About this record
In this note Ronald Mendelsohn, an adviser to Prime Minister Menzies, writes to Cabinet to provide background information on the employment of married women in the Commonwealth Public Service. Mendelsohn describes the advantages and disadvantages of allowing women to continue in the public service after marriage, including political implications.
In 1962 the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1922 was still in force and female Commonwealth Public Service employees were required to resign when they married. Although this Act applied only to women in the Commonwealth Public Service, the marriage bar—the ban on married women working— was commonplace, as other government and non-government employers often followed the example set by the Commonwealth.
In 1958, Prime Minister Robert Menzies commissioned a committee, chaired by Sir Richard Boyer, to review the marriage bar. The Boyer Report recommended removal of the marriage bar on the grounds that it wasted female talent in the community; that women—rather than the state—were best-placed to manage the demands of work and home; and that comparable countries had already removed the bar. Despite this advice, the Menzies Cabinet did not support change.
The Menzies Cabinet considered that a woman’s primary role was to care for her family and that a man’s role was to be the breadwinner (that is, the provider). They thought that married women would not be able to manage the competing demands of domestic work and the paid workforce. They were also concerned that male unemployment rates—already high—would rise further if married women could enter the workforce, and that this would be unpopular with voters.
Despite these attitudes within Cabinet, there was public support for the removal of the marriage bar. The advice provided to Menzies was that he would lose votes on the issue regardless of his position and it was better to remain quiet. For the next seven years, when questioned, Menzies would respond that the matter was still under consideration.
At the beginning of 1966 Menzies retired as Prime Minister. Pressure from the public, the Opposition and members of the Government led to the removal of the marriage bar.