Herstory: An Exhibition

" ...iron dropped into the souls of women..."

Image of Bertha Wilson
Bertha Wilson
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Many essays in Herstory have focused on some aspect of women and the law. For many years, individual women and women's groups have worked to influence laws affecting them and their children. This hard work began to pay off in the first decades of this century when women were appointed to juvenile or women's courts in various parts of Canada. Alice Jamieson (Herstory 1990) and Emily Murphy (Herstory 1974) in Alberta, Ethel MacLachlan (Herstory 1989) in Saskatchewan and Helen Gregory MacGill (Herstory 1980) in BC all were knowledgeable women, who, although they had no formal legal training, were experts on laws affecting women and children, and who were highly respected judges.

Property law has long been a concern of women. At one time, a married woman literally owned nothing, not even the clothes on her back. Her husband could sell the family home, even if it was bought with her money, and leave her and her children with nothing. Women fought for dower rights and for rights to the family home. Later, the Murdock and Rothwell cases (Herstory 1975) set legal history and unleashed a storm of protest; these cases ruled that a farm woman who had spent her life working along side her husband had no claim to the assets of the farm upon divorce. That is no longer the case. The Rosa Becker case (Herstory 1989) established the principle that a common-law wife had a claim to the business both had established, even if it was in the man's name.

After fighting for admission to law schools and the bar, women are now lawyers, deans of law schools and judges. Groups such as LEAF (Herstory 1991) intervene in law cases that affect the rights of women--we have yet to achieve equality. Judicial bodies also recognize that women do not receive equal treatment in the courts and are beginning to take steps to change the system.

The iron dropped into the souls of women in Canada when we heard that it took a man to decree that his mother was not a person.
(Mary Ellen Smith)

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