Articles

THE LEGAL LADY

MCKENZIE PORTER July 15 1949
Articles

THE LEGAL LADY

MCKENZIE PORTER July 15 1949

THE LEGAL LADY

To petticoat careerists, leading lawyer Margaret Hyndman says: “Forget your sex and expect no quarter.” With this credo she’s become one of our most successful women

MCKENZIE PORTER

LATE LAST YEAR Toronto’s Margaret Hyndman was asked to figure in a nationwide radio hookup as the most successful Canadian businesswoman of 1948. The well-proportioned, volatile 47-year-old lawyer, who weighs more than 200 lbs. and frankly admits she is stout, refused on the grounds she was a professional woman.

Nevertheless, those who wanted to broadcast a voice which for 20 years has commanded respectful attention in law courts, board rooms, women’s clubs and public halls had strong arguments for their proposed program.

Margaret Paton Hyndman, K.C., is one of Canada’s top counsel on the intricate subject of corporation law, an active director of six companies and a political force in the Liberal Party. If wagers were laid along Bay Street, Toronto, or St. James Street, Montreal, on which woman in Canada earns the most money Margaret Hyndman would be a top favorite. On the subject of her income Miss

Hyndman herself is a clam . . . “You wouldn’t expect a lawyer to tell you that.”

Admired and envied by petticoat careerists here and abroad she is constantly cited as a model of victory in the feminine war of attrition for industrial, commercial and professional equality. At the same time she is a warm-blooded spinster surrounded by friends of both sexes, a jocund raconteuse with a robust taste in humor, an authority on fine wines, an epicure, a good cook, a fashionable dresser, a covert philanthropist and a hostess in the grand manner.

Kenneth MacKenzie, K.C., her opponent several times in legal actions, calls her “the most distinguished self-made woman in Canada.”

By her own diligence, energy and intellectual edge Margaret Hyndman stepped from an average Scottish-Canadian household in Palmerston, Ont., to ownership of a $35,000, 22-room home, No. I Whitney Avenue in Rosedale, a select Toronto residential area.

She is almost unknown to the newspaper-reading public. Her name never figures in sensational trials

because her firm (Wegenast and Hyndman, barristers and solicitors) doesn’t take criminal cases. She says she saw enough of the seamy side of life during six months’ social work in New York.

In her championship of the unfortunate she acts privately and is not identified with any prominent charity. When she heard a veteran and his wife were homeless she remembered a big room over her garage and had it carved up into an apartment for them.

Her speeches simply reiterate already widely held views on women’s freedom and are rarely reported . . . “Take a young man and a young woman of equal intelligence. Give them the same social background and opportunity. Put them into the same business. And there will be little to choose between them.”

For years the Toronto Press has been using an old glossy photograph of Margaret Hyndman for occasional women’s page use. It shows a masculine face with a severe hair-do above a lawyer’s cravat and gown. It does her a great injustice. In finance and law she has matched

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men’s wits but she has never assumed a wholly masculine outlook or appearance. When she ceases to talk business the shrewd professional glint; in her eye is replaced by softer lights. Her cheeks are smooth and pink. The line of her mouth is compassionate. Even her business clothes are a bit frilly.

It’s true that on the first day of spring this year she wore a simple black suit, but her bosom was a foam of ruffled silk and on her head she won* a $75 model hat dazzling in its botanical profusion.

She seems to have two parallel mental lines, one masculine and the other feminine: one for making money and the other for using it. Says a male legal opponent: “When you talk about law with her you forget she is a woman.” But Anne Patton, her blind friend who runs a Toronto travel agency, says: “When Margaret invites you to dinner you automatically dress.”

One of the most likable Hyndman characteristics is a capacity for telling stories against herself.

She Talks in Black and White

One story is about the time she was called to the bar in 1926. She was at the head of a line of graduates. She went up to the dais to get her diploma, moved round the back according to plan, but instead of taking up a humble standing position on the other side of the room plunked herself down in a chair reserved for King’s Counsel. She had to be asked to get out.

“The judge was an Irishman,” she says. “He had little appreciation of women at the bar. This incident gave him an excuse to express his views strongly. It was years before I won him round.”

