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Clare Bridget Foley (1913–1998)

by Kim Rubenstein

This article was published online in 2024

Clare Pender in her Brisbane office, c1945

Clare Pender in her Brisbane office, c1945

Courtesy of the Foley family

Clare Bridget Foley (1913–1998), solicitor, was born on 9 September 1913 at Ipswich, Brisbane, fifth of six children and youngest of three daughters of Queensland-born parents Edward Joseph Pender, solicitor, and his wife Katherine, née Nolan. A daughter of two Irish pioneering families in Queensland, Clare grew up in a home where there was a strong commitment to education and Catholicism. She initially attended the nearby St Mary’s Convent School before becoming a boarder at Stuartholme Convent of the Sacred Heart (1924–29), Toowong, Brisbane, where she was a diligent student and consistently won prizes. In 1930 she passed the senior certificate in English, French, intermediate Latin, mathematics, modern history, and ancient history.

The following year Pender enrolled for a bachelor of arts at the University of Queensland. She was reported as having attended dances and tennis parties in the social pages of newspapers, and remained involved with Stuartholme as an alumna, while also completing courses in Latin, English, and philosophy. In 1933 she left university without completing her degree to begin her articles of clerkship with her older brother, Thomas, at the family law firm, where their father had been senior partner before his death in 1924. She was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland on 30 May 1939.

Pender was the fourth woman to be admitted as a solicitor in Queensland after Agnes McWhinney (1915), Elizabeth Hart (1929), and Grace Symes (1933). ‘Many girls have the idea that law is not altogether a suitable profession for women,’ she admitted, but ‘this work is very interesting and can ensure a good living’ (Queensland Country Life 1939, 6). During World War II she continued to work as a solicitor and was involved with the girls’ section of the Catholic United Services Auxiliary, Queensland (vice-president 1941; president c. 1942–45). On 19 September 1945, she married Thomas Michael Foley, a Victorian-born journalist, at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Toowoong. They were to have four children: Mary, James, Thomas, and Michael.

In the late 1940s Foley’s brother Thomas was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had initially stopped working after her marriage, but his declining health was a catalyst for her return to practice. A year after his death in April 1950, she sold the family firm to Eric and Mollie Whitehouse. The sale contract included a restraint of trade clause which prevented Foley from practising again immediately; she later described the subsequent years as some of the most frustrating of her life. In the 1960s she worked for the Whitehouses before setting up her own business, first at her home in Toowong and then at the Toowong Commercial Centre. She was later joined by her son Tom, and they established Clare B. Foley and Co. (Foley & Foley from 1982) in late 1976. It was a suburban legal practice, and her main interest and work was in wills and estates. Her husband died in 1983, and she began to spend more time with her grandchildren, before again returning to practice after Tom was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1980s. They sold the firm in September 1991 and he died the following year.

In the 1970s and 1980s Foley was active in the Queensland Law Society and the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland. Following her involvement with the Stuartholme Old Girls’ Association (treasurer 1936–37), she was also a strong supporter of Duchesne College, a university residential college for women initially established as a wing of Stuartholme, and served as a member (1939–97) and secretary of the council. On the 14 May 1998, she died in Mater Misericordiae Private Hospital, South Brisbane, from heart disease, and was buried in Toowoong cemetery alongside her husband and son. She was survived by her other children.

Small in stature, with a wide, cheerful smile, Foley was known as a hard-working but reserved woman, who usually kept her definite views to herself. She was a devout Catholic and a great admirer of the Jesuits and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her professional path was not dissimilar to that of other early women lawyers in Australia, many of whom benefited from being part of an established legal family. Her daughter, Mary Finn, was appointed a judge of the Family Court of Australia in 1990, and two of her grandchildren would also study law. One of her sons, James, was also ordained Catholic bishop of Cairns (1992–2022). For her service to Duchesne College, the room that was designated as their chapel at the University of Queensland was named in her honour.

Research edited by Emily Gallagher

Select Bibliography

  • Finn, Mary. Personal communication
  • Gregory, Helen. ‘Clare Foley and Her daughter Mary Finn.’ In A Woman’s Place: 100 Years of Queensland Women Lawyers, edited by Susan Purdon and Aladin Rahemtula, 206–13. Brisbane: Supreme Court of Queensland Library, 2005
  • Queensland Country Life. ‘Law Offers Opportunities.’ 8 June 1939, 6
  • University of Queensland Archives. Pender, Clare. Student and staff files

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kim Rubenstein, 'Foley, Clare Bridget (1913–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Clare Pender in her Brisbane office, c1945

Clare Pender in her Brisbane office, c1945

Courtesy of the Foley family

More images

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Pender, Clare Bridget

9 September, 1913
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia


14 May, 1998 (aged 84)
South Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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