Agnes McWhinney

Born
1891
Ravenswood Junction, Queensland, Australia
Died
4 August 1987
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Occupation
Lawyer and Solicitor
Alternative Names
  • Osborne, Agnes (married name)
Jurisdiction

Following the introduction of the Legal Practitioners Act of 1905, Agnes McWhinney became the first Queensland woman to be admitted as a legal practitioner in 1915. Agnes was also the first female solicitor to practise in Queensland.

Agnes McWhinney wanted to be a doctor after she graduated from Townsville Grammar School. The nearest medical school was in Sydney and very expensive, therefore Agnes was persuaded by her brother Joseph, who had nearly completed his Articles of Clerkship in Townsville at Wilson and Ryan, solicitors, to take articles herself. In 1910 Wilson and Ryan accepted Agnes as an articled clerk which was a revolutionary step at the time.

Northern Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Pope Cooper was not impressed with the idea of a woman entering his legal profession and became distinctly choleric at the very mention of her name. Ultimately he was unable to fault her qualifications and conduct and found himself powerless to find any basis on which to refuse her admission. On 7 December 1915 Agnes was admitted to practise as a solicitor which was sufficient to make her a part of Australian history.

Agnes undertook work of the same complexity and importance as that of her colleagues, however, she was paid the same as the unqualified office boy. Agnes did not stand for her bosses' discrimination and her persistent protests resulted in her wage rising to 3 pounds ten shillings per week. Agnes continued to practise as a solicitor with the firm until 1919 when she married Lowell Mason Osborne on 23 March 1920. After her marriage Agnes did not undertake paid employment again but used her skills in community service. The Queensland Law Society's award, which commemorates 100 years of women in the law, is named in honour of Agnes McWhinney.

Sources used to compile this entry: Bird, E., 'Agnes McWhinney', in Purdon, S. and Rahemtula, A. (eds) (eds), A Woman's Place: 100 Years of Queensland Women Lawyers, Supreme Court of Queensland Library, Brisbane, 2005; 'McWhinney, Agnes (1891-1987)', Trove, National Library of Australia, 2009, http://nla.gov.au/nla.party-765099; The State of Queensland; Department of Communities, Agnes McWhinney (1891 - 1987), Women's contributions to Queensland: 1910 - 1919, Office for Women Queensland, Queensland Government, Brisbane, 2009, http://www.women.qld.gov.au/q150/1910/index.html#item-agnes-mcwhinney; The Supreme Court of Queensland Library, Agnes McWhinney, Women in the Law in Queensland, The Supreme Court of Queensland Library, Brisbane, 2003, http://www.sclqld.org.au/schp/exhibitions/witl/biographies/mcwhinney.htm.

Prepared by Lee Butterworth