The Annual New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address
Since 1997, OWLS has presented the Annual New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Addresses in honour of Ethel Benjamin, the first woman to be admitted to practice in New Zealand, here in Dunedin on 7th May, 1897. The primary objectives of the New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address are to honour and preserve the pioneering spirit possessed by Ethel Benjamin, to encourage education and achievement in the women of today, and to stimulate debate about issues affecting social justice and gender.
The 22nd Annual New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address was held on 15 October 2018 at Dunedin and delivered by Her Honour Chief Judge Jan-Marie Doogue from the New Zealand District Court.
Ethel Benjamin was born on 19 January 1875. She graduated with her LLB from the University of Otago in 1897 and was admitted to the Bar that same year. Ethel began her law degree at a time when only men were allowed to practise law and she was the first woman admitted to the Bar in the southern hemisphere. Ethel’s legal practice in Dunedin included family law, such as adoption work and she was also one of the Honorary Solicitors for the Society for the Protection of Women and Children. Ethel also represented hoteliers against prohibitionists, an area of work that led to her becoming involved in the management of some hotels, including Wains Hotel on Princes Street, Dunedin.
In 1907 Ethel moved to Wellington and married Alfred de Costa. She continued to practice law in Wellington until the couple travelled to the United Kingdom in 1910. Ethel did not practice law in England (which only became possible for women in 1919). She was involved instead in merchant banking. Ethel split her time between England and Italy during, between and after the World Wars. She died in England in 1944, as a result of an accident.
Ethel’s story is told by Janet November in her excellent book In the Footsteps of Ethel Benjamin which is available for purchase from Victoria University Press here.
Former Annual New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Addresses
- 2018: Judge Jan-Marie Doogue – Chief Judge of the New Zealand District Court (CDCJ Doogue’s 2018 Address)
- 2017: Professor Nicola Peart – Professor at the University of Otago Faculty of Law (Nicola Peart’s 2017 Address).
- 2016: Marcia Neave AO – Former Chair of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and Former Justice of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria (Marcia Neave’s 2016 Address).
- 2015: Justice Christine French – New Zealand Court of Appeal Judge (Christine French’s 2015 Address).
- 2014: Justice Helen Winkelmann – Chief High Court Judge of New Zealand (Helen Winkelmann’s 2014 Address).
- 2013: Justice Catharine Davani – Judge to the National and Supreme Courts of Papua New Guinea (Catharine Davani’s 2013 Address).
- 2012: Justice Kate O’Regan – Former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court (Kate O’Regan’s 2012 Address).
- 2011: Justice Ellen France – New Zealand Court of Appeal Judge (Ellen France’s 2011 Address).
- 2010: Lady Brenda Hale – United Kingdom Supreme Court Judge (Brenda Hale’s 2010 Address).
- 2009: Justice Mary Gaudron – The first female Justice of the High Court of Australia (Mary Gaudron’s 2009 Address).
- 2008: Justice Lowell Goddard – High Court Judge and Independent Police Conduct Authority (Lowell Goddard’s 2008 Address).
- 2007: Professor Mary Jane Mossman – Professor at Osgoode Hall University, Canada (Mary Jane Mossman’s 2007 Address).
- 2006: Justice Pamela Tate – Justice of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria. Justice Pamela Tate was the first female Solicitor General for Victoria, Australia (Pamela Tate’s 2006 Address).
- 2005: Justice Judith Potter – High Court Judge and the first woman to serve as President of the New Zealand Law Society (Judith Potter’s 2005 Address).
- 2004: Justice Susan Glazebrook – New Zealand Court of Appeal Judge (Susan Glazebrook’s 2004 Address).
- 2003: Justice Beverly McLachlin – Chief Justice of Canada (Beverly McLachlin’s 2003 Address).
- 2002: Professor Margaret Wilson – Former Speaker of the House of Representatives (Margaret Wilson’s 2002 Address).
- 2001: Dame Judith Mayhew – Former Provost at Kings College, Cambridge, United Kingdom (Judith Mayhew’s 2001 Address).
- 2000: Dame Sian Elias – Chief Justice of New Zealand and a Supreme Court Judge (Sian Elias’ 2000 Address).
- 1999: Georgina te Heuheu – The first Māori woman to be admitted to legal practice (Georgina te Heuheu’s 1999 Address).
- 1998: Dame Jenny Shipley – The first woman to serve as Prime Minister of New Zealand.
- 1997: Dame Silvia Cartwright – Former High Court Judge and Former Governor General of New Zealand (Silvia Cartwright’s 1997 Address).