Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Joan Mavis Rosanove (1896–1974)

by Barbara Falk

This article was published:

Joan Rosanove, n.d.

Joan Rosanove, n.d.

Joan Mavis Rosanove (1896-1974), lawyer, was born on 11 May 1896 at Ballarat, Victoria, second of eight children of Melbourne-born parents Mark Aaron Lazarus, barrister and solicitor, and his wife Ruby, née Braham, both non-practising Jews. Educated locally at the Loreto convent school and Clarendon Ladies' College, Joan was articled to her father. In 1917 at the University of Melbourne she completed the subjects in law required to qualify as an articled clerk. She appeared in courts at Ballarat and in Melbourne before she was formally admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor on 2 June 1919; her registration had been delayed to enable returned servicemen to complete their degrees and add 'gravitas' to the ceremony.

Initially, Joan practised in Melbourne as an 'amalgam', doing the work of both barrister and solicitor. On 2 September 1920 in her parents' Ballarat home she married with Jewish rites Emmanuel ('Mannie') Rosanove, a medical practitioner. He was to specialize as a dermatologist and become a fellow (1978) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. The couple moved to Tocumwal, New South Wales. Joan's first daughter was stillborn; the safe arrival of a second daughter did not prevent her from occasionally appearing in court.

In 1923 Mannie bought a home and practice at Westgarth, Melbourne. On 10 September that year Joan signed the Victorian Bar roll, becoming the first woman in the State to do so. She could not obtain rooms in Selborne Chambers, and, in a male-dominated profession, few briefs came her way. In 1925 she reverted to her role as an amalgam. Accepting mainly criminal and matrimonial cases, she established a thriving business: at the peak of her career, she allegedly handled one-eighth of all divorce actions in Victoria. Her advocacy in other jurisdictions added to her reputation for determination, enterprise and acumen. One notable episode was her short but flamboyant appearance on 12 November 1934 in the State's Practice Court when she represented Egon Kisch. In a series of cases in 1939 she acted for producers and sellers of margarine, winning renown for her inventiveness in finding loopholes in legislation restricting the sale of the product.

The Rosanoves had toured Canada, the United States of America and Britain in 1932-33. After they returned to Melbourne, they lived at Toorak. In 1949 Joan again signed the Bar roll. She achieved her ambition to practise from Selborne Chambers by accepting a position as 'reader' to a male barrister Edward Ellis (although he was her junior in age and experience) and taking over his room when he moved to Western Australia.

From 1954 Mrs Rosanove submitted a number of applications in Victoria to be made a Q.C. That she had to wait until 16 November 1965 to be appointed led many of her peers to conclude that 'she had been shabbily treated'. In 1967 she took silk in New South Wales. Her struggle to achieve equality for female lawyers had influenced the style of advocacy she adopted. Immaculately groomed, a little over five feet (153 cm) tall, pugnacious, effective in defending her clients and penetrating in cross-examining witnesses, she did not hesitate to challenge presiding magistrates and judges.

Mrs Rosanove contributed to legal reform and supported other causes, particularly those affecting the status of women. As early as 1926 she had been a member of a deputation to (Sir) Frederic Eggleston, the Victorian attorney-general, requesting the appointment of female justices. In a concise and hard-headed article in the Australian Law Journal (1953-54) she advocated uniform divorce law in Australia and an end to the injustices which wives suffered in court. As president (1951) of the Soroptimists Club of Melbourne and of the Business and Professional Women's Club, she encouraged other women to become involved in 'social action'.

Joan and Mannie made a formidable combination. He did the cooking, and reportedly said of her: 'as a cook she was a brilliant lawyer'. She spent her retirement (from 1969) at Frankston, where she enjoyed fishing and gardening. Survived by her husband and two daughters, she died on 8 April 1974 at Frankston and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Carter, Woman in a Wig (Melb, 1970)
  • R. Campbell, A History of the Melbourne Law School, 1857 to 1973 (Melb, 1977)
  • S. De Vries, Strength of Purpose (Syd, 1998)
  • Table Talk, 28 Nov 1929
  • People (Sydney), 17 Jan 1951
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Barbara Falk, 'Rosanove, Joan Mavis (1896–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Joan Rosanove, n.d.

Joan Rosanove, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Lazarus, Joan Mavis

11 May, 1896
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


8 April, 1974 (aged 77)
Frankston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Religious Influence

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.

Key Organisations