Radical Woman of the Day: Mary Gaudron

On this day in 1987, Mary Gaudron became the first woman to be appointed to the High Court of Australia. She had also previously been the first female Solicitor-General in Australia and the first female Queen’s Counsel in New South Wales.

While studying at the University of Sydney from 1961 to 1965 to earn her law degree, Gaudron sought articles of clerkship—a form of apprenticeship—from many lawyers but was turned down every time because of her gender. She worked for the Australian Public Service instead but had to quit by regulation when she got married.

Beginning her career as a barrister in 1968, she had to share her room in New South Wales with another female barrister, Janet Coombs, because other male-occupied barrister’s chambers had refused to sell her a room. She experienced a major career breakthrough in 1970, though, when she successfully argued for the plaintiff in O’Shaughnessy v Mirror Newspapers Ltd. After winning another major case in 1972 for the Whitlam government, she became the youngest ever Australian federal judge when the government appointed her Deputy President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1974.

Appointed to the High Court in 1987, Gaudron served as justice for 16 years before retiring at the age of 60. She subsequently went to work for the International Labour Organization where she is currently President of the Administrative Tribunal.