Great dictation

Eileen Lenihan OBE
Eileen ‘Lennie’ Lenihan OBE, c.1964 (NAA: M3130, 142)

The unflappable Eileen ‘Lennie’ Lenihan (1904–90), trusted aide to two prime ministers, devoted her life to her twin passions – politics and sport.

Only six months after joining the Prime Minister’s Office as a typist in 1934, Lennie was appointed Private Secretary to Treasurer RG Casey. She quickly made herself indispensable, becoming the first female private secretary to accompany a minister on interstate business.

In 1936, Lennie was appointed Private Secretary to Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. The following year she travelled with the Australian delegation to the Imperial Conference and the coronation of George VI in London.

After Lyons’ sudden death in April 1939, Lennie became Private Secretary to Prime Minister Robert Menzies, a professional partnership that endured for 10 exhausting but rewarding years. In wartime, she worked around the clock, recording confidential meetings and dealing with correspondence from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

When Menzies resigned in August 1941, his ‘devoted secretary’ chose to follow her boss into the political wilderness. Lennie dedicated the next eight years to the creation of the Liberal Party and the 1949 election campaign, which culminated in a victory for Menzies.

From 1951 until her retirement in 1969, Lennie held key secretarial posts in Australia, London and Malta.

A keen sportswoman, Lennie played women’s cricket in South Australia and represented her state and later the Australian Capital Territory in hockey. Her weekends in the political capital were devoted to skiing, tennis, swimming and canoeing with friends.

These images are drawn from Lennie’s personal photograph albums, which are held by the National Archives.

We celebrate Lennie here as part of Women’s History Month.

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    State hockey champion
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    A king abdicates
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    Eileen Lenihan, Private Secretary

A selection of records from the personal photograph albums of Eileen Lenihan

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
PhotoMiss Lenihan takes a paddlec1930–39M3130, 47
PhotoKosciusko apres ski1935M3130, 29
PhotoDelegation to Coronation and Imperial Conference1937M3130, 111
PhotoTwo dinkum Aussies at Milano!1937M3130, 140
PhotoCommonwealth Parliament Private Secretaries Association1949M3130, 167
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017