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LSNL Recognizes Women’s History Month

In 1992, the Government of Canada designated October as Women’s History Month, marking the beginning of an annual month-long celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. It’s a time to reflect on the contributions that women have made and the challenges they overcame.

As the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s only fitting that we acknowledge the contributions that women have made in the legal field in this province. While it was Louise Saunders who was the first woman admitted to the Newfoundland bar in 1933, Janet Miller was the first woman entered on the rolls of the Newfoundland Law Society.

Janet Morison Miller graduated from Bishop Spencer College and began to read law in the offices of her uncle, Donald Morison, who served as Newfoundland’s Attorney General at that time. She petitioned the Law Society for examination in 1910 but was refused. At the next general meeting of the Society, Morison motioned that the act governing the Society be changed to allow women to become members. However, the majority present saw it as “a radical change in the constitution of the Society.”

In 1911, Morison convinced his cabinet colleagues to amend the Law Society Act, giving women in Newfoundland the right to become members of the legal profession. According to her certificate, on April 12, 1913, Janet Miller began to article in Morison’s office.

Unfortunately, Janet Miller did not finish her law degree as she moved to Scotland prior to the First World War. She later joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and served there until the end of the war when she returned to St. John’s. While she did not resume her law studies as she felt too much time had passed, she became involved in the suffragette movement and was a founding member of such organizations as the Child Welfare League and the Art Society. She died at St. John’s on April 5, 1946, at the age of 54. On October 14, 2016, Janet Miller was called to the Newfoundland and Labrador Bar posthumously along with several other individuals who could not complete their legal studies because of their war service.

Some 20 years after Janet Miller’s name was entered on the Law Society’s rolls, Louise Saunders was admitted to the Bar on April 4, 1933, becoming the first female lawyer in Newfoundland. Like Miller, Louise Saunders graduated from Bishop Spencer College. She began her career as a legal secretary in the office of Richard A. Squires, who was Prime Minister of Newfoundland during the 1920’s. She later articled under Squires, and eventually practised in partnership with him before establishing the firm of Saunders and Carew. Saunders mainly practised in the areas of civil law, probate and administration of estates and property law. In 1964 she became the first woman in Newfoundland awarded the title Queen’s Counsel.

Outside the legal field, Louise was active in the community as a charter member of the Local Council of Women, which she served as legal advisor until her death in 1969. In 1954, she took first prize for a painting of St. Thomas’ Church in the first government sponsored Arts and Letters competition.

Both Janet Miller and Louise Saunders were trailblazers and pioneers. Today, we can look back and take pride knowing that because of their contributions, women now make up 44% of the active members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Bar and 43% of our judges are women – and that is something worth acknowledging and celebrating.