Joan Child, the first female Speaker of federal parliament, has died at the age of 91.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has paid tribute to Ms Child, saying she is deeply saddened by her death on the weekend and she will remain a source of inspiration.

"With Joan Child's passing, Australia has lost one of its pioneering female political leaders, and I have lost a role model," Ms Gillard said.

Ms Child was elected to the Melbourne seat of Henty in 1974, when she became the first female Labor member of the House of Representatives and only the fourth woman ever elected to the House.

She was Speaker from 1986 to 1989 under the Hawke government, and retired from parliament the following year.

Until the election of Labor's Anna Burke last October, Ms Child had been the only female Speaker.

Ms Gillard said in a statement that Ms Child came to politics later in life, bringing "remarkable gifts of common sense, good humour and persistence against the odds".

Widowed at a young age, she had brought up five boys on her own and for a time worked as a cleaner to make ends meet.

"Though she attained high office, Joan always retained a sense of perspective. Her hobbies - gardening, reading detective fiction, listening to her idol Elvis - kept her firmly grounded," Ms Gillard said.

She said Ms Child was one of Labor's 'true believers' and was a powerful voice for the needs and rights of women, especially working women and women doing it tough.

Ms Child also set an example that led the way for women's participation in the Labor Party.

The prime minister said Ms Child's family had accepted the offer of a state funeral.

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