Twelve years after this incident,

Maclean's Magazine, July 1

however, Margaret Hyndman i a right to that chair.

In the courtroom she is not a brilliant pleader. Says one well-known Canadian barrister: “Before a judge Margaret Hyndman is too honest, too direct. She’s not subtle. She never employs innuendo. Everything is black or white. There are no shadings of half truth in her conceptions.”

Her courtroom manner is not marked by repartee or wit. “That sort of thing might build reputations,” she says, “but it doesn’t win cases.” She evades verbal duels and sticks to unminced words. Once she remarked cynically of lawyers: “First they get on. Then they get honored. Finally they get honest.”

In cross-examination she is simple, patient and exacting. Her questions are fired slowly, methodically and repeatedly. She uses honeysweet tones, dead-pan tactics and righteous wrath to root out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Watching her one day a junior murmured: “She chooses sabres, not rapiers.”

She has scored some impressive victories. She did more than most to get margarine on Canadian housewaves’ tables. Representing the Canadian Consumers’ Assn., she proved, before the Supreme Court, that the Government had been acting illegally for 60 years in forbidding its sale. She put before the judges the housewives’ point of view. Housewives, she said, found butter, then at 75 cents a lb., a sore drain on their budgets. Many believe that the simple human issues as put by Margaret Hyndman did mo. 2 to help the court reach its decision than the technical wrangling and purely financial questions which marked the argument between the farmers and the prospective margarine producers.

It was a fight for women. And mátters which concern women are Margaret Hyndman’s major preoccupation. In 23 years at the bar she has never prosecuted a woman or

engaged in civil suit against one. ne evening two years ago the St.

orge’s Liberal Women’s Association in Toronto pleaded with her for several hours to run for Parliament. She refused, but added, “One of these day I’ll have a crack at it.”

She recoils from adulation. Once she was introduced to a women’s club by a speaker whose emotion gave her the creeps. With only faint regard for the facts the speaker said: “Here is Margaret Hyndman, who climbed to fame all by herself. She had no husband, no brother and no father to help her.” Margaret Hyndman turned to her neighbor and said loudly: “You’d think they were going to hear from a poor little bastard.”

She is sole partner in Wegenast and Hyndman, whose quiet, print-hung three-room suite is in the Montreal Trust Building on downtown Toionto’s Yonge Street. This practice keeps her so entangled with the troubles of big business she occasionally takes her two women secretaries home to dinner and keeps on working after coffee in her oak-paneled library. But she is always ready to take up the cudgels for smaller clients. In March she acted for householders against suburban York Township for building a large incinerator near a woman’s house and thereby depreciating home values.

When F. W. Wegenast, her eaily employer, subsequent partner and continual mentor, died in 1942 Margaret Hyndman was on her own. Years before Wegenast had made her an articled clerk in his office at $25 a month while she did three years reading for the bar. During this time she did most of the research for Wegenast’s book, “Canadian Companies,” which is still a standard work.

Forget Your Sex, She Advises

Wegenast carried a torch for justice. He took up the cases of wronged little men with such frequency that some of his colleagues said he was eccentric. An enemy once called him “a nuisance lawyer.”

Margaret Hyndman absorbed some of his characteristics. During the war she devised and promoted the free legal aid for soldiers which was dispensed in every province. Seventy per cent of the cases handled were divorce suits. The widespread domestic upset pained her. But she felt the retribution falling on unfaithful wives of servicemen was just.

In 1938 she was the second woman in the British Commonwealth and Empire to be raised to the rank of King’s Counsel. Today she is still one of only 11 women K.C.’s. Her only woman senior in Canada is Helen Kinnear, an Ontario County Court judge.

Miss Hyndman is a grand dean of the U. S. - originated legal sorority Kappa Beta Pi, a member of the Canadian Bar Association and of the Canadian and American Political Science Associations. She has traveled in Europe and America as a president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. Last May she attended the federation’s convention in Helsinki, Finland.

The precepts she presents to career women are few and precise: “Only the fact that I am a lawyer matters. That

am a woman is of no consequence.

make a point of not knowing how aany women lawyers there are in lanada.”

