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The Great Pioneers

The Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Law was founded in 1878, but it would be another 50 years before the first woman would graduate from it. Her name was Juliette Gauthier, and she graduated in 1928. In her wake, an increasing number of women enrolled in law, and women now account for two thirds of students in the Faculty. 

Professors Julie Biron and Jean Hétu, supported by Dean France Houle, with the cooperation of Mike Berson, wanted to pay tribute to some 20 female graduates who are pioneers in the legal community by hanging their photos on a wall within the Faculty. Each in their own way, these groundbreakers set precedents that students can look to in pursuing their legal careers.

The 20 Great Pioneers

Here are the 20 female law graduates whose photos appear on the Pioneers Wall, with a few words explaining the choices.


First women graduate from the Faculty of Law, in 1928

Juliette Gauthier (LL.L. 1928)

Born September 3, 1903 in Montréal, Marie Léocadie Juliette Gauthier was the daughter of Georges Gustave Gauthier and Parmélie Parent. Enrolled in the Faculty of Law on September 10, 1925, she received her law degree May 24, 1928. She married Richard Fleming, from Carlton, Australia, on August 28, 1936 at the La Présentation de la Sainte-Vierge parish church in Dorval. The bride’s occupation on the marriage certificate was “at home.” Juliette Gauthier never practiced law, because at the time women were not admitted to the Barreau du Québec or the Chambre des notaires du Québec. Despite this, she worked for a year in a law firm. She died May 25, 1960 at the age of 56 and was buried in Notre-Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montréal. She had four sons between 1938 and 1944.


First female lawyer in Canada’s Department of Justice, in 1939

Henriette Bourque (LL.L. 1933, magna cum laude)

Henriette Bourque was the second woman registered in the Faculty of Law and the only one in her cohort in 1931. She graduated magna cum laude in 1933 and was first in her class. She received many awards during her studies: the Prix Berthelot, Prix Sir Lomer-Gouin, Prix Mailhot, Prix Joël-Leduc, Prix Jetté-Campbell, Prix Larue, and the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for excellence. In 1939, she became the first woman to work as a lawyer for the Department of Justice of Canada, a position she held until 1949. A plaque on Wellington St. in Ottawa, near the Department of Justice building, marks this fact. She was born in 1903 and died in 1997.


One of the first four women admitted to the Barreau du Québec, in 1942

Marcelle Hémond (LL.B. 1936)

On January 12, 1934, Marcelle Hémond, known as Marcelle Hémond-Lacoste after her 1944 marriage to Roger Lacoste, was the third woman admitted to the Faculty of Law. She obtained her Bachelor of Laws on December 19, 1936.  She would wait five years before being called to the Barreau du Québec on January 15,1942. She was also the first president of the Association des femmes avocates de la province de Québec (Québec association of women lawyers) (1954-1955) and the first woman appointed to the Queen’s Counsel in 1956. The Salle Marcelle-Lacoste at the CHU Sainte-Justine, of which she was chair of the board, honours her memory.


One of the first four women admitted to the Barreau du Québec, in 1942

Suzanne Raymond (LL.L. 1939, cum laude)

Enrolled on September 12, 1936 in the Faculty of Law, Suzanne Raymond, also known as Suzanne Raymond-Fillion, received a law degree cum laude on May 26, 1939 and was among the top students in her class. She was the fourth woman to graduate from the Faculty of Law. She was one of the first four women admitted to the Barreau du Québec, on January 15, 1942.  She did not practice law.


First Canadian woman to obtain a doctorate in law, in 1949

Pauline Cazelais (LL.L. 1945, magna cum laude)

Graduating in law magna cum laude in 1945, Pauline Cazelasi continued her legal studies at New York’s Columbia University, the University of Paris, and the University of Oxford. She received her doctorate in law from the Sorbonne in Paris. She was the first Canadian to obtain a doctorate in law in 1949. She founded the Association des avocates de la Province de Québec (lawyers’ association of the province of Québec) in 1952. She was also the co-founder of the Société des femmes universitaires de Montréal (Montreal academic women’s society) (1949). She died September 8, 2019 at the age of 96.


