Queensland's first female juror - this month in Queensland's history

Each March Queenslanders recognise the achievements of women with two important events - International Women’s Day (8 March) and Australian Women’s History Month.

   

On 1 March 1945 Queensland's first female juror was empanelled at Brisbane's Supreme Court. Nellie Bishop, a housewife from Kelvin Grove who had never before been inside a courtroom, was thrust into the media spotlight. "I was scared stiff" she told a reporter from The Courier Mail

She told the Truth newspaper about the empaneling process, "When I came to court I though I would be among other women, not one woman among 47 men. When they called the names of the jurors they called 'Mr Bishop' and I did not answer, but when Mr Dendle said 'Jurymen, please answer your names', I thought I had better answer."

The State Library of Queensland holds a number of documents relating to Nellie Bishop's experience as Queensland's first female jurist . Amongst these documents are a 'Summons to Juror' notice, two 'Notice to Jurors of Alteration of Day of Attendance', two letters from the Sheriff's Office, one telegram from the Sheriff, and four letters of congratulations and support. One of the letters of congratulations is from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) who said "For many years we have worked for this privilege without avail, and now we are glad that those responsible are putting women in places of importance in our citizenship right."

         

The court case for which Nellie was a juror involved a taxi-driver accused of stealing bedsheets from the American Red Cross. After several days, although the case was still running, Nellie was discharged from jury service.

Around the same time the National Council of Women complained to the Attorney-General over the inequality in rates of pay between male and female jury members. At the time women were paid 9 shillings and tuppence per day while men received 16 shillings and twopence per day. Both male and female jurists were performing the same role. It is clear that women's fight for equality and entitlement still had much further to run.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

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