Life On The Job


Famous or Historic People

Grata Flos Matilda Greig, B.A; LL.B, (7 November 1880 - 31 December 1958) - Barrister & Solicitor, Lawyer.  

Grata Flos Matilda Greig
Grata Flos Greig,
First Female Law Graduate, c.1904 [aged 24],
University of Melbourne

(Source: The Conversation)

Flos Greig was a remarkable pioneer whose determination to practice as a solicitor advanced gender equality in the legal profession in Australia in the early twentieth century. The first woman to be admitted to legal practice in Australia, Greig was at the vanguard of 'the graceful incoming of a revolution' as described by then Chief Justice Sir John Madden, as he presided over the ceremony granting her admission to the Victorian bar in August 1905 (The Advertiser, 1905).

Introduction & Education

Grata Flos Matilda Greig, known as Flos, was born on 7 November 1880 to Robert Greig and his wife Jane Stocks, nee Macfarlane in Broughty Ferry, Forfarshire, Scotland.

She attended school in Dundee, Scotland, before the family moved to Australia.

In 1889, the Greig family migrated to Australia arriving in Melbourne on the Parramatta on 20 April. Robert Greig was an ardent advocate of higher education for both sexes, and succeeded in imparting this ambition to his children.

Flos, as she was known, grew up in a household full of possibilities unlimited by gender boundaries. As a nine-year-old she spent three months sailing to Australia with her family to settle in Melbourne in 1889. Her father founded a textile manufacturing company. Both parents believed that Flos and her siblings – four sisters and three brothers – should be university educated at a time when women rarely were. She grew up firm in the knowledge that women could thrive in professional life, and witnessed that reality unfold as older sisters Janet and Jean trained to become doctors. Another sister, Clara, would go on to found a tutoring school for university students. The fourth sister, Stella, followed Flos to study law.

She attended Presbyterian Ladies College [P.L.C.] in East Melbourne between 1894 and 1896 and, having decided on a legal career when still at school, enrolled at the university in 1897 for arts and law, the first woman to enter the law faculty. Male law students greeted her advent with some raillery, but voted in her first year that women should be admitted to practice.

When Grata Flos Matilda Greig walked into her first law school class at the University of Melbourne in 1897, it was illegal for women to become lawyers. But though the legal system did not even recognise her as a person, she won the right to practice and helped thousands of other women access justice. In defying the law, Greig literally changed its face. Women could not vote or hold legislative office, let alone be lawyers, when 16-year-old Flos began to study law. Yet she did not let this deter her. As she approached graduation she focused on, “the many obstacles in the path of my full success. I resolved to remove them”.

Greig appears to have enjoyed both the academic rigours of University and the social opportunities that membership to the Princess Ida club afforded. This club was formed to promote the common interests of women students, with activities including social functions, debates, and literary discussion. Greig also enjoyed playing tennis at the University.

Completing her pass arts degree in 1900 (and formally graduating in 1904), she graduated LL.B. on 28 March 1903, the first woman in Victoria to do so, with third-class honours, second in her year. She was only the second woman in Australia to do so after Ada Evans who graduated the previous year from the University of Sydney.

Graduation Day
Grata Flos Matilda Greig - Graduation Day
(Source: Wikipedia)

The Flos Greig Enabling Bill

 In April, through her efforts and those of her friends, the Victorian parliament passed what was dubbed the 'Flos Greig Enabling Bill', to remove 'some anomalies in the law relating to women', thus permitting her (and subsequent women) to be admitted to legal practice.

Six years after entering the University of Melbourne, Flos witnessed the Victorian Legislative Assembly’s passing of the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill, also known as the Flos Greig Enabling Bill. Suddenly, women could enter the practice of law. How had she made this happen?

While childhood had provided Flos with role models from both sexes, she did have to rely upon a series of men to navigate her entry into the exclusively male club of the legal profession. Her male classmates had initially questioned the capabilities of a woman lawyer and resisted her presence, but she soon persuaded them otherwise.

Not only did Flos graduate second in her class, but the men took a vote to declare – affirmatively – that women should be allowed to practice law. Their support undoubtedly fuelled her ambitions.

