The first woman admitted to the Newfoundland bar was Louise Saunders (1893-1969) in 1933, but she is not the first woman entered on the rolls of the Newfoundland Law Society. That distinction belongs to Janet Miller.
Janet Morison Miller, youngest daughter of Lewis Miller and Mary Morison, was born in St. John's on Nov. 12, 1891. She graduated from Bishop Spencer College and began to read law in the offices of her uncle, Donald Morison, who was serving as Newfoundland's attorney general at that time.
In 1910 she petitioned the Law Society for examination, but the society refused. At the next general meeting of the society Morison made a motion that the act governing the society be changed to allow women to become members; the majority present did not see "the necessity for or the expediency of any such radical change in the Constitution of the Society." An influential member of the government, Morison was able to convince his cabinet colleagues to amend the Law Society Act in 1911, giving women the right to become members of the legal profession in Newfoundland. Shortly thereafter, Janet Miller began to article in Morison's office. On April 12, 1913, [according to her certificate,]
"Miss Janet M. Miller of St. John's Gentleman, having complied with the Rules in that behalf, was by the Benchers of the Law Society of Newfoundland in Convocation ...admitted into the said Society as a member thereof..."
In 1993 Janet Miller's daughter, Gertrude Crosbie, presented her mother's papers to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives. They include a copy of her petition to be admitted to the Law Society, her certificate of acceptance dated 1913, her enrolment certificates from the VAD, a nursing manual, a ration book, her VAD pin, correspondence related to the deaths of her husband, his brother and her brother, and several photographs, including one of Janet in her VAD uniform. This is a small but important body of material documenting the life of a woman who would probably have been Newfoundland's first practising female lawyer had not World War I intervened.
Bert Riggs is the archivist for the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, located on level one of the Queen Elizabeth II Library.