Framing Lives

CI Kim Rubenstein presented Framing Trailblazing Women Lawyers lives through ‘citizenship‘ at the 8th Biennial International Auto/Biography Association (IABA) Conference, 17-20 July 2012, in Canberra, Australia.


This paper draws upon an oral history project being run with the support of the National Library of Australia on Trailblazing Women lawyers.

Women lawyers stand at the professional forefront of women’s participation in Australian civic life. As Mossman (2006: 14) wrote of the first women lawyers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while ‘the role of women doctors could be explained as an extension of women’s roles in the ‘private sphere’; by contrast, women lawyers were clearly ‘intruding on the public domain explicitly reserved to men’.

This ‘intrusion’ into the legal profession is far from complete and the last 100 years has seen many new women pioneers at the ‘rolling frontier’ of the Australian legal profession, as they enter previously male-only areas of practice, adopt new ways of practicing, take up elite legal positions and enter the profession from increasingly diverse socio-political, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Nevertheless, Australia is far from achieving an equality of women’s participation in the legal landscape and is still working towards full citizenship for women in the civic legal world.

This paper draws upon the Trailblazing women lawyers project’s use of oral history research methods as a means of extending Australian socio-legal scholarship. It highlights how in contrast to the previous use of women lawyer’s narratives in Australia, a post-structural approach to oral history, with the intention of both using the explicit content of these women’s stories to fill knowledge gaps, and considering the internal features of the text, such as its omissions and framing provides valuable material to critically unpacking the lived position of women lawyers as citizens within legal and national culture.