Next, Flos turned to one of her lecturers, John Mackey, who happened to also be a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Together they worked with other supporters to craft the legislative change. Mackey argued that by passing the law, Parliament could ease the concerns of women who believed they could not get justice from a legislative body made up only of men.

Articles or Articling

Flos needed to complete a period of supervised training known as “articling”  or "articles of clerkship" before she could be sworn into the bar. No Australian woman had ever engaged in the “articles of clerkship” before.

After thorough articles with Frank Cornwall, she was admitted on 1 August 1905, thus becoming the first woman admitted to enter the legal profession in Australia. A short time later, she was the first woman admitted to the Law Institute of Victoria.

She declared, even in 1903 when women were largely excluded from public life:

“Women are men’s equals in every way and they are quite competent
to hold their own in all spheres of life.”

 

Supreme Court of Victoria 1905
Supreme Court of Victoria circa 1905 when Flos was admitted to practice.
(Source: The Conversation)


Employment

Her realism led her, as a pioneer, to practise as a solicitor rather than a barrister. Self-employed in her early professional years, Flos drafted for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union amendments to the bill which passed into law as the Children's Court Act, 1906.

Flos soon established a solo practice in Melbourne focusing on women and children. Among other endeavours, she represented the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in lobbying to establish the Children’s Court of Victoria.

Greig later worked as an employee of Cornwall Stodart, a firm of solicitors in Melbourne.

As a young solicitor Greig used her legal skills to contribute to intellectual discussion and public life. She approached the contentious topic of women's suffrage with expert wit. In 1905 The Argus provided the following account of Greig's contribution to a debate on the topic: 'The chief point for discussion was not whether women were fit for politics, but whether politics were fit for women. If the politics were not fit, the sooner they were made so the better. (Applause.) As regarded the assertion that the giving of the voting power to women would cause dissension in, and even the breaking up of, homes, it was as well to bear in mind that neither the Police Court nor the Divorce Court had had any extra work in consequence of the last federal elections, at which women voted. (Laughter.)' (The Argus, 1905). Participating in the National Council of Women's debate in 1908 'That Capital Punishment Should be Abolished' Greig argued in favour of retaining capital punishment, after which the Launceston Examiner reported that an 'animated' debate followed (Examiner, 1908).

In the early 1900s Melbourne seems to have offered Greig a rich cultural and social environment surrounded by friends and the early women law graduates who were to follow her path. In 1910 she was a founding member of the 'The Catalysts' Society', a gathering of women with intellectual interests which would in 1912 become the Lyceum Club in Melbourne. The Club was committed to furthering women's professional careers and providing an arena in which women could form strong networks and cultivate useful contacts. In 1914 it was the host of the inaugural 'Women's Law Society of Victoria' with membership restricted to women law graduates who were practising or intending to practise as barristers and solicitors. It is no surprise that Greig was elected as the first president. The Lyceum, which was explicitly designed to provide a space for female networking - both locally and internationally, quickly became Melbourne's premier women's club, and by 1930 claimed 900 members. Greig's connection to the Lyceum continued throughout her life.

Indeed, in spite of Grata Flos Greig’s optimistic comments in 1909, it seems that her work as a sole practitioner did not prosper, and that she worked during World War I as an employed solicitor in two Melbourne firms, replacing men who had joined the war effort. By the end of the war and with the imminent return of male solicitors, she was again looking for employment; indeed, Waugh identified a letter from Flos Greig seeking a government appointment. However, no such appointment was forthcoming and by the 1930s, she was working again as an employed solicitor in country Victoria. Thus, for Flos Greig, as for a number of these early twentieth century women lawyers, it was one thing to gain admission to the bar, but quite another to find work that was both satisfying and financially viable.

In about 1930, Greig moved to the town of Wangaratta in north-east Victoria were she worked as an employee solicitor, and spent some dozen years in the office of Paul McSwiney at Wangaratta before her retirement in 1942.

Did You Know?

Greig's pioneering spirit was also evident in her passion for exploration and travel. In the 1920s at a time when few women in Melbourne would have dared to tour South East Asia, Greig became a specialist in the region - visiting Singapore, Siam (as it then was), China, Burma, Bali, Java and Malaysia.

A frequent and intrepid Eastern traveller from an early date, Flos Greig developed an interest in Asian religions and customs.  

