Mabel French

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In 1902, Mabel Priscilla Penery French registered at King's College Law School (later UNB's Faculty of Law) and she became the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1905. Although French did not have any difficulty enrolling at the Law School, she did encounter barriers when she sought entry to the New Brunswick bar. In 1905, six judges ruled that women were, in fact, not persons and therefore not eligible to practice law. In response to his ruling, French purposely withheld payments for a number of bills. When she was sued for debt, French used "the novel defence" that, as she was not a person, she could not be sued. Although this defence failed, it did succeed in reversing the earlier judgement that women were not persons. In 1907, the Provincial Legislature passed "An Act to Remove the Disability of Women so far as Relates to the Study and Practice of the Law", which resulted in French becoming the first woman lawyer in New Brunswick. She was the fourth woman called to the bar nationally, and the first woman admitted outside of Ontario. She practised law in Saint John for a few years before leaving behind "that sleepy old town in New Brunswick" for the "increased opportunities" of western Canada.

When French relocated to Vancouver in 1910, she once again faced the same type of discrimination she had encountered at home - the British Columbia Law Society excluded women. Again, she took this issue to the courts and, again, she won. After successfully passing the necessary entrance exam and paying the $50 fee, which the society had attempted to raise to $500 upon her application, Mabel Penery French was called to the bar and became, on April 1, 1912, the first woman lawyer in British Columbia. She later moved to England and married Hugh T. Clay. Mabel French died on the Channel Island of Jersey on January 13, 1955.


  • Yorke, Lois K. "Mabel Penery French (1881-1955): a life recreated." UNB Law Journal, vol. 42, 1993.
  • Bell, D.G. Legal education in New Brunswick: a history. Fredericton: Faculty of Law-UNB, 1992. p. 97-100.
  • Pue, W. Wesley. ["Women Lawyers in British Columbia] in The Story of Legal Education in British Columbia. British Columbia: University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, 1995.

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