During the 1960s, there were still only five or six women in a class of 150. Indeed, women students were regarded "as an entertaining oddity," says Hon. Madam Justice Rosalie Abella ('70), who entered law school in 1967. "There weren't enough of us to present a threat."

The law profession was even less welcoming, conducting itself as if the women's suffrage movement to win the vote 40 years before had never occurred. Janet Stubbs ('69), now the Director of the Ontario Arts Council Foundation, was told flat out by one firm that they didn't hire women. She eventually landed an articling position with McCarthy and McCarthy. However, Abella - future litigator, academic, royal commissioner, Supreme Court Judge - faced a wall. "I don't know whether it was about being Jewish or a woman, but it was tough to get an articling job. But then, I expected it to be tough. One (firm) said, I hope you understand, we're just not hiring women."

Janet Stubbs '52
Janet Stubbs

When her father was diagnosed with cancer, Abella lost hope and stopped searching. Dean Ronald St. J. MacDonald stepped in and set up an articling interview for Abella. Once in the door, Abella soared. The profession, she says, was on the cusp of change, realizing that it had to remove barriers to women and minorities. Suddenly, Abella found herself in demand to give speeches on family law and human rights. "Both men and women were involved in those conversations and they were very open. It was almost the opposite of what it is today, with people feeling uncomfortable with the conversation."

Rosalie Abella
Rosalie Abella

Opportunities came along and she threw herself into them. "I just never stopped trying," she says. Her advice? "Don't be afraid to take risks on principles that are important to you."