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Oral histories of pioneering women judges recorded

30 August 2017 - By Kate Geenty

The stories of some of New Zealand’s pioneer women judges have been captured in an oral histories project which has just been archived at the Alexander Turnbull library.

The New Zealand Women Judges Oral Histories Project was co-convened by Dame Susan Glazebrook and Dame Judith Potter. The pair helped professional historians interview trailblazing women who broke down gender barriers to become some of the first women partners in law firms, Queen’s Counsel and judges. Interviewees included Dame Silvia Cartwright, Dame Lowell Goddard and Dame Augusta Wallace.

At a function in Wellington on 28 August, the New Zealand Association of Women Judges symbolically handed over the project to be archived at the Alexander Turnbull library.

Dame Susan said the project was important, not only because it ensured that an important part of New Zealand’s legal history was preserved, but also because of the lessons that could be learnt for the future.

“It’s our hope that the oral histories will shed light on the factors that led to the interviewees’ success in the law but also highlight factors that might inhibit women’s progression, and particularly those from diverse cultural backgrounds. We hope that this project as a whole will make an important contribution to increasing diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary.”

Preserving the women’s stories as oral histories made them compelling, said Diane Woods, a librarian from the Alexander Turnbull Library. “People can read articles, they can read newspapers to get the feel of what was happening in this first part of the 21st century… but it’s going to be their voices, their words, their pauses, their recollections, so it makes it a very personal contact with the history of our time.”

The project was funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

A record of the first women legal practitioners and women appointed to the judiciary before 2000 is available here.

Last updated on the 30th August 2017