Trailblazing women of Sydney Law School

Producing inspirational and ground-breaking leaders since 1902
In 1902, Ada Evans was the first woman to graduate with an LLB from Sydney Law School. 120 years on, we are celebrating Ada and all of the changemakers that have followed in her footsteps.

Ada Evans

Photo by Talma, Sydney in Australian Town and Country Magazine 1902.

In 1899, Ada Evans was the first woman to enrol for the Bachelor of Laws at Sydney Law School. Submitting her application while the Dean was on leave, she was accepted, despite being told that “she did not have the physique for law and would find medicine more suitable.” In 1902, she made history, and became the first woman in Australia to graduate with an LLB. She continued to lead the way for women in law. In 1921 she was the first woman admitted to the NSW Bar - after 19 years of persistence. 

Her Excellency, Margaret Beazley

Admitted to the legal profession in 1975, Margaret Beazley has since achieved notable firsts. In 1993, she was the first woman exclusively appointed as a judge of the Federal Court, then in 1996, she was the first woman appointed to the NSW Court of Appeal, becoming its first female president in 2013. Currently, she is enjoying her latest role, as 39th (2nd female) Governor of NSW. 

Justice Jacqueline Gleeson SC

In 2020, the Masters of Law graduate, solicitor, barrister and Federal Court judge Jacqueline Gleeson was elevated to the highest legal decision-making body in the country, becoming the sixth woman to serve on High Court. 

Professor Barbara McDonald

After graduating with BA and LLB, Barbara McDonald has taken on many roles throughout her legal career - working as a commercial lawyer, consultant, author, editor, program director of the Law School in Europe program and professor. She recently served as a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission in Sydney where she headed the Inquiry into Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era.

Mary Gaudron

Mary Gaudron QC

Mary Gaudron's career has been filled with "firsts". In 1972, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Council of the New South Wales Bar and used her position to successfully advocate for the Equal Pay Case (1972). Less than a decade later, she was the first female Solicitor-General in Australia and the first female Queen’s Counsel in NSW, and went on to become the first female Justice of the High Court of Australia - playing a role in the historic 1992 Mabo decision

Our female firsts

  • 1902: Ada Evans

    First female law graduate in Australia, first female admitted to the NSW Bar
  • 1924: Marie Byles

    First female solicitor in NSW
  • 1924: Sybil Morrison

    First female barrister in NSW
  • 1937: Jean Malor

    First female to graduate with first class honours
  • 1955: Elizabeth Evatt

    First female student to win the University Medal for Law, youngest law student ever accepted, first female deputy president of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission
  • 1987: Mary Gaudron

    First female appointed as a judge to the High Court of Australia, first female solicitor-general, first female appointed as Queen's Counsel
  Jane Mathews (LLB 1962)

1977: First female crown prosecutor in NSW

1980: First female judge of the NSW District Court

1987: First female judge of the NSW Supreme Court

  Mahla Pearlman (LLB 1960)

1981: First female President of the Law Society of NSW

1989: First female President of the Law Council of Australia

1992: First female President of the NSW Land and Environment Court

  Deidre O'Connor (LLB 1974)

1990: First female judge of the Federal Court of Australia

1990: President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission

  Ruth McColl (LLB 1975) 1999: First female President of NSW Bar Association
  Sally Dowling (LLB 1995) 2021: First female NSW Director of Public Prosecutions

Banner image: Pioneering female alumni (left to right) Marie Byles, LLB 1924, Elizabeth Evatt, LLB 1955, Jean Malor, LLB 1937, Ada Evans, LLB 1902, Mary Gaudron, LLB 1966, Sybil Morrison, LLB 1924

Images sourced from University of Sydney Archives: G3_224_1634, G3_224_1321, J Malor image on page 59 of A Century Downtown: Sydney University Law School's First Hundred Years, G3_224_1647, G3_224_1385, G3_224_1373.

Proudly celebrating 120 years of educating women leaders at Sydney Law School.
Find out more (pdf)

In spite of the challenges women have faced in accessing legal education and entering the legal profession over the last 100 years, it is so rewarding to be a woman in the law and I encourage young women to follow in the path of our great alumni and continue to pave the path for future women lawyers.
Her Excellency, Margaret Beazley - supporter of the Women of Sydney Law School program

Related articles