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Two women who courted success


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies
at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



In the legal profession in Newfoundland, two women hold the distinction of being first. Janet Miller was the first woman admitted into membership in the Newfoundland Law Society, thereby allowing her to article to become a lawyer. Louise Saunders was the first woman to complete articles and be called to the bar. Janet Morison Miller was born in St. John's on Nov. 12, 1891, the daughter of Lewis Miller and Mary Morison. She was educated at Bishop Spencer college, and upon graduation applied to the law society for admission as an article clerk.

She was refused on the grounds that membership was restricted to males and the society did not see the necessity of changing that policy.

There were two things in Janet Miller's favour. One was her determination not to let the backward thinking leaders of the law society prevent her from attaining her goal.

The other was her mother's brother, Donald Morison, who was a lawyer himself. He, undoubtedly with encouragement from his niece, his sister and other female members of his family, proposed an amendment to the Law Society Act allowing women to be enrolled and be able to progress through the ranks from articles clerk to barrister. His suggestion, though, was rejected by the society.

To the legislature

The issue didn't stop there. Morison was also the minister of justice and attorney-general of Newfoundland. In the next session of the House of Assembly, he introduced an amendment to the Law Society Act allowing the enrolment of women.

The amendment became law on March 22, 1910. On Oct. 10, Janet Miller began an articled clerkship with her uncle. She was admitted into membership in the law society on April 12, 1913.

The law society could not prevent Janet Miller from entering the legal profession, but a more catastrophic event would prevent her completing her articles and a call to the bar: the First World War.

In 1915, Miller moved to Scotland, where her fiance, Eric Ayre, was stationed with the Newfoundland Regiment. They were married in Edinburgh on June 19, 1915. A little more than a year later, Eric Ayre was killed at Beaumont Hamel.

Janet Ayre spent the remainder of the war as a member of the Volunteer Aid Detachment, working with war casualties in England. She returned to St. John's after the war, but felt it was too late to return to the study of law.

She was a leading player in the suffragette movement in the early 1920s, helping to win Newfoundland women the right to vote. On April 30, 1924, she married local businessman Andrew H. Murray; they would become the parents of one daughter, Gertrude.

She died at St. John's on April 5, 1946, after a short illness.

Twenty years would pass between the time Janet Miller began articling and Louise Saunders was called to the bar. Saunders was born in Greenspond in 1893, the daughter of Abraham Saunders and Bridget Parsons.

She began her education at the Church of England school at Greenspond, but moved to St. John's in 1910 to complete her schooling at Bishop Spencer college. Shortly after graduation, she received her introduction to the legal profession by joining the law office of Richard Squires as a legal secretary. (Incidentally, Squires had succeeded Morison as minister of justice in 1913.)

Bitten by the bug

Saunders was soon bitten by the legal bug, and convinced Squires to accept her as an articling clerk. Her articling took place between 1928 and 1932, during which time Squires was prime minister of Newfoundland.

It was a busy time for Squires, as he spent much of his term of office trying to keep Newfoundland from going bankrupt and defending himself againstaccusations of corruption. It is likely that much of Saunders' articling was self-directed.

On April 4, 1933, Louise Saunders was called to the bar of Newfoundland. She became a partner in Squires' firm, thereafter known as Squires, Curtis, McEvoy and Saunders. The firm also included Squires' son, Richard Jr., after his call to the bar in 1935.

McEvoy left the firm in 1936 and Curtis left in 1939; with Squires' death in 1940 and his son's death in 1942, Saunders practised alone until 1951, when Stan F. Carew became her partner.

Saunders was mainly involved in civil law, probates, property law and the administration of estates. In 1964, she was raised to the silk, becoming the first woman in Newfoundland awarded the title Queen's Counsel.

In addition to the practice of law, Saunders was a devoted community worker. She was a founding member of both the Local Council of Women and the YWCA, serving for many years as legal counsel to the former and on the board of directors of the latter.

She was an accomplished artist, and won first prize for an oil painting of St. Thomas Church of England Church in the first Arts and Letters Competition, sponsored by the provincial government, in 1954. She was awarded a Centennial Medal in 1967 in recognition of her volunteer work.

In an article in The Evening Telegram, August 4, 1946, Saunders stated, "The legal profession is one to which patience, perseverance, and probity must be brought. In return the lawyer has work that is never monotonous."

For her, it never became monotonous; she continued to practise until her death, June 14, 1969. She never married.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)

Page Revised: February - 2003 (Terry Piercey)

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