Ada Emily Evans
- 17 May 1872
- 27 December 1947
Kurkulla, New South Wales, Australia
- Lawyer and Teacher
Ada Emily Evans began her professional life as a teacher, but later blazed a trail for women in the legal profession. In 1902, at the University of Sydney, she was the first woman in Australia to earn a Bachelor of Laws, graduating at a time when New South Wales law did not allow her to practise. She was admitted to the NSW Bar in 1921 after changes to the legislation, thus becoming the first woman to be admitted to the bar in New South Wales.
Ada Emily Evans was born on 17 May 1872 in Essex, England. Ada and her family immigrated to Sydney in 1883. Her mother came from a legal family and Ada was convinced of the necessity for women lawyers to remedy the prejudices of the entirely male legal system. When Ada enrolled in the Sydney University Faculty of Law, the Dean, Professor Pitt Cobbett, would not accept women law students. Ada enrolled when he was absent on leave and could not prevent her entry. Upon his return, Professor Cobbett told Ada that 'her frame was so light that she should become a doctor'. Nevertheless, Ada continued her studies and in 1902 became the first Australian woman to complete her law degree.
Ada Evans applied to be registered at the Supreme Court as a student-at-law. She was rejected on the basis that a legal practitioner had to be a "person of good fame and repute" and the legal definition of "person" did not include being a woman. From 1902 until 1918, Ada campaigned for her admission. During those years, she wrote articles on women's issues for the Australian Star newspaper under the pen-name "A.L.B", postulated to be an acronym for "a lady barrister".
In 1918, legislation was passed to allow women to enter the legal profession in New South Wales. In 1921, Ada Evans became the first woman to be admitted to the New South Wales Bar. Ada never practised due to the lapse of time since her graduation, poor health and family commitments. Confident and intelligent, Ada Evans was also an expert pistol shot and golf player. She died at Kurkulla on 27 December 1947.
Sources used to compile this entry: Brodsky, Juliette, 'Ada Evans Biography', in Pioneering Women at the NSW Bar: 1921-1975, New South Wales Bar Association, 2011, http://www.nswbar.asn.au/the-bar-association/pioneering-women/#/1_ada_evans; Kerwin, Hollie and Rubenstein, Kim, 'Law', in The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia, Judith Smart and Shurlee Swain (eds), Australian Women's Archives Project, 2014, http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/biogs/WLE0624b.htm; O'Brien, Joan M., 'A History of Women in the Legal Profession in New South Wales', MA thesis, Department of History, University of Sydney, 1986. Also available at https://womenlawyersnsw.org.au/wp-content/uploads/History-of-Women-in-Legal-Profession.pdf; O'Brien, Joan M., 'Evans, Ada Emily (1872-1947)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, Australian National University, 2006, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/evans-ada-emily-6118/text10491; http://www.nswbar.asn.au/the-bar-asssociation/bar-history.
Prepared by Nicola Silbert
Created: 1 February 2016, Last modified: 8 August 2016