The Federation Press

Sheila

A biography of Sheila Mary McClemans OBE, CMG, SJM, BA, LLB

Overview

In 1933 Sheila McClemans and Molly Kingston, refused employment elsewhere, set up Western Australia’s first all female law firm. Sheila went on to become one of the State’s most distinguished daughters.

She was wartime Director of the Women’s Royal Naval Service; National President of the Australian Federation of University Women; Secretary of the WA Law Society; foundation member of the WA Legal Aid Commission; of the State Parole Board and of the WA committee administering the Commonwealth Canteens Trust Fund. She was awarded an OBE, a CMG and the Silver Jubilee Medal.

But she was denied the traditional rewards of the legal world. Not QC, not Judge, not Dame. Not even pre-selection for MP. This is Sheila’s story. Feisty, entertaining, outspoken, Lloyd Davies does full justice to a remarkable story.

Reviews

[A] biographical account of the life and work of arguably one of the most successful, professional and compassionate women in Australian history. .. [I] now feel somewhat ashamed at having asked the initial question of “Who is she?” ... This is a book that is highly recommended ... It is written with great subtlety and thought
... [T]his book is able to take the life of a successful yet relatively unknown woman and create a story full of energy and cultural relevance. - Newcastle Law Review, Vol 4 No 2, 2000

A well researched book, valuable for its historical perspective and for giving Sheila her due. - Broadsheet - Newsletter of the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WA), September 2001

This is a wonderful expose of a person that any of us would feel proud to be associated with. It shows that [McClemans] did not seek earthly plaudits for her work, that she was almost certainly not made a QC simply because of her sex and, just as certainly, not considered for the Bench for the same reason.
It is also a very moving book which, I can say, makes me very proud and at the same time, very humble, to be a member of the same profession as such a person. Parts of the book also make one very angry ... - Law Society of Tasmania Newsletter, 2001

Sheila McClemans was a pioneer legal practitioner in Western Australia. She was the first woman to appear as counsel in the Western Australian Supreme Court and with Molly Kingston established the first all-female legal practice in WA. She was secretary of the Law Society for a number of years and was instrumental in the establishment of the Law Society’s Legal Aid Scheme. Furthermore she served as the wartime Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service and was President of the Australian Federation of University Women.
Not only does this book trace the life of a remarkable woman but it also gives us a glimpse of various aspects of life in Perth during the 20th century ...
[It] is an interesting and informative resource not only for those interested in women in the law but also those interested in the broader social history of the legal profession. - Australian Law Librarian, Vol 9(1) 2001

Barrister Lloyd Davies’ Sheila is well worth the read, if only for the hard-hitting foreword by Moira Rayner ...
Rayner’s deliberately trumpeted feminism might have struck a discordant note with Sheila McClemans who tended to understate her achievements and recoiled from the label ’feminist’, but a woman who pioneered entry into legal practice for Western Australian women and filled a range of high-level offices, among them Director of the Women’s Royal Naval Service [WRANS], National President of the Australian Federation of University Women, Secretary of the WA Law Society, and foundation member of the WA Legal Aid Commission, and who was awarded an OBE, CMG and the Silver Jubilee Medal, was clearly familiar with systemic discrimination and had the resolution to resist it.
Davies ... has meticulously researched his subject ...
McClemans brought scholastic excellence, energy and formidable strength to her legal and military careers. The eldest of five girls, abandoned by an alcoholic father and raised by a working mother, she learnt early compassion towards others and to rely on her own resources to achieve her goals. She and her friend Molly Kingston, unable to find work in a law firm after graduating, formed a partnership together, practising briefly as solicitors in WA before Sheila joined the [WRANS] and directed her energies to the war effort. WRANS became her passion, a showcase for her superb leadership and administrative skills. ...
Despite the soubriquet ’Hard-as-nails McClemans’, applied to her by some male contemporaries critical of her chain-smoking and standing up for the rights of other women - like not making women barristers robe in the toilets - Sheila never forsook her femininity. She was not hard as nails, but caring and compassionate.
In a fairer world she would have been made a judge.
As Moira Rayner says, however, “one of the greatest mistakes women can make is to believe that merit and hard work will be rewarded”.
Sheila Mary McClemans’s story certainly illustrates that. Her legacy to women is more than that, however. It is to remind them that strength, passion and resolution are enhanced by care and compassion for others. - Law Society Journal (NSW), August 2001

Sheila McClemens had a distinguished legal career and achieved a number of firsts [in Western Australia]. Despite her achievements and a career spanning more than 50 years, Sheila was never accorded the traditional recognition conferred by the legal profession. ... Sheila initiated change and became a proponent for women’s rights within the profession, a mentor to many legal practitioners and was instrumental in establishing a system of continuing legal education.
Sheila also had a distinguished career as the Director of the WRANS [in World War II] both as an officer and as a humanitarian. ...
This is an insightful book which provides a balanced view of [her] life.
- Marina Belmonte, Ethos (Law Society of ACT), Sept 2004

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Moira Rayner
Acknowledgements / List of illustrations

The forerunner
Foundations of a career
Learning the law
Kingston and McClemans
“I was a WRAN”
Postwar practice
“Our greatest achievement”
“Now I can rest in peace”

Bibliography
Index
Index of Cases
Index of Statutes

Of interest...