re ‘Decade’ 
1162Articles on industrial relations and feminism by P.G. McCarthy, Ann C. Villers, Desley Deacon, Gretchen Poiner, Roberta Burke, Eva Cox, Helen Leonard, Val Marsden, Don Rawson, Mary Owen and others, 1968-89 
1263Article by Susan Magarey, for Silver Jubilee Edition of Women and work, 1988 
1264Pat Richardson, Redress Press and Mary Owen, ’86-89 Newsletter: International Women’s Day 1992 
1265Labor Women Speak 1981, Labor Women Caucus, 1983 
1266ANU Women’s Archives, 1981-90 
1267Network 1982-84 
1268Glebe Society, 1989-90 
1269Retirement Villages 

Cuttings and other papers:

Mary Owen correspondence.

Profile on Laurie Carmichael.

Working Women’s Information Service.

Report on Labor Women’s Conf. Mary Owen 1982.

Women and footballers.

‘Forever single’ – paper on marriage.

The best companies for women – Portfolio June 1989.

Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty 1990.

RSI policy in Pipeline (Govt) Authority.

Leigh Leigh’s murder.

National Museum of Australia brochure.

1371Examples of claims and awards 
1372Disputes re Federal and State Unions, 1974 


WEL submission: Computing women’s pay in State awards.

Definition and Political Survival. – Charlotte Bunch 1978.

Radio Special Projects: Juliet Mitchell Series 24-27 Feb 1975.

The Forgotten Presence – Lesbians Mislaid, – Dorelle

Punch 1975.

The State, the Law & Us. WEL Conf. Mary Gaudron, 1975.

Report on Women Clerical Staff. NSW Motor Transport, 1974-1978.

Papers from Marxist-Feminist Conf. Act 1977.

ABC radio Guest of Honour. Malcolm Caldwell, 1975.

International Rev. Marxism- Women’s Movement

Revolutionary? – D. Gollan, 1975

Labor & the Family, Gough Whitlam, Leader Opposition, 1968.

Emancipation of Women, E.G. Whitlam, PM 1973.

Equal Pay & Equal opportunity, P.A. Riach (Monash) 1968.

Women and the ALP ” ” 1974.

Equal pay in Australia, – Richard Blandy (Adelaide)

For work equal to that of men. – J.P. Ducker, ‘The Radical’ 1969.

Employment of women in non-metropolitan areas – Frances Lovejoy 1973?


Press cuttings:

Industrial & Political, from Sept 1985

‘Emancipated Women from the Orient’, 1930

‘Arms trade’, 1986

13 75


Industrial, 1987 – 1991



Blueprint 1993

ACTION News 1990

NWCC News 1990, 91, 92

OSWOMEN 1990, 1992

various other newsletters

1377Miscellaneous articles 1990s 
1478ACTU Reports March 1986 – July 1988 

ACTU Agenda paper, Sept. 83

ACTU Consolidation of ACTU Policy Decisions 51-82

ACTU Working Women’s Charter: Implementation Manual No.2 – Equal Pay

Humanist Viewpoints April and May 1980

Friends of TUTA Newsletter, Jan 1978

Budget Impact Statement: Women 1988-89

1480Youth ’75 and ’76 + few other minor newsletters of 70s 
1481Miscellaneous correspondence and newsletters, health issues, 1990s 


Backdrop 1972

Another life 1973

The Late Achievers 1974

The Year of the Woman 1975


Reports (records of daily activities)

Jan. 1987 – (pp 1-141)

15861987 cont’d (pp141-225)(f2)
15871989 (pp 1-147)(f3)
15881989 (pp 148-229)(f4)
15891989 (pp 230-288)(f5)
1690Jan 1990 – March 1990(f6)
1691April – June 1990(f7)
1692July – August 1990(f8)
1693Sept – Dec 1990(f9)
1694Jan – March 1991(f10)
1695April – June 1991(f11)
17-18 Notebooks 
19 Miscellaneous papers 
1996Transcript from Shop Assistants case 
1997Personal odds and ends 

Letters about jobs, 1992-93

Posted copies of Overview

Accounts, Enterprise Bargaining


Various papers 1975-85

Labour History Society; paper by ER for seminar etc {list enclosed}


Press cuttings


Sex Discrimination Act

Child care


Press Cuttings: Education – from July 1993

Press cuttings and papers 1992 (women’s agenda)

20102-103Anne Conlon Memorial Lectures, 1980-1983; 85-86 
20104Anne Conlon Memorial Lecture Committee 
20105Resource material on NSW Industrial Arbitration, Act. 1901 
20106Technological change 
20107Handwritten notes taken from documents dated 1901-06 in Archives Office 
21108Miscellaneous. papers – list in folder 
21109FBT and taxation 

Articles, including:

‘Master Builders and the beginnings of arbitration in NSW’ by Alice Coolican

‘Gender and Power cont’d’ (rough notes)

‘Do electoral systems help or hinder women’s Parliamentary representation?’ – Wilma Rule

‘Follow me inspirations – the award’


Articles, including:

‘Fanny Furner JP 1864-1938’ – P. Richardson

National wage case December 1986

Comments on Jane Inglis

‘Is WEL Snobbish?’

