Justice Bertha Wilson was well known for her attentiveness to context. Indeed, her biographer, Ellen Anderson, reported that “Wilson’s characteristic stance [was] one of principled contextuality.” This paper explores the context in which Wilson became a lawyer in the 1960s and 1970s before her appointments to the Ontario Court of Appeal and later to the Supreme Court of Canada. By situating Justice Wilson as one of a small minority of women lawyers prior to the mid-1970s, when the numbers of women in law began to increase dramatically, it is possible to explore the kinds of opportunities and choices available to women in law in a time of transition within the legal profession. The paper also tries to explain Justice Wilson’s appointment to the judiciary by exploring societal changes, particularly the strength of the women’s movement and its influence on “gatekeepers” in the profession, in this changing context. In assessing Justice Wilson’s experiences, the paper compares the careers of three prominent women lawyers who were not appointed to the bench in Ontario: Vera Parsons, Margaret Hyndman and Laura Legge. It also compares the experiences of the other two “first women judges” in Ontario: Helen Kinnear, the first woman appointed to a County Court in the Commonwealth in 1943, and Mabel Van Camp, the first woman appointed to the Ontario Supreme Court in 1971. Overall, the paper suggests that the experiences of these women lawyers provide insights about the relationship between ideas of gender and legal professionalism.
Mossman, Mary Jane.
"“Contextualizing” Bertha Wilson: Wilson as a Woman in Law in Mid-20th Century Canada."
The Supreme Court Law Review: Osgoode’s Annual Constitutional Cases Conference
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