Did You Know Who was the First Black Female Lawyer in Canada?

Violet King, First Black Female Lawyer in Canada

We’re reposting our article on Violet King from February 2016 because not enough people know about Violet King, Canada’s first black female lawyer.

Violet Pauline King Henry (1930-1981), was the first Black Female Lawyer in Canada. But you won’t find a Canadian Heritage Minute clip for her, and she’s not listed on Historica Canada’s Black History Canada Profiles.

Yet, when Violet King Henry (née King) graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law in 1953, she was became the first Black person to graduate from the U of A law school. In 1954, after being Called to the Bar, Ms. King Henry became Canada’s first Black female lawyer.

Ms. King Henry was born on October 18, 1929 and grew up in Calgary. Her father, John,worked for the Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) as a porter and her mother, Stella, was a seamstress. Growing up, Ms. King Henry was an active community leader. In grade 12, she became President of the Girls Association and expressed an interest in practicing criminal law.

In 1948, she entered the University of Alberta (U of A) and continued her community leadership and activism. She was Vice-President of the U of A Students Union and the university’s representative to the Union of National Federation of Canadian University students. She was also an early second wave feminist. Violet King Henry was a member of the U of A Blue Stocking Club, which was a “general discussion group for women at the University of Alberta. The emphasis of the group was on history and public affairs.” The club’s name references the Blue Stockings Society in 18th century England. This was an informal group of educated and intellectual women who discussed the topics and issues of the day. A”bluestocking” referred to women participants, who apparently wore stockings.

Violet King Henry’s Law School and Articling Years

When Ms. King Henry started law school, she was one of three women in the entire student body and was the only women to graduate from the U of A Faculty of Law in 1953. This is hard to believe given that today about 51% of Canadian law school graduates are comprised of female students. But it’s true.

After graduation, she articled  with a local Calgary lawyer Edward McCromick. However, she wasn’t only interested in criminal law. Ms. King Henry apparently acted as treasurer for a local labour union.

Upon completing her articles, Ms. King Henry was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1954, becoming Canada’s first Black female lawyer as well as Alberta’s first Black lawyer.

Violet King Henry’s Legal Career and Beyond

After Ms. King Henry was admitted to the Alberta Bar, she practiced criminal law in Calgary. She worked at the law firm with A.M. (Milt) Harradence, a criminal lawyer who was eventually elevated to the Court of Appeal.

It’s unclear when exactly an opportunity in Ottawa came up, but Ms. King Henry left Calgary for Ottawa to work in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. She traveled the country meeting community leaders. In April 1956, she switched her Law Society status to a non-practicing member of the Alberta Law Society.

In 1963, she moved to the United States to work with the Newark, New Jersey, YW-YMCA as the associate general secretary. Ms. King Henry distinguished herself through her hard work and focus on helping unemployed Black persons find jobs. In 1969, she moved to Chicago and was named the Director of Manpower, Planning and Staff Development for the Chicago YMCA. Not much information is available about her years in Chicago.

However, in 1976, Ms. King Henry became the first woman appointed to a senior executive position in the American National YMCA. She took on the role of Executive Director of the National Council of YMCA’s Organizational Development Group. Ms. King Henry credited her legal training as good preparation for social and community leadership work.

She died of cancer in 1981.

Not enough is known about Violet King Henry. We’ve included links to what little information we found on Ms. King Henry. We encourage everyone to learn more about Violet King Henry by reading the Canadian Legal History Blog by clicking  here, or by reading Rachel K. Bailie’s and Professor David Percy’s article here.


The Women’s Legal Mentorship Program is proud to collaborate with the #LawNeedsFeminismBecause 2017 campaign.  The McGill based campaign, led by Rachel Kohut, expands nationally this year.

The #LNFB team is hosting its first national forum at McGill on March 11, 2017.  Law faculties across the country will get involved in the talk about how to shape the legal profession of tomorrow.

We are excited to be involved in the forum and look forward to participating on March 11, 2017!

For more information, visit the #LawNeedsFeminismBecause website.

Gender-Based Violence and the power of male allies

Feminists have been advocating in both public and private spheres for centuries against gender-based violence and its adverse effect on women of all walks of life.