As a springboard to success she idvises: “Start young. Make yourself ndispensable. Nearly all the highly iaid women I know started as stenogaphers. One day the boss woke up

to the fact he couldn’t do without them.”

She says the woman who expects consideration in business purely on account of her sex will never get on. “Forget your sex,” she advises, “and expect no quarter.”

Once she was asked: “But don’t you think the emotional make-up of a woman unfits her for higher competition with men?” She retorted: “Emotion makes more fools of men than it does of women. The most successful men are often the biggest fools of their emotions. They can afford to indulge their whims with money. Many great men have made fools of themselves over a woman. But how often has a great woman made a fool of herself over a man?”

The wartime growth of government regulations raised Margaret Hyndman to affluence. Every business became enmeshed in a maze of legal problems. Few major companies could afford to be without a corporation lawyer on their directorate. Demands on her advice were as heavy as fees were fat.

Her appointment to the Board of the London and Western Trusts Co., in 1945, made her the first Canadian woman to draw director’s fees from a trust company. Now she is also a director of the Canada Trust Co. and the Huron and Erie Mortgage Corp.

Her other company directorships include Griffin Theatres Ltd., the Palmer Thermometer Co., Ltd., and Joseph and Milton Ltd., furriers and dressmakers.

During the depression she worked behind closed doors in a tottering brewery as an executive, and paid off all its creditors without dissipating a penny of the estate which owned the brewery.

She has three sisters. One is a timestudy engineer in Hamilton, Ont., another a civil servant in Ottawa, and a third is mai ried and settled in Texas. She also has a brother in business in Hamilton.

On both sides her parents were of Scottish blood. Her father was for 25 years town clerk of Palmerston, Ont. He was not a qualified lawyer but Margaret Hyndman says that in his time he knew as much as any man in Ontario about municipal law. It was from him she got her hankering for law ... “1 never thought about anything else.”

Her father was also in the coal and wood business and once made money. But he lost it again. “I was brought up with money,” says Margaret Hyndman in refutation of the widely held belief she originated in poverty.

As a child she sat with her father around the dining room table helping him with debentures and other chores connected with his town clerk’s duties. Sometimes she played at being a lawyer. After education at the Palmerston Public School and the nearby Listowel High School she came to Toronto and got a job as a $15-a-week stenographer. Later she went to the Law Society and got herself articled.

Her pay was $25 a month. She supplemented it by teaching English, arithmetic and geography to a Polish woman for 75 cents an hour. Often in her searchings for title deeds on behalf of her employers she would walk miles and pocket the carfare.

A friend says: “Even in those early days she had ideas about how she was going to live. Most students got back to their room and just ate out of the frying pan standing up at the stove. But Margaret always laid her table beautifully, changed and dined with formality.”

Margaret Hyndman likes to laugh, sometimes her ample frame is an earthquake of mirth. Not even pain

can quench her good humor. Last March, when she was troubled by phlebitis (vein inflammation) she put up her foot ostentatiously on a stool in droll mockery of a bun vivunt with the gout.

Once she gave her friend, Anne

Patton, a water color which hangs in Miss Patton’s suite at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel. Sightless Anne Patton remarked that the picture was not much good to her. “It is,” said Miss Hyndman. “Each of your friends will come to you and talk about it. It will be like having a collection of

pictures because they will all describe it differently.”

Soon after the war Margaret Hyndman heard that a young inmate of Baker Hall, a Toronto residence for

blinded veterans, was looking foi

somebody to take him to a Presbyterian church. She called for him every Sunday and took him to her own St. Andrews on King Street until he got married. Then she paid his mother’s fare from Cape Breton Island, N.S., to the wedding. She put the woman up in her own home, bought her a fine quality wedding rig-out, and each morning took her breakfast to her in bed.

Once at Home, 200 Guests

The Hyndman home, though not enormous, is spacious. There are three large rooms on the ground floor all leading off a big hall. She can entertain 150 comfortably; once she entertained 200. She employs a Scottish married couple as maid and manservant.

The decor is expensive but quite restrained. She had it redone throughout after she bought the house two and a half years ago. “It was really okay,” she said, “but all the paint work was to match the red hair of the previous occupant. That didn’t match me at all.” (Her hair is dark brown.)

