The Doodle for today honors the birth of Violet King Henry, the first Black female lawyer in Canada, and has illustrations by special guest Shanti Rittgers. King, a pioneer in the legal profession and a leader in her community, is still viewed as a model of perseverance in the face of adversity.
On this day in 1929, King was born in Calgary, Alberta. She was a well-rounded student who excelled academically and took part in a number of extracurricular activities. She boldly announced her plans to pursue a legal career in the yearbook caption for her senior year in high school. She enrolled in the University of Alberta Faculty of Law in 1950. King was a stellar student who also taught piano lessons and served as vice president of the Blue Stocking Club and the Students’ Union, two feminist organizations. In 1952, she received an executive “A” gold ring in recognition of all of her efforts to the university.
King earned his law degree from the University of Alberta Faculty of Law in 1953, making him the first Black Canadian to do so and the first Black graduate in the province. She worked on five major criminal trials during her first year as an articled student (or intern) at a Calgary legal practice. King became the first Black woman to practice law in Canada when she was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1954, adding another “first” to her list of achievements.
While living in Chicago, King eventually became the first Black woman and woman of any race to hold an executive position in the Organizational Development Group of the U.S. National Council of YMCA (which served as the managing Board of the YMCAs).
She worked as a lawyer for a while in Alberta before relocating to Ottawa, where she joined the federal Citizenship and Immigration department of Canada. In this capacity, King visited with community group executives and assisted recent immigrants in settling in Canada and locating employment. After seven years, she relocated to the United States where, for six years, she assisted Black job seekers in finding employment as the Executive Director of the YMCA’s Community Branch in Newark, New Jersey. Later, she traveled to Chicago to serve at the YMCA’s national headquarters.
In a speech she gave soon after being admitted to the Canadian BAR, King once mentioned that several individuals had tried to discourage her from pursuing a legal profession. People advised her against becoming a lawyer, especially one of color, so she said, “So I went ahead.” Violet King, 5 May 1956. She disproved them by shattering glass ceilings and encouraging women of color everywhere to achieve their aspirations in spite of opposition by “going ahead” and doing so.
Happy birthday to Violet King Henry and thank you for breaking barriers of race and gender throughout your impressive career!
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