Clara Brett Martin
|Clara Brett Martin|
25 January 1874|
|Died||30 October 1923
Clara Brett Martin (25 January 1874 – 30 October 1923), born to Abram and Elizabeth Martin, a well-to-do Anglican-Irish family, opened the way for women to become lawyers in Canada by being the first in the British Empire in 1897.
In 1888, Martin was accepted to Trinity College in Toronto. And in 1890, Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics at the age of sixteen, which was almost unheard of because of the masculinity associated with that field.
In 1891, Martin submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student member, a prerequisite to articling as a clerk, attending lectures and sitting the exams required to receive a certificate of fitness to practice as a solicitor.
Her petition was rejected by the Law Society after contentious debate, with the Special Committee reviewing the petition interpreting the statute which incorporated the Law Society as permitting only men to be admitted to the practice of law. W.D. Balfour sponsored a bill that provided that the word "person" in the Law Society's statute should be interpreted to include females as well as males. Martin’s cause was also supported by prominent women of the day including Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen. With the support of the Premier, Oliver Mowat, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892, and permitted the admission of women as solicitors. As Canada prepared to enter the 20th century, women were barred from participation in, let alone any influence on or control over, the legal system at its fullest -- women could not be voters, legislators, coroners, magistrates, judges or jurors. They were visible in the courts as litigants, witnesses & accused persons.
In 1989, the provincial government announced that Martin was to be honoured by having the building housing the Ministry of the Attorney General named after her. The government revoked the honour after an anti-Semitic letter written by her in 1915 came to light.
In Popular Culture
In the episode "On the Waterfront (Part 2)" of the crime drama Murdoch Mysteries, Martin, portrayed by Patricia Fagan, is introduced and helps the female characters in their endeavor to advance women's suffrage.
- Constance Backhouse. Petticoats and Prejudice. Canadian Scholars Press. 1991. 297-299.
- "Clara Brett Martin". The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
- Stanford Women's Legal History Project page
- T. Brettel Dawson, "Clara Brett Martin Revisited", Women, Law and Social Change (4th ed.); includes numerous references to other sources
- "Clara Brett Martin". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2016.