Victoria’s first Queen’s Counsel, Joan Rosanove (Lazarus) (1913)

In light of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we reflect on the life and achievements of past student and Victoria’s first Queen’s Counsel, Joan Mavis Rosanove (Lazarus) (1913) (dec).

Joan attended Clarendon Presbyterian Ladies College between 1909-1913 with her three sisters, Vida (1912), Ruby (1923) and Bobbie (1931). Her brothers, Roy (1908), David (1921) and Jack (1931), attended Ballarat College.

Her father, Mark Lazarus, was a Melbourne solicitor during the late 1800s-1900s, inspiring Joan to study law at the University of Melbourne, where she gained her Bachelor of Laws in 1917. She worked as an articled clerk for her father before being admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor in 1919 at the age of 22. However, the ceremony marking her admission was delayed for two years to enable more male graduates to complete their legal studies in the post-war years.

In 1920, Joan married Emmanuel ‘Mannie’ Edward Rosanove, a doctor, who she met while studying at the University of Melbourne. They moved to Northcote, Melbourne, in 1923, where she became the first woman in Victoria to sign the Victorian Bar roll. By 1925, she was working on criminal and divorce cases, specialising in matrimonial law, and was soon known as one of Melbourne’s best divorce practitioners and advocates for the rights of woman to practice law.

One of Joan’s greatest contributions occurred in the 1950s, when she documented the complex divorce procedures in each state of Australia. She made a list of recommendations to the reform, but 20 years passed before her recommendations were actioned.

After many years of applying, in 1965, Joan became Victoria’s first female Queen’s Counsel and Australia’s second.

Joan retired from practicing in 1969 and passed away five years later in 1974. She left behind a lasting legacy as, in 1975, the Family Law Act was passed by the Commonwealth Government, abolishing ‘fault’ in divorce and making family law uniform across Australia.

In 1999, the Victorian Bar named their Melbourne offices the Joan Rosanove Chambers. The Melbourne University Law School Prize for the top female student is also named in honour of Joan.

We celebrate Joan and all past students of Presbyterian Ladies College, Ballarat Clarendon College and members of our community on International Women’s Day.

This article was written by archivist, Catriona Banks, with reference to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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