21112Australian historical cuttings, book reviews etc., explorers, painters, first government house 
21113Newspaper articles (1970s – miscellaneous) 
21114-115Letters and ms – 1970s 


Work matters 1987-90

The Gazette (Uni of Sydney)


22118‘Words’ – Macquarie Dictionary Society A/L etc 
22119Australian Dictionary of Biography 

Industrial Group

Affirmative Action

Wran’s policy on women

Profile of Department of Supply’s cleaning service

22121Human Rights Australia 

WEL Action Group

Women’s Association

National Foundation of Australian Women

22123Discriminatory Provisions in NSW Industrial Awards on grounds of sex & marital status in NSW 
23124Broad Left Conference – labour politics – 1986 
231251990 Election candidates – full list for H of R & Senate 
23126NZ material – articles and book extracts about women 1987-88 
23127-128Letters 1983-1985 
23129Political Awareness Seminars for women 
23130Waterfront – Waterside workers’ conditions (Labour History Society) 
24131Draft on Labour Day Oration 1986 
24132-133Letters 1990 
24134Steinem file 
24135-136La Perouse and aborigines and ‘my’ story 


Publishers’ Style Manual

Chronology Australian History

Laundry chronology

File of women

Library slips




Instalment 17 January 1995

25138Diaries, 1986-89, 1992 
25139Address books (3) 
25140Notebook used at Archives Office of NSW 
25141Notebooks: ‘May 1987’; political notes and information 
25 142Notebook of small press cuttings begun 26 June 1986 
26143-144Diaries, notebooks, 1980s + 
26145-146Journal July – December 1991 
26147Journal January – June 1992 
26148Journal July – September 1992 
26149Journal October – December 1992 
27150Journal January – April 1993 
27151Journal April (?) – June 1993 
27152Journal July – September 1993 
27153Journal October – December 1993 
27154Personal letters 1969 + 
28155-156Letters, October 1985 – April 1986 
28157Letters, January 1987- 
28158Letters, April 1987- 
28159-160Letters August 1987- 
29161Letters January 1988- 
29162-163Letters July 1988- 
29164-165Letters March 1989- 
29166Letters October 1989 – January 1990 
29167Papers, etc. by ER 
30168Articles, talks 
30169-170‘Two thirds of a man’ – original photographs and correspondence 
30171-172‘One pub’s enough’ – play 
30 173-175Plays, including ‘Saving the Armenians’ 
31177File on film ‘Snakes and ladders’: notes on film 
31178-179Research material and articles 

‘Japanese women at work’ – drafts and research material

Women at work in Japan, draft by Jurka Yasuda (?)

32182WEL and WETTANK files 
32183ER’s file: reports to WEL, letters etc. 
32184Pat Richardson’s WEL file and other writings 

Child care and children’s services:

Priorities review and recommendation 1974-5

Parents and children: press clippings

D. Brennan: Children’s services in Australia: the state of play – a review of Commonwealth and state polices 1972-82 (July 1982)

‘A study of work-related children’s services’ (May 1980)

Early childhood: material of the Australian Early Childhood Association and the Ethnic Child care Development Unit and others

33188-192International Women’s Year Conference, Mexico City, 1975 – papers, correspondence, clippings 
34193-198International Women’s Year Conference (cont.) 
35199National Labor Women’s Conference, 1982, Canberra: papers and cuttings 
35200Workforce matters 
35201-203General workforce material 
35204-205Workforce file and data 
35206National Wage Case, 1987 
36207Pay equity and other issues; includes correspondence, notes, clippings and circulars 
36208-211Women’s work and equal pay: drafts and research notes 
36212Organisation of the workplace: papers and cuttings 
37213Pregnancy discrimination Inquiry Report, 1992 
37214UN material on women 
37215ALP ticket, 1990 
37216-219Miscellaneous papers, including ‘How we would run Australia’ 
38220-222Miscellaneous papers 
38223Miscellaneous papers, including articles of association of Preterm Foundation 
38224-226Miscellaneous papers, including ms submitted to Penguin, based on WEL newsletters 
39227-228Miscellaneous papers and cuttings 
39229Miscellaneous invitations, badges etc. 

Grace Removals

Cards from VIPs

Assorted brochures

39231Wedding photograph
40232Assorted brochures 
40233Cuttings and references, including correspondence, papers and notes 
40234Cuttings on women 
40235Pamphlets, press releases etc. 
40236Cuttings on various issues 
40237Refractory girl (1991), Unity (1991), Women at work (1991) 
40238Books and journals 


Record: University of Sydney Archives, 1985

Current affairs bulletin, vol. 59, no. 1, June 1982

Women at work: a review, 1975

ILO publications, 1/85, vol. 17, 1985

Virago Press. Catalogue, 1985

The Women’s Press. Catalogue, 1983

Loose in box Titles include:

WEL-informed. 1990

Australian women’s employment strategy: report. 1989-90

Women in management. 1986

Maternity leave in Australia. 1988

Women and technological change. 1982

Half way to equal: report of the inquiry into equal opportunity and equal status for women in Australia. 1992

Office of the status of women: an introduction. 1989

Women and work: issues for the 1990s

Directory of research on women in Australia. 1984

The ACTU: a short history. 1977

Pioneer women graduates of the University of Sydney. 1985

NWCC news. 1991 – 1993


Publications – titles include:

Inkwel. 1990-91

WEL National bulletin. 1988-89

Refractory girl. 1987, 1989, 1990

Herstory of the halfway house: Women’s Liberation Halfway

House Collective, Melbourne, Australia, 1974-76.

The NSW women’s handbook. 1980

Women and work. 1989, 1990


Publications – titles include:

Facts on women at work in Australia. 1983

From ummm…to aha!: recognising women’s skills. 1991

The national housing strategy: framework for reform. 1991

Understanding immigration 1987

Social security journal. 1981, 1982

Women’s film and video [catalogue]. 1988

The WEL papers. 1973-4

Weaving community links: the cost benefits of telephones in maintaining the social fabric through the unpaid work of women. 1993

SWOW handbook. 1979

National Museum of Australia. Women’s political history: a guide to sources. 1992

The role of women in the economy: position paper, Australia.

OECD High Level Conference on the Employment of Women. 1980

Edna Ryan standing in front of an indigenous painting in graduation garb


Listen to Edna interviewed about her life in activism.