The Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO) was founded in 1919 by two law school students, Laura Denton and Helen Currie. The organization initially began as an association for women law students in the Toronto area, but quickly expanded as increasing numbers of women began practicing law. In its early incarnation, the Women’s Law Association of Ontario was an alternative to the male-dominated professional organizations of the period, which often did not permit the membership of women, and the association focused on the promotion and support of women’s equal participation in the legal profession during this time.
In later years, the association provided networking opportunities for new lawyers and addressed the professional interests and career development concerns of its members through seminars and speakers’ events. Concerned with both the welfare of women in the legal profession and women and the law in general, the Women’s Law Association of Ontario has represented its members on a variety of legal committees and as a lobbying body for women’s legal and professional rights. The organization also continues to award scholarships to law students and to recognize achievement in the legal profession through its annual President’s Award.
Shortly after its formation, the organization began to keep a scrapbook on the first women lawyers in Ontario. The first scrapbook documents the legal careers of many early women lawyers in Ontario. Typewritten pages contain information on their education and legal careers, and, in a few cases, a newspaper clipping is attached. In several cases, very little is known on the lives of the women after their call to the Bar. Many early social events organized by the association are also documented in the scrapbooks. The events gave members an opportunity to network and socialize with one another and with others in their profession, and evidence of this activity is found in the variety of photographs, event programs and mementos preserved in the scrapbooks. Newspaper and magazine clippings about women in the law and legal issues relating to women dominate the later scrapbooks. There are ten scrapbooks in total, documenting women lawyers from circa 1895 up until 1983.
The Women’s Law Association of Ontario donated its records to the Archives of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2006. In the fall of 2007, the Archives was able to process the records of the WLAO due to the financial assistance of Library and Archives Canada, through the Department of Canadian Heritage. The records of this important legal organization are now available for research at the Archives of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
To research the records of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario, please contact please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following images represent a small sample of entries contained in the scrapbooks. Browse the collection by selecting a title from the list:
- Entry on Grace Hunter from Volume 1 of the scrapbooks
- Photograph of Clara Brett Martin, [1895?]
- Letterhead of Clara Brett Martin, 7 February 1917
- Photograph of Gertrude Alford on her call to the Bar, 1916
- Song by Ruby Wigle, 1920s
- Annual Report of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario, 1923-1924
- Photograph of Maria Kurenko, ca. 1925
- Invitation written on a Power of Attorney form, 1926
- Letter from Sir James Aikins, 23 November 1926
- Toast list, 1927
- Toast list for the 10th Anniversary Dinner, 1929
- Photograph of Sir William Mulock’s garden party, 1930
- Invitation to a reception and tea for Mrs. Ward Wright, 1932
- Programme from Women’s Law Association of Ontario dinner, Royal York Hotel, 1933
- Photograph of Judge Helen Kinnear, [1943?]
- Photograph of Helen Palen on the steps of the Belleville courthouse, 1945
- Programme from Canadian Bar Association - Ontario meeting, 1947
- Election promotional card for Ethel B. Fagan, 1950
- Photograph of Harriet Clark in front of Mount Vernon, September 1950
- Programme from Women’s Law Association of Ontario annual dinner, 14 April 1951
- List of signatures, 1951
- Photograph of a garden party for Osgoode Hall Law School graduates, September 1951
- Photograph of Osgoode Hall decorated for Royal Visit, 1951
- Programme from Hobby Show, 1953
- Photograph of Rainey Hunter and Miriam Kelly looking at the Women’s Law Association of Ontario scrapbooks, 1978