 Two decades after graduating from law school, she took a lengthy trip through Asia, spending time in Singapore, China, Bali, Java, Malaysia and two weeks in the Burma jungle. She stayed in local homes and on her return, spoke to audiences about the experience, delighting them with tales of “leopards, tigers, wild pigs, peacocks, … and wild jungle fowl”. She lectured publicly and on radio stations about the geography, religion and race.

She delighted audiences with evening lectures using lantern slides. Often these lectures coincided with an important cause, such as international fellowships sponsored by the Women Graduates Society to advance the cause of higher education of women.

In 1923, Greig stopped in Brisbane on her return to Melbourne after a trip to Burma to give a lecture on her travels. She is described as holding the audience 'spellbound' with exotic tales. The Northern Star newspaper article declares 'To have travelled the road to Mandalay, and penetrated the Burmese jungle, sleeping in dark houses, and learning at first-hand the manners and customs of .a quaint and happy people, are experiences which have fallen to the lot of Miss Flos Greig (Northern Star, 1923).

Greig's lectures on her travels reached a far wider audience on the radio. She regularly appeared in the 1920s on stations across Australia lecturing on topics from the geography of China to 'the Religion of Buddha in Southern Asia' and the 'Primitive Races of South-eastern Asia' (Daily News, 1927; The Advertiser Adelaide, 1931).

(Source: The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in 20th Century Australia)

 

Experiences

In her years at Wangaratta, from which she explored the countryside in a 'Baby' Austin tourer, she actively supported the extension of adult education facilities to the area. In the 1930s, through altruism and dissatisfaction with the existing economic order, she was a serious student and advocate of Douglas Credit.

Baby Austin
Example of a "Baby" Austin

She lived in retirement at Rosebud, on the Mornington Peninsula /span>for some years before her death at Moorabbin, Melbourne on 31 December 1958, aged 78. Kindly, involved and articulate, Flos Greig was an important trail-blazer.

While she did not live to see other female firsts, such as the appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2003, Flos’ capacity to envision women as equals under the law places her among the profession’s greatest innovators.

Did You Know?

Greig had four sisters and three brothers. While two of her brothers followed her father into the family textile business, the women of the family blazed their own trails.

Sisters Jane and Janet were two of the first women to study medicine in Australia, at the University of Melbourne, Jane a pioneer in public health and Janet the first anaesthetist in Victoria.

Another sister, Clara, founded a coaching school for university students.

The youngest sister, Stella, followed Flos into law, graduating from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Laws degree on 8 April 1911. Stella died of tuberculosis less than two years later, aged 24.


Opportunities and Honours

She founded The Catalysts’ Society in 1910. Two years later it became the prestigious Lyceum Club in Melbourne, devoted to advancing the careers of women and offering networking opportunities.

After the launch of the Women’s Law Society of Victoria in 1914, Flos was elected its first president. She cared deeply about the right of all women to vote, arguing in a 1905 debate that if “politics were not fit” for women, “the sooner they were made so the better.” (In 1908 Victorian women won the right the vote.)

Grata Fund, an organisation that enables people and communities to hold the powerful accountable in court by providing legal strategy, funding and campaign support, was named in her honour upon incorporation in 2015, 110 years after she had been admitted to practise law.

 

Posed group of women students
Copy photograph of a posed group of women students near Law Building, circa 1902
(Source: University of Melbourne)


Links:

The Conversation 24 July 2019

The Conversation
The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in 20th Century Australia

Women Leadership


Cornwalls - FLOS

Cornwalls
University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne
 

 

Did You Know?
The New Idea - 6 September 1905

News Clipping

Can you read this article? Try having a go!

What does the cartoon imply?


 

Activities 

"The Gender Debate" - Now and then

High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Critical and Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and Creative Thinking

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

PhilosophyPhilosophy

 

Comprehension

1. "News accounts focused more on the physical attributes of the first lady lawyer than her qualifications. When questioned by a reporter about her clothing choice for the occasion [of admission to practice law], Flos blushed, “What did I wear? Don’t ask me!” But then confessed, “Well, if you insist! I wore grey, with a greenish tinted hat, trimmed with violets!”

