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Millicent Fanny Preston-Stanley Vaughan

1883 – 1955

Millicent Fanny Preston Stanley (1883–1955), politician and feminist, was born Millicent Stanley in Sydney in 1883, the daughter of a grocer named Augustine Stanley and his wife Frances (née Preston). She became Millicent Preston Stanley when her father deserted the family, Frances Stanley (who was granted a divorce in 1895) thereafter reverting in part to her maiden name. In 1913, Preston Stanley began attending lectures in economics at the University of Sydney with her brother. In her early twenties, she became involved with the Women’s Liberal League of NSW, among whose objectives were ‘to support all movements calculated to minimise social evils’ and ‘to improve the position of women in all spheres of life.’ Having undertaken a lecture tour of the USA and worked as an organiser for the National Party in NSW and Queensland, Preston Stanley was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1921 (she was among the first women to fulfil this role), and she served as President of the NSW Women Justices Association between 1923 and 1926. In 1922, she stood for election to the Legislative Assembly. Narrowly defeated on this occasion, she stood again in 1925 and was successful, becoming the first woman elected to Parliament in New South Wales. As the member for Eastern Suburbs, Preston Stanley campaigned on issues such as mortality in childbirth, child welfare, custody rights, care for the intellectually disabled and amendments to the Health Act. On the issue of custody, Preston Stanley took up the cause of Emelie Polini, who lost a custody battle for her infant daughter in 1924. The case motivated Preston Stanley to introduce to Parliament a private bill calling for equal custody rights for women (eventually granted in 1934). Though unsuccessful in her bid for re-election in 1927, Preston Stanley maintained her campaign for custody rights, penning a play about the Polini case, Whose child?, which was produced in Sydney in 1932. She worked for the Daily Telegraph in 1926 and 1927 as editor of its women’s supplement. She married former South Australian premier, Crawford Vaughan, in 1934. She continued organising against socialism and communism; and served on the councils of the National and United Australia parties between 1930 and 1942, She travelled to North America again in 1937-38 as the British-American Co-operation Movement’s delegate to the Pan Pacific Women’s Conference; during World War 2, as director of the Women’s Australian National Service, Preston Stanley mobilised women for voluntary work and oversaw the training of others for service with the forces. Preston Stanley was President of the Feminist Club from 1919 to 1934 and again from 1952 to 1955; and was associated with organisations such as the Girl Guides, Save the Children, and the British Film League, among many others. ‘A sturdy woman, with firm chin and deep voice’, Preston Stanley was known for her strong oratorical style and deft dismissal of hecklers and other detractors: called a ‘battle-axe’ on one occasion, she retorted by stating that ‘a battle-axe is a pretty useful weapon if it’s kept sharp and bright’. She died in Sydney in June 1955.

Updated 2018