Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Book Notes: Mossman on Women Lawyers

I have at least dabbled in Canadian legal history, and I have from time to time been drawn into to what might be called the genealogy of law firms. Where law firms large and small come from, how they perpetuate themselves, what they inherit from their earlier incarnations, and how small ones grow big or vice versa: it's like a little secret field no one has ever heard of.

So I'm a sucker for Mary Jane Mossman's Quiet Rebels: A History of Ontario Women Lawyers -- even though what I'm describing above is not at all her focus. This is a group biography of almost two hundred women who became lawyers in Ontario from 1897 to 1957.  A group biography of almost two hundred people is really two hundred separate research projects, and I'm in awe of the immense amount of work involved in digging out pretty much everything about each of these lawyers, now matter how brief or uncelebrated their legal practices may have been. 

Gradually it all gels into a very detailed and convincing case about just what kept women out, what allowed them in, what circumstances they faced, and what changes and accommodations they faced. In the meantime, there are a couple of hundred quick sketches of all the ways individual women found their way into a mostly hostile profession and gradually made their changes in it.  You can read it for all the little histories -- or follow the big one.

I have to admit it's pleasant to see my own legal historical writing cited pretty regularly in this book. Moore, The Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario's Lawyers (UTP, 1997) must be my most cited work, though it's probably not among my best known. It started a lot of new research into topics I barely alluded to, which is satisfying. Quiet Rebels might have that effect too.

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