First woman director of the Centre de recherche en droit public (public law research centre) (CRDP), in 1976

Andrée Lajoie (LL.L. 1956, magna cum laude)

Admitted to the Faculty of Law on September 8, 1953, Andrée Lajoie received a degree in law magna cum laude on May 23, 1956. Along with Robert Bourassa, she was one of the top four students in her class. She continued her studies at the University of Oxford (M.A. 1963). In 1962, she was hired by the Université de Montréal’s Centre de recherche en droit public. She became an associate professor in the Faculty of Law in 1968 and a full professor in 1972. The author of a number of books, she was the first woman appointed director of the Centre de recherche en droit public in 1976. She was probably the first female career researcher in law, earning many awards. She is a professor emeritus of the Faculty of Law.


First woman to practice as a notary in Québec, in 1960

Bérengère Gaudet (LL. L. 1959)

Admitted to the Faculty on September 8, 1956, Bérengère Gaudet graduated from law in May 1959. Sworn in as a notary on October 11, 1960, she was the first woman in Québec to exercise the profession, which has been practiced since the times of New France. In 1963, two other graduates from the Faculty followed in her wake: Paule MacKay (LL.L. 1962) and Rita Legault (LL.B. 1962). In 1988, Bérengère Gaudet became the first female secretary-general of Concordia University.


First female chief justice of the Superior Court, in 1996

Lyse Lemieux (LL.L. 1961)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1958, the Honorable Lyse Lemieux received a law degree in October 1961. She was the first associate deputy minister, civil and criminal affairs, within Québec’s Ministère de la Justice in 1975. She then became the first woman chief justice of the Québec Superior Court (1996-2004). A justice of the Superior Court for 26 years, she was chief justice for eight years, until September 30, 2004.


First woman appointed to the Québec Court of Appeal in Montréal, in 1987

Louise Mailhot (LL.L. 1964)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1961, the Honorable Louise Mailhot, O.Q., Ad.E., received a degree in law in May 1964. In 1974, she became the first lawyer elected to the board of directors of the Barreau du Québec. She was also the first woman litigant in labour law. Appointed justice of the Superior Court of Québec in 1980, she was the first lawyer from the Barreau de Montréal appointed to the Court of Appeal of Québec in Montréal in 1987. She returned to the practice of law and was named lawyer emeritus of the Barreau du Québec in 2007.


First presiding judge of the Québec Human Rights Tribunal, in 1990

Michèle Rivet (LL.L. 1964, cum laude)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1961, the Honorable Michèle Rivet, C.M., Ad.E., received a law degree cum laude in May 1964. She was a judge with the Court of Québec (1987-1990) before helping found the Québec Human Rights Tribunal in 1990, acting as its first presiding judge until 2010. After returning to the practice of law, she was named a lawyer emeritus of the Barreau du Québec in 2015.


First female chief justice of the Court of Québec, in 1996

Huguette St-Louis (LL.L. 1968)

Admitted to the Faculty of Law in September 1965, the Honorable Huguette St-Louis received a law degree in May 1968.  In 1988, upon the creation of the Court of Québec, the Honorable Huguette St-Louis was the first provincially appointed judge to hold an administrative position in a Québec court of justice when she was appointed associate chief justice, civil division. She held that position from 1988 until August 28, 1996 when she became the first female chief justice of the Court of Québec and president of the Conseil de la magistrature (judicial council) (1996-2003).


First woman to hold the position of president of the Barreau de Montréal, in 1992

Pierrette Rayle (LL.L. 1969, magna cum laude)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1966, the Honorable Pierrette Rayle received a law degree in 1969 with honours. She was first in her class of 169 and received the Governor General’s Academic Medal. As a lawyer, she was the first female partner at the firm Fasken Martineau. She was the first woman elected president of the Barreau de Montréal, in May 1992, after 143 years of its existence. She was also the first female president of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Appointed justice of the Superior Court in 1995, she became justice of the Court of Appeal on October 1, 2002, remaining there until her retirement on December 1, 2008. She created the Bourse d’excellence Pierrette Rayle for students in the Montérégie who want to pursue their studies in law at Université de Montréal.