You can’t see her at the office without an appointment, but in Rosedale she keeps open house. Callers are seldom turned away. Sometimes unexpected visitors merge into a party. F)ven when she is dining out some of her intimates have the habit of assembling in the sitting room and awaiting her return.

The guest rooms are generally occupied. Once they held a Jersey couple who had suffered during the German occupation of the Channel Islands and came to Canada for a business trip and holiday. More recently her house guest was an English girl studying domestic electrical appliances on a scholarship from the British Women’s Electrical Association.

Margaret Hyndman throws a big cocktail party for more than 100 guests three or four times a year, smaller ones about once a month. She gives dinner parties usually once, but sometimes twice, a week. She gives tea parties frequently for 20 or 30 women church or social workers.

She likes her parties to be in honor of somebody. On her housewarming she gave a tea party, cocktail party and dinner party all on the same day. When she invites more than 20 she gets an outside caterer and hires a musical trio or quartet.

Her dinner parties are not always for the wealthy or celebrated. She has been known to send an ambulance to bring a permanent invalid to dinner. Early last year she gave a Sunday afternoon party to blind veterans. She told them to bring as many wives, girl friends and mothers as they liked

about 200 turned up. The show went with a bang. She invited a group of young sighted men to help. She gave them all specific duties like checking coats parking cars and waiting. She

even remembered to put one man on “toilet duty” to make sure the Llind found their way in and out.

“Who’s Who in Canada” lists her hobbies as cooking and fishing. At one time she did a lot of cooking herself and her roasts and grills were prized. Nowadays she leaves it mostly to her cook, but before a dinner party she keeps popping into the kitchen. She still bakes occasionally. Scotch scones are her forte. She doesn’t bother about her weight and likes cake. Her favorite cakes are made by a Chinese houseboy employed by a close friend. She gets special deliveries of these at Christmas.

In 1947 she baked a big three-tiered cake herself and flew with it to London, England, where it was ceremoniously cut in the Law Courts on the anniversary of the admission of the first woman to the English bar 25 years previously. Here she sipped champagne with Lord Chief Justice Goddard who, fortunately, was not told the wine had been smuggled into the austerity ridden island by three French women lawyers.

Margaret Hyndman’s facility for making friends is boundless. She flew back from England with a number of war brides and their babies. The heat in the plane was too much for the tweedy English women and their heavily swaddled children. Miss Hyndman spent half the trip nursing the squalling babies and soothing their flaming posteriors with rose water she had bought for herself.

During the war she went up to her country cottage on Georgian Bay by train. She took along a hamper of chicken and a flask of iced dry Martinis. More than a few of her fellow travelers accepted a drink and ? leg. When she got off there were a score of faces at the windows waving her a fond farewell.

Her cottage is on an Indian reservation. There is a loophole in the Indian Act which permits whites to rent land from Indians providing it benefits the natives. Lawyer Hyndman found the loophole. The local Indian chief asked her if he could make her an Indian princess. She declined, she says, because she wasn’t quite sure “what the proposition entailed.”

In summer the cottage is always full of guests. There is a special annex for snorers. She fishes in the lake for relaxation, not for whoppers.

The Choice: Career or Marriage

There is no such thing as an average day in Margaret Hyndman’s life. But every minute of every working day is parceled out by her secretaries. She generally arrives at her office around 9.30, sees a succession of clients, lunches socially or publicly, and returns to another waiting list of clients. Frequently she flies long distances to address women’s clubs. At one time she used to whiz around Toronto in a jeep station wagon but now uses taxis mostly.

She was once asked: “Do you ever regret having chosen a career instead of marriage?” She thought a long time then replied: “You know I do.” There was another pause, and then she added, “Whenever I have to queue up in the liquor store I regret not having a husband to do it for me.”

But her real attitude on this question Ls revealed by her words on another occasion: “Sometimes as I finish my breakfast in the dining room I say to myself, ‘Now if you had a husband he would be going through that door with his brief case bulging with drama. And you would have to stay at home and wash the dishes!’ ” it