Women’s Law Association of Ontario honours Osgoode Professor Emerita

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Mossman was presented with the 2022 President’s Award by the Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO) at its hybrid annual awards gala on Thursday, June 16. The in-person portion of the event was held at Sassafraz Restaurant in Toronto’s Yorkville district.

Mary Jane Mossman
Mary Jane Mossman

“As a professor and trailblazer, she has positively influenced many in the legal profession,” said a WLAO statement announcing the event. “Her research on the first women lawyers in Ontario is important and culminates in her upcoming publication, Quiet Rebels: A History of Ontario Women Lawyers.”

The book will be published next year by Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

The WLAO’s President’s Award recognizes a woman, firm or organization that has made a substantial contribution to the legal community, according to the organization’s literature. As a recognized leader, the recipient should also demonstrate a commitment to the promotion of women in the law and should be engaged, aware and connected to issues – both substantive and personal – facing women in the legal profession today.

Mossman said the honour is very special because it coincides with final revisions on her book, which will profile every woman who was called to the Ontario bar between 1889 and 1957. During that period, she explained, the Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario) required all lawyers in Ontario to attend law school at the historic Osgoode Hall building in downtown Toronto. After 1957, the law society recognized university law schools and Osgoode Hall Law School moved to York University in 1968.

“Only 188 women became Ontario lawyers during those six decades from 1889 to 1957,” said Mossman. “The book also identifies important changes for women in law after 1957 and the extraordinary increase in the number of women who became lawyers after 1957. For example, in the six years between 1968 and 1974 alone, 205 women joined the Ontario legal profession.”

Founded by six women lawyers and law students in 1919, the WLAO is one of Ontario’s oldest legal organizations. Mossman said a great deal of her research for the book came from the association’s archives.

“The book might not have been possible without this organization and its wonderful volunteer archivists,” she said. “So I am grateful to the WLAO, both for preserving this history of women lawyers and for the honour of the 2022 President’s Award!”

Mossman joined the faculty at Osgoode Hall Law School in 1976-77 after several years as a law faculty member at the University of New South Wales in Australia. At Osgoode, she has served as associate dean, assistant dean, Chair of the Osgoode Faculty Council and director of the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies, as well as numerous positions on boards and committees at York University. Her research interests focus on women lawyers/legal professions, family law and economic dependency, property law and trusts, and access to justice and legal aid.

In addition, she initially designed Osgoode’s courses in Law and Gender and in Feminist Legal Theory in the 1980s. Since 1972, when she became the first articling student at Parkdale Community Legal Services, she has remained involved with community legal clinics. In recent decades, she has chaired the administrative committee of the Unifor Legal Services Plan, which provides affordable legal services to members of Unifor, their spouses and dependents.

Mossman has authored numerous scholarly articles and reports for governments and other organizations and has been a visiting professor at universities in Canada, the United States, Australia, France and Japan. She has also received numerous awards for her work.