Another news reporter critiqued the flower-adorned hat as “a most unlegal costume”. As if there was any basis for making such an assessment – until that moment the nation had never seen the “costume” of a female lawyer. The media’s fixation with female lawyers’ appearance endures more than a century later.

Media fascination with Flos’s attire did not diminish once admitted to practice. She delivered a speech in 1905 to the third annual National Congress of Women of Victoria on a paper she wrote titled, “Some Points of the Law Relating to Women and Children”.

The reporter noted that Flos “treated her subject in a masterly manner, and gave an immense amount of useful and, at times, startling information”. But Flos’s “stylish, yet simple, gown of grey voile, with cream lace vest” was equally newsworthy as were “her pretty black hat and white gloves”. The fashion choices of other (male) speakers went unmentioned.
" (Source: The Conversation)

 

Write down individually how you reacted to this above statement? Share with a partner.

Discussion

Discuss with another pair.

 

Comprehension

2. In March 1909, in the Commonwealth Law Review Greig began by suggesting that there had been much progress in the world in the past century, as women began to enter a number of different trades, and she noted pointedly that these developments had not resulted in any major catastrophes! She discussed the reasons why women wanted to enter the universities and why they had entered the medical profession before they pursued legal studies. Significantly, she suggested that it was women’s interest in politics which engendered an interest in legal studies, connecting the achievement of women’s suffrage in Australia to their interest in law. As she noted, ‘We fought hard enough for suffrage. We know what we wanted it for, and what we intend to effect now we have got it, but to be successful we will require knowledge.’ And then, turning to the issue of whether women were capable of performing legal work, Flos Grieg exclaimed, ‘Personally I have never heard one rational reason against it, though I have listened to heaps of twaddle.’

Her article also noted more concrete issues for women in law. She explained the differences between the work of barristers and solicitors, suggesting that it would probably be necessary for several women to be well established in practice as solicitors before a woman could succeed as a barrister. Although she never said so explicitly, she seemed to be suggesting that a woman at the bar might have difficulty obtaining briefs from male solicitors. Flos Greig then described the work of solicitors, particularly conveyancing, in some detail, as well as the role of solicitors in preparing cases for court. In addition, she carefully noted that while legal knowledge is important in dealing with clients, it constituted only ‘a small portion’ of the qualities needed to become a successful practitioner, suggesting that a knowledge of human nature was an important requirement as well. In concluding her article, Flos Greig summed up her views of women in law as follows: The first women lawyers are hardly likely to make fortunes. The pioneer never does. The first man that finds his way into the primeval forest exhausts his strength in clearing the ground; the second continues the work and sows the seed and erects the buildings; the third man comes along and reaps the profits of the others’ labour. (Source: The Law as a Profession for Women - a Paper in THE AUSTRALIAN FEMINIST LAW JOURNAL 2009 VOLUME 30 p134 - 145)

Write down individually how you reacted to this above statement? Share with a partner.

Discussion

Discuss with another pair.

3. As a group of 4 students (or 3 - 5 students) view the following video:

Julia Gillard misogyny speech voted most unforgettable Australian TV moment [2012]: watch in full
https://youtu.be/fCNuPcf8L00

 

What is your reaction to this video and the Prime Minister Julia Gillard?

4. Let's go to 2021....

You are to read the following article in The Conversation 10 May 2021, written by an outstanding Professor of Linguistics from Monash University, Kate Burridge Read

The Conversation

What facts and figures did you learn from this article? What surprised you? What was new for you?

You can now view one episode of Ms Represented, looking at politics from the female perspective.

Ms Represented

5. Imagine you are a time-traveller!

Time traveller

You are to go back to 1909 and see Flos Greig.

What would you tell her about the state of the role of women in Australia today?

Include the movement from 2015 #Tradwife - to learn more read The Conversation 8 February 2020

The Conversation

OR

Read... ABC News 22 August 2021
"For some, being a tradwife is about more time with family. For others, it's a dangerous far-right ideology"

 

Debate the issues first as a class and gather a list!

Knowing Flos Greig, what suggestions would she tell you to help with correcting the inequality of women today?

 

Famous or Historic People

Interested in Women in Law?

Read about Chief Justice Susan Mary Kiefel, the first female Chief Justice of Australia.

 

Material sourced from 
Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Conversation
Women of the World
The Law as a Profession for Women - a Paper

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