Separated into five different time periods, Soloway and Costante profile 50 women lawyers starting with the “Trailblazers: Leading the Way” and Clara Brett Martin, Canada’s first female lawyer. The remaining chapters work through the following decades up to the “Millennium: Juggling It All” and a final note on “Looking Ahead: Lessons for Our Daughters”.
What I enjoyed most about the book were the personal stories, trials and tribulations, and triumphs of these remarkable Canadian women. One notable story was how Marguerite Ritchie’s mother was so committed to her daughter’s future that in the 1930s she hitchhiked with her from Edmonton to Halifax so Marguerite could use the scholarship she earned from Dalhousie University. Also of note was the story of Annie Langstaff, a single mother, who became the first female law student in Quebec but was stopped from becoming a member of the Barreau du Quebec because she was a woman. Her multiple appeals of this decision were unsuccessful and eventually she worked as a paralegal for nearly 60 years. Several years after her death she was posthumously admitted to the Barreau du Quebec and was awarded the Medaille du Barreau de Montreal. (Too little, too late - in my opinion).
Other lawyers profiled include: Kim Campbell, Louise Arbour, Mayo Moran, Constance Backhouse and Marie Henein, just to name a few. Interestingly, the authors noted that there are three common traits among these 50 women: 1) they are supported (encouraged by family, communities or mentors); 2) they are risk-takers; and 3) they are resilient.
My only criticism is that sometimes I felt like I was reading the curriculum vitae or resume of these women (listings of awards, distinctions, positions held). I think the real draw of the book is in their stories, including the glimpses into their personalities, flaws and all. Also valuable and enlightening were the accounts of how these women bounced back or forged ahead after a misstep or set-back.
A copy of the book can be purchased here. Please note that I am not affiliated with this book or the publisher. I am just one of many female lawyers interested in the women who paved the way for our current successes.
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of FLEX LEGAL, a network of freelance lawyers.