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Dame Elizabeth Couchman
, n.d.

by Aileen Dent

oil on canvas (frame: 91.5 cm x 79.5 cm, support: 76.0 cm x 64.0 cm)

Dame Elizabeth Couchman (1876-1982) was appointed OBE in 1941 and made DBE in 1960. Sir Robert Menzies is said to have stated that Couchman ‘would have been the best cabinet minister I could have wished for.’ She grew up in a family of modest means in Geelong and gained her BA in Perth in 1916 before returning to Victoria. Couchman joined the conservative Australian Women’s National League (AWNL) in 1910, becoming its president in 1927. In 1932, she was the first woman appointed a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission board. The mid-1930s saw Couchman travel to Europe for an international women’s conference in Paris. In 1934, she was Australia’s only woman delegate to the League of Nations. Couchman stood unsuccessfully for Federal Parliament in 1943 but was highly influential in the foundation of the Liberal Party. She went on to serve as metropolitan vice-president of the Victorian Liberal Party for six years and then on the Victorian Liberal Party council until into her 80s. Over her long life, Couchman mentored several distinguished women including Dame Ivy Wedgwood, the first female senator for Victoria and Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, the first ever female cabinet minister with a portfolio.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Susan Webster, step-granddaughter 2015
Accession number: 2015.116