Roma Mitchell becomes Australia’s first female QC, supreme court judge, state governor
Roma Mitchell set a series of firsts for Australian women as a judge, Queen's Counsel, chancellor of a university and a state governor. She was also a pioneer of the Australian women’s rights movement.
Born in 1913 – two years after women were legally allowed to practise law, Mitchell was from a legal family, her grandfather Samuel Mitchell being the first chief justice of the Northern Territory.
Finishing dux at St Aloysius Convent College, Angas Street, city, she studied law at Adelaide University, completing her course in four years, instead of five, with the 1934 David Murray Scholarship Award for most brilliant student. She helped form the Women’s Law Students’ Society after being barred from joining the university’s existing society.
Mitchell’s achievements in practising law saw her honoured as the nation’s first Queen’s Counsel. She crusaded for equality, led a mission for women to serve as jurors, and advocated equal pay for equal work.
In 1965, Mitchell was appointed a judge on the state Supreme Court. She became the founding chairperson in 1981of the Australian Human Rights Commission and a campaigner of international acclaim.
Nearly 50 years after graduating, but keeping links with Adelaide University, she returned as chancellor – another first for Australian women. This was followed by her term as governor of South Australia 1991-96.
Mitchell served on many committees and contributed actively to many organisations, particularly those concerned with education, heritage, arts, equal opportunities and human rights. She was patron of the Centenary of Women's Suffrage in 1994.
In 1997, Mitchell became the first Australian woman, and only the fourth Australian, to be invested with the Cross of Merit with Crown, by the Sovereign Military Order of St John, (or The Order of Malta) for her dedication to the sick and underprivileged.