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.

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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.

The Art of the Game and the Rules We Try to Learn

The following article was submitted by a WLMP Alumna, who requested to remain anonymous.

Learn to play the game“Learn to play the game or someone else will play it for you.” That simple sentence fundamentally changed my perception of the practice of law at a large firm.  This advice suggested calculation, persuasion, and execution. It was a male mentor who had given me this advice, and at that time — I rejected it.

Now, as I mentor junior lawyers and work towards partnership at that same firm, I realize that learning the rules of “The Game” is the essence of survival in the practice of law: big firm or not.

When I use the term “The Game,” what I actually mean is a law firm’s individual culture. Each law firm has its own way of determining what behavior is rewarded and what is punished. Unfortunately for junior lawyers, there is no handbook. No guide is handed out to us during the law firm’s orientation. Nope. That advice, for better or worse, is held by the Partners.

What does it mean to play “The Game”?

I think to play “The Game”, a female lawyer must:

  • Persuade someone in power to give you the rule book. This requires authenticity, grit, good work, and yes – some business acumen. It means having a legal mentor that gives you something more than advice over coffee. They give you time. They shortcut the time required to learn law firm culture on your own and they also give you time by telegraphing warning signs for you to leave.
  • Get the rule book early. Although there is nothing wrong in taking the time to find the right legal mentor (I cannot stress this enough), it is still important to know and to learn the rules early. As they all say, “first and early impressions matter.” This is of course true in the practice of law – both for the law firm and also your assessment of your future within that firm.
  • Ask that strong legal mentor to back you up when you play the game. When I decided to actively participate in the politics, culture and leadership of my firm, I needed that mentor right next to me. They had to do more than backseat drive. They had to visibly be in the front of our journey with me – in all its shame, joy, failure and thrill.

My reluctance to label law firm culture as “The Game” flows from the fear of labeling strategic thinking, especially in women, as “not nice”; this comes from the perception that there is something wrong with persuasion, planning, and execution.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things. In fact, as I become a more seasoned lawyer, I encourage junior lawyers and students-at-law to cultivate opportunities and have discussions with senior lawyers about “The Game”.  After all, if you don’t master it, someone else may master it for you.

Still Confused About Mansplaining?

Mansplaining is more than a buzzword. The word is descriptive and explains itself. The primary purpose behind mansplaining is to silence a person.

Maybe you’re doubting the reality or frequency of mansplaining, or you’re wondering if there’s any science to back up this phenomena. If so, then check out this video produced by Upworthy showing not only some of the various mansplaining techniques, but also the frequency in which women are silenced from classroom spaces, to office spaces, to traditional media and social media and onwards.

Next time you receive some mansplaining, you may want to consider explaining to them how disrespectful it is to all people.