‘THE LAW AS A PROFESSION FOR WOMEN’:
A CENTURY OF PROGRESS?
Mary Jane Mossman∗
Grata Matilda Flos Greig
Victoria, Australia 1905
The inspiration for this paper was a short comment in the Commonwealth Law Review, entitled ‘The
Law as a Profession for Women,’ published in March 1909.1 The author of the comment was
Grata Matilda Flos Greig, a graduate of Melbourne Law School, who became the first woman in
Mary Jane Mossman is Professor of Law and University Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto,
Canada. She teaches in the areas of Property Law and Family Law, but also has longstanding research interests in Legal
History (including the history of women in law) and in access to justice and legal aid. This paper is a revised version of the
Allan Hope Southey Memorial Lecture, presented at Melbourne Law School on 19 March 2009.
1. Flos Greig Grata ‘The Law as a Profession for Women’ (1909) 6 Commonwealth Law Review 145.
THE AUSTRALIAN FEMINIST LAW JOURNAL 2009 VOLUME 30
Australia to enter the legal profession when she was admitted to the bar in Victoria in 1905.2 A
report in the press in 1907 suggested that Flos Greig had established ‘smart offices in the city,
with tables strewn with papers, and a pretty typist steadily at work.’3 A few years later, in March
1909, she published her views about law as a profession for women.
This paper begins by reviewing Flos Greig’s comments about women’s suitability for the
legal profession exactly one hundred years ago in 1909. It then turns to explore some of the
patterns in the lives of other ‘first women lawyers’ in different jurisdictions at the beginning of
the twentieth century.4 And finally, the paper briefly reflects on a recent initiative in Ontario, the
Justicia Project, designed to foster the retention of women in the legal profession.5 As the paper
suggests, patterns that initially created barriers to women’s admission to the bar in the early
twentieth century may now be reflected in problems that result in contemporary women lawyers
leaving the profession, a situation which suggests both change and continuity in the history of
women in law.
1.0 ‘THE LAW AS A PROFESSION FOR WOMEN’
Grata Matilda Flos Greig was among a number of Australian women who began to pursue
university education in the late nineteenth century in Australia.6 She completed a BA and then
started the LLB course at Melbourne University. In April 1903, the Victorian Parliament passed
amending legislation, often referred to as the ‘Flos Greig Enabling Act,’ to permit her to be
admitted to practice. Then, after completing articles with a Melbourne solicitor, Frank Cornwall,
she was admitted to the legal profession on 1 August 1905.7 Four years later she published her
article in the Commonwealth Law Review in March 1909.
The editor of the Review provided an introduction to Flos Grieg’s article, explaining how
‘the words of a pioneer on his (sic) work’ are useful in giving the first impressions of