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.

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

Violet King, First Black Female Lawyer in Canada
Violet King shakes hands with E.J. McCormick, with whom she articled. (June, 1954). Photographer/Illustrator: De Lorme, Jack, Calgary, Alberta.

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.

Have You Checked Out Your Profession’s Mentorship Programs?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou don’t have to be part of a big law firm to find a mentor. Although the WLMP focuses on mentorship and leadership program at the university level and uses a specific mentorship method, we spend a lot of time assessing the various legal mentorship programs.

We found there are a lot of mentorship programs that lawyers can access. Pretty much every professional law association has a mentorship program.

Recently the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) is boosting its mentorship opportunities. On Friday, February 26th, FACL will be holding its mentor-a-thon, to be hosted at the Toronto offices of Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP.

To read more about FACL’s mentorship program check out Neil Etienne’s Canadian Lawyer Magazine article click here. If you are looking to register for FACL’s Toronto event click here.

Time to Talk About Mental Health in the Legal Profession

Today, you may notice that your social media feeds are filled with messages about mental health and ending the stigma of mental illness. It’s Bell Canada Let’s Talk Day. Why care?

While people may discriminate, mental illness does not. Mental illness cuts across professions, ages, cultures, classes and the list goes on and on. 1 in 5 Canadians will struggle with mental illness. That’s about 4.5 million Canadians and half of those are adults. Check out the statistics on mental health in Canada here.

According to a LawPro Magazine article on mental health, ” In 2011 , mental illness cost Canadian business six billion dollars in lost productivity and absenteeism.” This doesn’t apply to other professions. It includes the legal profession.

Most often the focus is on the clients’ mental health issues. There is a tendency to avoid looking at, talking about and listening to law school students and legal practitioners when it comes to mental health issues.

The stigma surrounding mental illness stops lawyers and law school students from seeking support. The fear that no one will hire them or they will be disbarred if it’s discovered paralyzes many and keeps them from getting help. They suffer in silence.

Many lawyers will leave the profession and many students will leave their law school program. It’s time to talk, and end the stigma surrounding mental illness within the legal profession.

Thankfully the legal profession is waking up. The Fall 2015 issue of the Nova Scotia Bar Association was dedicated mental health. Our own Megan Seto, WLMP Vice Chair and lawyer, was featured in the magazine. She offers great insights on page 11 of this issue. You can also read Ms. Seto’s paper on mental health and the legal profession by clicking here.

Still wondering why you should care about mental health and take part in Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative to raise awareness and money by Tweeting using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, or sharing their message give a listen to what Clara Hughes has to say.

Do you have the Grit you need?

Grit. We’re not talking about the dust that blows into your eyes. Grit is the strength of character, courage, resolve, perseverance, determination and endurance a person has and displays under pressure. It’s also something that helps a person bounce back in the face of adverse circumstances.

If there is one area that requires grit, then it’s the law. It doesn’t matter if you are studying the law or practicing law. Grit is an integral component. It’s that element that leaders inhabit and mentors can help nurture.

Travis Bradberry, a contributor to Forbes.com Leadership section, has pulled together a listical outlining the “11 Signs You Have The Grit You Need to Succeed”. You can read it here.