Ethel Benjamin Address

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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 21st Annual New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address will be held on Friday 8 September 2017 and will be delivered by Professor Nicola Peart. Please see the invitation below for more details.

Ethel

Ethel Benjamin

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.

Ethel

Former Annual New Zealand Law Foundation Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Addresses

  • 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).
  • 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).
  • 1998: Dame Jenny Shipley – The first woman to serve as Prime Minister of New Zealand.

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