Julia Gillard

On this date in 1961, Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Eileen Gillard, was born in Wales into a Baptist family that migrated to Australia in 1965. Initially she wanted to be a teacher but a friend’s mother suggested a career in law since she already had excellent debating skills. Gillard studied art and law at the University of Adelaide, where she became active in politics. She transferred to the University of Melbourne and became president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in law in 1986, worked for a law firm and became its first female partner in 1990.

Specializing in industrial law, Gillard fought to improve working conditions for women in clothing and textile industry sweatshops. In 1996 she was appointed chief of staff for Victorian opposition leader John Brumby and was elected to the federal Parliament in 1998. Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s first female deputy prime minister in 2007, simultaneously heading three cabinet agencies. She ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2010. 

She told ABC Radio Melbourne in 2010, “I grew up in the Christian church, a Christian background. I won prizes for catechism, for being able to remember Bible verses. I am steeped in that tradition, but I’ve made decisions in my adult life about my own views” and “I’m not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel.” (Telegraph UK, “Australian prime minister ‘does not believe in God.’ ” She added, “For people of faith, I think the greatest compliment I could pay them is to respect their genuinely held beliefs and not to engage in some pretence about mine.” 

Photo by MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy) under CC 2.0

Freedom From Religion Foundation