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.

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 !

Shirley E. Greenberg Receives Friend of the WLMP Award

WLMP/PMDFThe Women’s Legal Mentorship Program (“WLMP”) marked the completion of its 5-year pilot project by recognizing trailer blazers and emerging legal leaders at the annual WLMP Legal Leaders Breakfast hosted by the WLMP’s uOttawa Chapter.

Shirley E. Greenberg is the first recipient of the Friend of the WLMP Award. This award recognizes a WLMP legal mentor, ally organization or supporter for their dedication to women’s legal mentorship and work to increase the retention of women in the law.

Shirley E. Greenberg is a trailblazer. Her legacy of both advocating for and supporting women’s organizations across Ontario has improved the lives of countless women.  She is a strong feminist advocate, who recognized early on the need for programming that directly addresses the issue of women and their legal careers.  As a result, she championed women’s issues and supported programming aimed at increasing the role of women in the law.” says Charlotte Wolters, Founder of the WLMP.

In addition to the Friend of the WLMP Award, Alexandra (Sasha) Toten was awarded the WLMP’s Emerging Legal Leader Award. The WLMP Emerging Legal Leader Award is bestowed on a WLMP Alumna for her ongoing dedication to upholding WLMP mentorship principles and her dedication to the retention of women in the law.

Since graduating from law school and the WLMP Program, Ms. Toten continues to mentor women in the first years of their law careers.  She is also a registered WLMP Legal mentor as well as volunteering on the Executive of the Young Women in Law (YWL), in addition to practicing law at Minden Gross LLP in Toronto.

“It’s wonderful to see what started as thought experiment really take off.  With the completion of the WLMP’s 5-year pilot project, the WLMP Board is hoping to expand. Given the access to justice issues, it’s more important than ever to ensure that women continue their legal careers. Addressing this issue needs to start at the law school level. WLMP Alumna like Ms. Toten are an example of how the WLMP’s unique programming offered in law schools can help female law students take on mentorship and leadership roles beyond the classroom and into practice.” says Ms. Wolters.

The WLMP also announced the creation of its Founder’s Award, which will be bestowed in 2017 and also the WLMP Peer Mentor award, which will be awarded to a WLMP student mentor next year.

The WLMP — the first of its kind in Canada —  is a national not-for-profit that 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.

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.

Attention WLMP Alumna— Are You An Emerging Legal Leader?

Were you registered as a WLMP Participant and graduated from law school between 2011 and 2016? If the answer is yes, then you may be eligible for the WLMP Emerging Legal Leader Award.

“The launch of the WLMP’s Awards Program marks the end of the WLMP’s 5 year pilot project and inaugurates the WLMP’s expansion phase. It’s great to see it launched and a great opportunity for our WLMP Alumna to be recognized for their work and volunteer spirit,” says Charlotte Wolters, WLMP Founder and outgoing Board Chair.

The WLMP Emerging Legal Leader Award is awarded to a WLMP Alumna member for her ongoing WLMP mentorship and also her dedication to the retention of women in the law.

The award will be presented on Friday, September 30, 2016 at the WLMP Legal Leaders Breakfast hosted by the WLMP uOttawa Chapter. The Award nominee should be prepared to attend the WLMP Legal Leaders Breakfast to receive their award, or arrange for someone to accept the award on her behalf.

To be eligible for the WLMP Emerging Legal Leader Award, the Award nominee:

  • must be registered as a WLMP Alumna;
  • have graduated law school and is either in her articling year, or in her first 5 years of legal practice, and/or first 5 years of her non-law career;
  • must not have served on the WLMP National Board; and,
  • was not removed from any WLMP Program for misconduct.

 To apply for the WLMP Emerging Legal Leader Award, the award nominee package should include:

  • the completed and signed WLMP PMDF Alumna Awards Form-2016;
  • a letter of nomination stating the reasons for nomination and background information of the WLMP Alumna nominee’s achievements since graduating from law school and her WLMP University Chapter;
  • The nominee’s current curriculum vitae/resume; and,
  • Letters of support for the nomination (up to a maximum of 3).
    • If possible, 1 of the letters in support of the Award nominee’s application should be from their WLMP mentee. While this is not necessary, it is helpful.
    • Additional letters may be from members of the legal community, who are in good standing with their Law Societies or Associations, or a direct supervisor within their non-law career.

All completed nomination packages should be submitted by August 25, 2016 and must be submitted by email to: wlmp.pmdf@gmail.com.

For more information about the WLMP Awards Program, please email us with the SUBJECT LINE: WLMP Legal Leaders Award at wlmp.pmdf@gmail.com.

Women’s Legal Mentorship Program Celebrates One Year Anniversary by Unveiling Official Logo

The Women’s Legal Mentorship Program (“WLMP”) celebrated the one year anniversary of its incorporation as a not-for-profit by unveiling its official logo.

“We are very excited to celebrate our first anniversary by revealing our official logo. It represents our continued growth and hard work as we expand the WLMP’s programming nationally,” says Charlotte Wolters, WLMP Founder and Board Chair.

WLMP LogoLee Portas of Frisbee Studios designed the WLMP’s logo icon to represent women law students’ professional development. The interconnecting chain of leaves symbolizes both the knowledge and growth gained through the WLMP’s unique three part mentorship programming.

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.

“Addressing the issue of retention of women in the legal profession requires a comprehensive approach that includes female law students and gives them a chance to practice and develop their skills before they enter the legal profession. Increasing the number of women in the legal profession also improves Canadians’ access to justice,” says Ms. Wolters.

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.