After Marie Byles, only nine other women had been admitted to practise as solicitors in NSW, and four of them practised for a short period or not at all.
Another two had been admitted earlier in Victoria.
Christian Jollie Smith was admitted in 1912 and set up practice as a solicitor in Little Collins Street from 1914.
Victoria’s first woman taxi driver
A passionate socialist, she was active in the anti-conscription campaigns of World War I, taught evening classes at the Victorian Labor College and then English literature at Melbourne High and Brighton Grammar.
She became that State’s first woman taxi driver and had a brief stint as a professional assistant at the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s office in Melbourne.
She taught in Sydney, too, for four years, before being admitted to the NSW roll of solicitors in October 1924, almost five months after Byles. She founded her own firm in 1927 and relied on her connections in the union movement for work. She specialised in wage claims and also did a lot of civil liberties work.
Trouble with titles
Byles and Goldsmith appear in lists of attendees at the Incorporated Law Institute of NSW’s AGMs in the late 1930s under the title Messrs. Others, Mary Halligan and Lily Hamilton, a licensed conveyancer, joined them but none was as vocal as Byles. When the Chairman invited members in 1939 to give “any notice that he may think fit of a proposition to be considered at a future meeting” it was Byles who suggested “a register of mortgage practices similar to the English Law Society”. There was no discussion and the idea lapsed. Byles returned to the AGM in 1940, this time with Veronica Pike.
Extracted from Defending the Rights of All: A History of the Law Society of NSW by Michael Pelly and Caroline Pierce