Trailblazing women paved the way for future women of law – The University of Sydney

Since Ada Evans became the first woman in Australia to graduate in law 120 years ago, many other trailblazing women at the University of Sydney have followed in her footsteps. In 2022, we celebrate all our women of law – from those who paved the way to the changemakers of the future.

Evans, born in England in 1872, was Australia’s first female law graduate. After completing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney in 1895, Evans returned to the University four years later, at her mother’s urging, to study law. She was the first woman enrolled in the degree, and legend has it that her application was only successful because the then–Dean was away at the time and unable to thwart the attempt.

While Evans was the first woman to graduate with a law degree in Australia in 1902, she was not the first to practise the law; that honour went to Marie Byles. When Evans graduated, women were in fact not permitted to practise law. It was an injustice Evans worked for the next two decades to overcome.

Marie Byles was the recipient of Evans’s campaigning efforts. A rabble-rouser from the very beginning, Byles’s life was almost too bombastic to be believed. After winning a scholarship to the University, she graduated with a degree in arts in 1921, followed by law in 1924. She was the first woman admitted as a solicitor in New South Wales, a feat only managed due to the diligence and persistence of Evans.

When Byles established her own practice in 1929 – the first woman in New South Wales to do so – she quickly became known not just for her sharp legal mind, but for her nifty organisational skills, with a reputation for speedily processing matters. She also gained a reputation for taking on female clients, assisting them with divorce settlements at a time when divorce was still rare and stigmatised.

Largely forgotten to history, Ada Evans and Marie Byles have an influence and impact that they might find difficult to believe, over one hundred years after their lives converged through their connection to the University of Sydney’s Law School. For the generations of women who have come after them – consciously or not – they made the law possible, and penetrable.

Source: Trailblazing women paved the way for future women of law – The University of Sydney

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