The active participation of men in this fight is integral to the success of the campaign to eliminate gender based violence;  these brothers in India are a good example of why. Learn more by clicking here.

Women’s Legal Mentorship Program Announces New Additions to Board of Directors

The Women’s Legal Mentorship Program (“WLMP”) has doubled the size of its Board of Directors since its incorporation. “It’s very gratifying to see the WLMP grow from a pilot project into a not-for-profit. I am confident that the WLMP Board will build on the success of the pilot project and really focus on addressing the issue of the retention of women in the law,” says Charlotte Wolters, WLMP Founder and outgoing Board Chair.

The WLMP Board includes lawyers and students-at-law from across Canada representing both smaller and larger law firms, sole proprietors and the academic sphere. The following women have been appointed to the current WLMP Board of Directors:

  • Colleen Arsenault, Beard Winter LLP
  • Jaan Boban, Oslers, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
  • Gabriella Nudo, Corporate Immigration Law Firm (Student-at-Law)
  • Jennifer Reid, Beard Winter LLP
  • Ashley Timm, Smith Valeriote LLP

The new WLMP Board Chair and Executive Committee will be announced in early November. For a listing of the current WLMP Board click here.

The WLMP — the first of its kind in Canada — aims to shift the culture of the legal profession and increase the retention of women in the law by helping female law students and WLMP Alumna develop their mentorship and leadership skills and establish networks that grow with them throughout their legal careers from the classroom to the courtroom and beyond.

The WLMP is a national not-for-profit that partners with Canadian law schools to provide comprehensive, feminist legal mentorship and professional skills development programming. In 2011, the WLMP piloted its first university Chapter at the University of Ottawa. Currently, the WLMP is working to partner and expand its program to other Canadian law schools.


Launch of ‘Feminist Law Reform 101’/Lancement de “Réforme féministe du droit 101”

You are invited to attend the launch of the National Association of Women and the Law Charitable Trusts’ new applied course on feminist law reform: ‘Feminist Law Reform 101’.  The launch and reception will take place on Wednesday November 2nd, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the Alex Trebek Alumni Hall, 157 Séraphin-Marion Private, at the University of Ottawa.

This new online open-access and fully bilingual course draws on the expertise of feminist lawyers, activists and others actively engaged in the law reform process and provides a “tool-kit” for pursuing systemic legislative change. Topics covered include interacting with the executive branch and MPs, making effective use of the media, and working in coalitions.  The course combines readings with short video clips and suggested discussion questions in an interactive format designed for use in both classroom and non-classroom settings.  The course can be accessed here following the launch.

Please RSVP before October 28th by e-mailing anne.levesque@uottawa.ca . Feel free to share this invitation with anyone who may be interested in attending and we look forward to seeing you on November 2nd

Nous vous invitons à assister au lancement du nouveau cours appliqué sur la réforme féministe du droit intitulé : « Réforme du droit féministe 101 » du Fonds pour la recherche et l’éducation de l’Association nationale Femmes et Droit. Le lancement, suivi d’une réception, auront lieu le mercredi 2 novembre, de 18 h à 20 h, au Pavillon des diplômés Alex-Trebek, 157, Séraphin-Marion privé à l’Université d’Ottawa.

Il s’agit d’un tout nouveau cours en ligne d’accès ouvert et complètement bilingue qui se fonde sur l’expertise de juristes, de militantes et d’autres féministes activement engagées dans le processus de réforme du droit. Le cours se veut une sorte de « boîte à outils » permettant de développer les compétences nécessaires pour faire avancer les droits à l’égalité. Les sujets abordés comprennent notamment l’interaction avec des représentant(e)s du gouvernement et des députés, le recours efficace aux médias, et le travail au sein de coalitions. Ce cours combine des lectures avec de brefs clips vidéo et propose des questions à débat dans un format interactif susceptible d’être utilisé aussi bien en salle de classe que dans d’autres cadres. Après son lancement, le cours sera accessible ici.

Prière de répondre par courriel avant le 28 octobre à : anne.levesque@uottawa.ca. N’hésitez pas à diffuser cette invitation parmi votre entourage et auprès de toute personne susceptible de vouloir assister à ce lancement. Nous espérons vous voir en grand nombre le 2 novembre !