BPW History

In the 1920s Australian women were quick to recognise the value and potential of the BPW movement which had been established in the United States in 1919 by our Founder Dr Lena Madesin Phillips.

Australian Clubs were being formed at much the same time as Dr Phillips was traveling to Europe to establish BPW International.  The first Australian BPW Club was established in Melbourne in 1925.  On 8 February 1947 six Australian BPW clubs met and passed a resolution that an Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs be formed. We currently have 18 BPW Clubs located around Australia in urban and rural areas.

BPW International became an international movement in 1930 and opened its International Headquarters in 1931 in the USA. In July 1946, after World War 2, the first BPW International gathering was held in Brussels.  The event was filled with “deep emotions and poignant memories” as observed by Dr Lena Madesin Phillips. 

BPW International has Consultative Status at the United Nations, which enables us to influence opinion at the highest level in this forum. We have members who regularly represent BPW International at United Nations meetings, and many Australian members have attended the Commission on the Status of Women held annually in February at the United Nations in New York. For more information about BPW International, visit www.bpwi.org

BPW Australia is affiliated with BPW International and a contingent of members attends the International Congresses and Regional Conferences held triennially around the world. The 2014 BPWI Congress was held in Korea and the next is planned for in Cairo, Egypt in 2017, and all BPW members are entitled to attend.

BPW Australia hosted the BPW International Congress in Melbourne in 2002 and is very proud to be the only Affiliate to have had four International Presidents elected by the BPWI Congress:

-  Patience Thoms 1968-1971 elected in Dublin, Ireland

-  Professor Beryl Nashar 1974-1977 elected in London, England

-  Dr Patricia Harrison 1999-2002 elected in Vancouver, Canada

- Freda Miriklis 2011-2014 elected in Helsinki, Finland

BPW Australia advocacy

Since its formation in 1947 BPW Australia members have held a conviction that real freedom of choice for all people is dependent on economic independence. BPW has endeavoured to raise the status of women and thereby the general community by concentrating primarily on those issues that affect women’s independence.

BPW Australia has continually mounted interventions before the Industrial Relations Commission in the fight for equal pay/equity:

§  1950 February Basic Wage Case

§  1952-1953 Basic Wage Case with strategic partner National Council of Women (NCWA)

§  1959 May Equal Pay Case

§  1969 National Wage Case

§  1978 December Test Case for unpaid maternity leave

§  1990 National Wage Case

§  1992 National Wage Case

§  1993 Family Court Counsellors Case

§  1993 National Wage Case

More recently BPW Australia has advocated for paid parental leave, fair pay and affordable accessible childcare:

§  2002  BPW Australia launched its campaign ‘Fair Play - Fair Pay’ to highlight the continuing wage gap

§  2004 Paid Maternity Leave campaign

§  2005 Industrial Relations Reform

§  2011 Paid Parental Leave became law

§  2011 Lobbied the Federal Government about Workplace Gender Indicators

§  2011 BPW Australia members attended CHOGM in Perth

§  2011 Advocated that superannuation should to be 12% to prevent many women falling below the poverty line

§  2011 and 2014 Lobbied the Federal Government about improving the quality of childcare and the affordability of the childcare.

§  2012 BPW Australia supported the campaign for the Community Sector Pay Case

BPW Australia has taken a leadership role in national advocacy, continues to be actively involved in policy debates in a range of forums and is regularly consulted by the Federal Government. 

§  1998  Federal Government established 3 National Secretariats, one led by BPW Australia

§  2001 BPW Australia was appointed the lead agent for the economicSecurity4Women Secretariat

§  2009 BPW Australia established the Equal Pay Alliance www.equalpayday.com.au

§  2011 BPW Australia became a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact

§  2011 BPW Australia joined the Global Compact Network Australia

§  2012 BPW Australia became only the fourth signatory to the Community Partnership MOU with White Ribbon Australia

§  2012 BPW Australia Director of Policy, Sandra Cook was appointed to the Commonwealth Business Women Australia Committee

BPW Australia has effectively influenced public opinion on:

§  abolition of death duties

§  women in local government

§  women for jury service

§  the introduction of uniform divorce laws

§  reform of the Family Law Bill

§  removal of compulsory retirement for married women in the public service and related issues

§  establishment of a Women’s Bureau to research and improve employment conditions for women

§  establishment in 1984 of a National Women’s Consultative Council to present views of women to Government; BPW always had a representative on the Council

§  recognition of farmers' wives as partners in farming businesses

§  the need for Federal funding for childcare facilities

§  the need of women for insurance cover - free of discriminatory practices

§  removal of discrimination in employment, culminating in a 4 month boycott of a national domestic airline which had rejected the notion that a woman could be a commercial pilot; the Supreme Court found Ansett Airlines could not discriminate against women pilots.

§  the need for girls to take up apprenticeships and other training courses for non-traditional areas offering better career prospects than traditional areas

§  the need for women to enter into local government and to participate in the political party of their choice and to seek pre-selection for State and Federal Parliaments

§  removal of the Federal Government “abortion gag” that restricted its aid funding to overseas countries for reproductive health advice and actions

Patron of BPW Australia

In 2009 Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, became the Patron of BPW Australia.  She retired from her BPW role in 2014.


BPW Australia is governed by the BPW Australian Executive and Board. The BPW Australia President can be contacted at president@bpw.com.au. Members of the current Executive are listed under About BPW > Executive Board.

We welcome you to find out more about BPW Australia in your State/Territory, click on the State of your interest on the map in the left column.

Reference:  “The First 25 Years – BPW Australia” – Patience Thoms, 1972

Founder - Lena Madesin Phillips

International Meeting Paris 1946

BPW International Singapore

The History of Past Presidents of BPW Australia was launched February 2017 as part of the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of BPW Australia.

1946 BPW International

The International Federation was formed in 1946 at a meeting of delegates from many countries.  

Jean Randall from Perth travelled by ship for weeks to represent BPW Australia.  She came back full of enthusiasm for the new organisation and ever since, Australian members have been committed to BPW International.

The photo is grainy and has lost its vibrancy over time but the excitement and dedication of these ground-breaking women is still evident in their faces.

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