32 Clara Brett Martin 1874-1923

Born to Abram and Elizabeth Martin, a well-to-do Anglican-Irish family, opened the way for women to become lawyers in Canada by being the first in the British Empire in 1897.

In 1888, Martin was accepted to Trinity College in Toronto. And in 1890, Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics at the age of sixteen, which was almost unheard of because of the masculinity associated with that field.

In 1891, Martin submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student member, a prerequisite to articling as a clerk, attending lectures and sitting the exams required to receive a certificate of fitness to practice as a solicitor.

Her petition was rejected by the Law Society after contentious debate, with the Special Committee reviewing the petition interpreting the statute which incorporated the Law Society as permitting only men to be admitted to the practice of law. W.D. Balfour sponsored a bill that provided that the word “person” in the Law Society’s statute should be interpreted to include females as well as males.

* one of the doors that was opened by Brett Martin: Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson had the honour of being appointed Canada’s first woman Senator. She was named to the position by her friend Prime Minister Mackenzie King four months after a ruling in the Person’s Case determined that Canadian women were persons and therefore eligible to sit in the Senate. None of the Famous Five women who initiated the case were appointed to the Senate include females as well as males.