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Women Legal Pioneers

The first women Lawyers

Ethel Benjamin was the first woman to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor in New Zealand, in 1897 at Dunedin. The number of women who entered the legal profession over the next few decades was small: by 1960 there had been fewer than 50 women admitted. The following list of our first women lawyers has been largely sourced from Gill Gatfield's landmark study Without Prejudice: Women in the Law, published by Brookers Ltd in 1996. Research by Jeremy Finn (published in the October 2018 issue of the New Zealand Law Journal) has also identified Matilda Monteith as the second women to be admitted as a lawyer, on 22 September 1906. He also identifies Annie Harriet Down (born Annie Tasker), admitted in 1927.

A link on the lawyer's name leads to further information. Where a lawyer changed her last name, this is shown in brackets.

Ethel Rebecca Benjamin1897
Matilda Jane Monteith1906
Eliza Ellen Melville1906
Geraldine Marian Hemus1907
Annie Lee Rees1910
Harriette Joanna Vine1915
Lyra Veronica Esmeralda Taylor1918
Rebecca Macky (Pallot)1921
Esther Ellen Ongley1921
Prudence Rose Collier1926
Annie Harriet Down1927
Margaret Smith MacKay1929
Mary Catherine Enright1931
Julia Dunn1932
Marion van Beeresteyn Hollway (Kirk)1933
Olive Virginia Malienafau Nelson1936
Marjorie Taylor (Feist)1936
Isobel Wright (Matson)1938
Margaret Rutherford Kennedy1938
Alison Christobel Carey1938
Elizabeth Marjorie Urquhart1939
Valerie Yvonne Anderson1939
Ellen Evans1939
Audrey Ngaire Gale1939
Dorothy Simes (Thompson)1939
Jocelyn Margaret Miller (Gregory)1940
Patricia Mary Webb1941
Sheila Campbell MacDonald (Williams)1942
Betty Webster (Thorpe)1943
Mary Moir Hussey1947
Pamela Montague (Mitchell)1947
Audrey Langley (Ricketts)1948
Isabella Gordon1949
Alison Pearce1950
Fay Estelle Matson (Wellwood)1952
Alison Burns Souter (Quentin-Baxter)1952
Georgina Catriona Pamela Augusta Dunlop (Wallace)1953
Shirley Anne Parr1953
Olive Smuts-Kennedy1955
Eileen Patricia O'Connor1955
Paddy West-Walker (Steele)1955
Shirley Hilda Stanley Smith1956
Anne Shorland (Gambrill)1958
Anne Elizabeth Kearsley1958
Margaret Louise Smith1959 

With thanks to Thomson Reuters New Zealand Ltd.

The first women Judges

The first woman appointed to the judiciary in New Zealand, Dame Augusta Wallace, became a District Court Judge in September 1975. Over the next 20 years, 19 more women became judges, with Dame Silvia Cartwright, who was the second woman appointed to the District Court, becoming the first woman appointed to the full High Court bench. Anne Gambrill CNZM had earlier been appointed a Master (now Associate Judge) of the High Court. Again, much of the list has been sourced from Gill Gatfield's Without Prejudice: Women in the Law (Brookers Ltd, Wellington, 1996).

Appointments of women to the judiciary in New Zealand  before 2000 were:

NameCourtMonth Appointed
Georgina Catriona Pamela Augusta WallaceDistrictSeptember 1975
Silvia Rose CartwrightDistrictSeptember 1981
Carolyn HenwoodDistrictNovember 1985
Heather SimpsonDistrictJanuary 1987
Margaret LeeDistrictMay 1987
Cecile RushtonDistrictJune 1987
Anne GambrillHigh (Master)August 1987
Josephine BouchierDistrictJuly 1988
Patricia CostiganDistrictJanuary 1989
Anne GaskellDistrictAugust 1989
Dale GreenDistrictSeptember 1989
Shonagh KenderdineDistrictSeptember 1990
Marion Anne FraterDistrictOctober 1990
Coral ShawDistrictJune 1992
Silvia Rose CartwrightHighJuly 1993
Jane Lovell-SmithDistrictMarch 1994
Jan-Marie DoogueDistrictJuly 1994
Sharon McAuslanDistrictApril 1995
Jill MossDistrictJune 1995
Mary-Elizabeth SharpDistrictNovember 1995
Sian Seerpoohi EliasHighNovember 1995
Lowell GoddardHighNovember 1995
Merelina Letitia Spring ForbesDistrictJanuary 1997
Judith Marjorie PotterHighMarch 1997
Anne Elisabeth McAloonDistrictJuly 1997
June JohnstonDistrictJanuary 1998
Sian Seerpoohi EliasChief Justice17 May 1999
Jane Anne McMeekenDistrictJuly 1999

With thanks to Thomson Reuters New Zealand Ltd.

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Last updated on the 1st December 2018