Clara Brett Martin
Born in 1874, Canadian Clara Brett Martin broke through her first glass ceiling when she graduated from Trinity College, Toronto, with a B.A. in the male-dominated field of Mathematics. She was 16 years old. (Women’s efforts to enrol in universities inspired considerable controversy at the time; physicians speculated that higher education would weaken them physically and mentally.)
Clara ambitiously targeted a career as a lawyer but faced an intimidating challenge in the form of the unyielding prejudices of the patriarchal, Victorian legal institutions. It was a long, hard fight but she had some key, well-placed allies. Her petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to be recognized as a student was initially rejected, but with the support of politicians, including Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat, and prominent activists Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892 that permitted the admission of women. In 1893, aged 19, Clara articled with the Toronto firm of Mulock, Miller, Crowther, and Montgomery.
However, the battle was not yet over. She was treated so poorly by her articling peers and the firm's secretaries that she was forced to switch to prominent Toronto law firm Blake, Lash and Cassels, (now known as Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP).
In 1897, Clara became the British Empire’s first-ever female lawyer when she graduated from Trinity University, Toronto, with a Concurrent Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.). After the Law Society had framed special regulations, she was called to the bar of Ontario and entered into partnership with Shilton & Wallbridge. In 1899, she became the first Canadian woman to be awarded the degree of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B).
Clara broke through yet another glass ceiling in 1901 when she was elected a school trustee on the Toronto Board of Education. She served on the body for a decade as the only woman on the school board. Clara Brett Martin died in 1923 at the age of 49.