First female dean of the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal, in 1988

Hélène Dumont (LL.L. 1970)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1967, Hélène Dumont received a law degree in June 1970, coming in ninth in her class of 203 students. A professor of criminal law in the Faculty, in 1988 she became the first woman to hold the position of dean of the Faculty of Law since its foundation in 1878, as well as the second in the history of Québec, after Thérèse Rousseau-Houle was named dean of the Faculty of Law of Université Laval in 1985, setting a precedent in Canada. Hélène Dumont is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law.


First female president of the Québec National Assembly, in 2002

Louise Harel (LL.L. 1977)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1974, Louise Harel received a degree in law on June 15, 1977. In 1998, she became the first woman to be named Minister of Municipal Affairs since the department was created in 1918. She was also the first woman president of the National Assembly of Québec, serving from March 12, 2002 to June 4, 2003.


First woman to hold the position of Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DCPP), in 2015

Annick Murphy (LL.L. 1979)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1976, Annick Murphy, Ad.E., received a law degree on June 14, 1979. She pursued a career as a criminal prosecutor. On January 14, 2015, she became the first woman to hold the position of Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions. She has been a lawyer emeritus with the Barreau du Québec since 2014.


First Black woman appointed judge of the Superior Court of Québec, in 2007

Guylène Beaugé (LL.B. 1984)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1981, the Honorable Guylène Beaugé received a Bachelor of Laws on June 7, 1984. Of Haitian origin, she was the first black woman to be sworn in as justice of the Superior Court of Québec in 2007.


First woman president of the Law Students Association, in 1983

Éliane B. Perreault (LL.B. 1984)

Admitted to the Faculty in September 1981, the Honorable Éliane-B. Perreault received a Bachelor of Laws on June 7, 1984. She was the first student to become president of the Law Students Association in 1983-1984. A crown prosecutor in Montréal, she was sworn in as a justice of the Superior Court in December 2013.


First graduate from the Faculty appointed Québec’s Minister of Justice, in 2018

Sonia LeBel (LL.B. 1990)

Sonia LeBel received a Bachelor of Laws from the Faculty in 1990. Chief prosecutor of the Charbonneau Commission on the award and management of public contracts in the construction industry, she was then elected an MNA during the 2018 Québec general elections. She was the first graduate of the Faculty to become Minister of Justice for Québec, a position she held from October 18, 2018 to June 22, 2020, when she was given other ministerial responsibilities.


First female Judge Advocate General for the Canadian Armed Forces, in 2017

Geneviève Bernatchez (LL.B. 1991)

Enrolled in the Faculty in September 1988, Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez, OMM, CD, received a Bachelor of Laws on June 11, 1991. She was the first woman appointed to the position of Judge Advocate General for the Canadian Armed Forces in June 2017.


First Black woman to become a minister of the Government of Québec, in 2007

Yolande James (LL.B. 2000)

Yolande James received a Bachelor of Laws from the Faculty in 2000. She was a minister in the Liberal government of Jean Charest from 2007 to 2012. On April 18, 2007, she became the first Black woman to be part of the Québec Cabinet.

The six pioneers on the wall of honour

The names of these alumni round out the list of six other pioneers whose portrait has been hung for the past few years in a hallway of the Faculty. These six graduates are:  


Louise Arbour
(LL.L. 1970, cum laude)

The first graduate to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada (1999-2004); United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2004-2008).


Marie Deschamps
(LL.L. 1974)

Judge at the Supreme Court of Canada (2002-2012)


Alice Desjardins
(LL.L. 1957, cum laude)

First woman appointed full-time professor in a Canadian faculty of law, in 1961; first woman appointed a judge in the Federal Court of Appeal (1987-2009).


Nicole Duval-Hesler
(LL.L. 1967, cum laude)

The first woman appointed chief justice of the Court of Appeal of Québec, in 2011.


Réjane Laberge-Colas
(LL.L. 1951, cum laude)

Founding president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (Québec federation of women) in 1966; first woman appointed a justice of a superior court in Canada, in 1969.


Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré
(LL.L. 1966, cum laude)

First law graduate from the Black community and first Black professor in the Faculty in 1972; first Black judge of the Court of Québec, in 1999.