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Law Gender & The Law

The Heiress vs the Establishment

Mrs. Campbell's Campaign for Legal Justice

by (author) Constance Backhouse & Nancy L. Backhouse

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2013
Gender & the Law, NON-CLASSIFIABLE, General, Legal History, Post-Confederation (1867-), Women's Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2005
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Dec 2013
    List Price

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In 1922, Elizabeth Bethune Campbell, a Toronto-born socialite, unearthed what she initially thought was an unsigned copy of her mother’s will, designating her as the primary beneficiary of the estate. The discovery snowballed into a fourteen-year-battle with the Ontario legal establishment, as Mrs. Campbell attempted to prove that her uncle, a prominent member of Ontario’s legal circle, had stolen funds from her mother’s estate. In 1930, she argued her case before the Law Lords of the Privy Council in London. A non-lawyer and Canadian, with no formal education or legal training, Campbell was the first woman to ever appear before them. She won.


Reprinted here in its entirety, Campbell’s self-published account of her campaign, Where Angels Fear to Tread, is an eloquent first-person view of intrigue and overlapping spheres of influence in the early-twentieth-century legal system. Constance Backhouse and Nancy Backhouse provide extensive commentary and annotations to lluminate the context and pick up the narrative where Campbell’s book leaves off. Vibrantly written, this is an enthralling read. Not only a fascinating social and legal history, it’s also a very good story.

About the authors

Constance Backhouse is a professor of law, distinguished university professor, and university research chair at the University of Ottawa. She obtained her B.A. from the University of Manitoba (1972), her LL.B. from Osgoode Hall (1975), and her LL.M. from Harvard Law School (1979). She was called to the Ontario Bar in 1978. She teaches feminist law, criminal law, human rights, and labour law. She is the author of many award-winning legal history books, including Petticoats & Prejudice: Women and Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada (1991), Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canadian Law, 1900–1950 (1999) and The Heiress vs. the Establishment: Mrs. Campbell's Campaign for Legal Justice (2004). She received the Law Society Medal in 1998 and an Honorary Doctorate from the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2002. She has served as an elected bencher of the Law Society from 2002. She became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2004.

Constance Backhouse's profile page

Nancy L. Backhouse's profile page


  • Short-listed, Toronto Book Award, City of Toronto

Editorial Reviews

In The Heiress vs the Establishment, Constance Backhouse and Nancy L. Backhouse use the reprinting of Campbell’s narrative ... as the opportunity to explore questions about ender, judicial trust, and legal frameworks of early-twentieth-century Canada ... Ultimately, Mrs. Campbell’s case is placed firmly within its contradictory and confusing context. It is the mark of a well-researched critical introduction, epilogue, and notes that one in never quite able to applaud wholesale her victory.

Canadian Literature, Spring 2006

The primary strength of their presentation is that they allow Campbell to speak and readers to have their own reaction – alternately to laugh at her audacity, gasp at her brashness, and admire her persistence and fortitude ... the Backhouses have equipped us to think about these issues in an intelligent and fair way, finally pulling Mrs Campbell’s side of the story from its hiding-place.

University of Toronto Quarterly, v75, no1, Winter 2006

A meticulously researched epilogue. The whole, entertaining to read, dissects Canada’s old legal elite. In the epilogue the Backhouses do a marvelous job of depicting the close social and business ties that maintained the Bar in Toronto in the early twentieth century ... an historically rich and dense picture of an extraordinary case and the woman who pursued it ... The Heiress vs. The Establishment gives a rarely available picture into the world of legal elites and the cross-cutting allegiances of class, gender, and profession. The disputes that can consume a plaintiff can often as much concern family and money as they can the large public issues of the day, and this book brings that point to life.

Law, Culture and the Humanities, 2005, No. 1

Mrs. Campbell’s story, supported and augmented with the Backhouses’ careful and comprehensive research, provides a fascinating and sometimes devastating potrait of the world of the Toronto elite of the 1920s and 1930s. Mrs. Campbell, born into that elite and brought up to assume a subordinate role in it, is compelled by her cirumstances and her character to challenge many of the assumptions of her upbringing, and even to acquire some feminist consciousness. In this new edition of Mrs. Campbell’s book, the Backhouses assist in her transformation from heiress to heroine.

The Canadian Historial Review, June 2005

It seems unnecessary to review a book that has a dustcover containing glowing reviews from none other than the chief justice of Canada, the chief justice of Ontario and a well-known Toronto lawyer. Readers interested in legal history will find reading both the inner and outer books fascinating and very worthy of time spent.

The Advocate, Vol 63, Part 4, July 2005

Constance and Nancy Backhouse have brilliantly brought Mrs. Campbell’s legal journey to life. They provide detailed endnotes which assist in contextualizing the journey in light of Mrs. Campbell’s own circumstances and the legal era in which the struggle took place. The Heiress vs. the Estalishment furnishes the reader with an excellent historical adventure of the impassioned battle of one woman against The Benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Toronto General Trusts Corporation, and the Ontario Judiciary.

Saskatchewan Law Review 2005, Vol. 68

Other titles by Constance Backhouse