Bertha Solomon was born on 1 January 1892 in Minsk, Russia. At four years, she and her older sister were taken by their mother, Sonia Schwartz, to join their father, a Zionist pioneer, Idel Schwarz, in Cape Town. She graduated from the Anglican Diocesan College in 1911 with a BA degree in Classics, and then the South African College where she received a MA degree. Thereafter she taught Latin at Milburn House School for Girls in Cape Town, Western Cape where she met her husband Charles Solomon. They moved to Johannesburg and had two children.
In 1923, when South African women were allowed to practise law for the first time, she began to study for an LLB degree (law degree) at the University of South Africa. She was called to the Bar in June 1926, becoming one of the first female barristers in the country. While practising at the bar she became one of the first advocates of women's rights in South Africa, and helped fight for the women’s suffrage movement, in 1930, and she joined the National Council of Women in which she played a leading role. In 1930, when women were granted the vote by Parliament, she became an office bearer in the Bar Council and was elected president of its Johannesburg branch in 1932. She became the first provincial councillor in the Transvaal Provincial Council, where she served for five years, and was involved in the welfare of nurses, housing matters and motor vehicle and third-party insurance. In 1938, she was elected to serve as a United Party Member of Parliament, a seat she held until her retirement in 1958. One of her accomplishments was the 1949 opening of a recreation centre, which was named after her and was the first of its kind in Johannesburg.
For much of her time in parliament, she championed the Matrimonial Affairs Act, which was finally passed in 1953, and was sometimes called “Bertha’s Bill”, which protected women's rights to property, income, and children. She founded the South African Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II. In 1958 she retired from active politics. She was keenly interested in aviation and assisted in the founding of the Women’s Aviation Association. She was a supporter of the Hebrew University and visited Israel a number of times. She considered herself a Zionist.
In 1976 the University of the Witwatersrand awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Law. Solomon died on 22 November 1969 in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng). De Villiers Graaff called Solomon "the pioneer in our Parliament of the implement for the removal of the legal disabilities of women."
- Encyclopaedia.com. Bertha Solomon. [online: 11 February 2021].
- Moshe, J. 2019. "The Bertha behind the Bill that changed women's lives". South African Jewish Report. [online: 11 February 2021] https://www.sajr.co.za/
- Jewish Women's Archive. “Bertha Solomon: 1892 – 1969”. [online: 11 February 2021] https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/solomon-bertha
- Cohn-Sherbok, L. 2002. “Who's Who in Jewish History”. Routledge: London.