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Celebrating women in law


Women in Law, Timeline, project, 100 years, 2019A video history project aims to document the history of women in the legal profession.

Did you know that there are less than 905 days left until the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919?

In 2019 the First 100 Years project will mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.

This is an ambitious video history project documenting the journey of women in the legal profession, from 1919 to present day.

The project’s timeline means people can learn more about the key landmarks since Eliza Orme became the first woman in England to get a Law Degree from University College London in 1888.

The timeline will be continuously updated and expanded, so please send in your stories, your insights and your facts and figures to be included on this piece of history.

One of the first 10 women solicitors in England and Wales was Edith Berthen; she was also the first woman to qualify in Liverpool as a solicitor, in 1923, and later formed the first all women partnership with Beatrice Honour Davy.

Berthen’s legal work in London appears to have had two distinct phases. Like many other early women solicitors Berthen was a Soroptimist and was very much concerned with improving the lot of the disadvantaged.

Berthen gave a considerable amount of her time to provide free or discounted legal advice under the Poor Man’s Lawyer scheme.

The second phase began when in 1931 Berthen entered into partnership with Beatrice Honour Davy.

Davy, whose grandfather was a solicitor, had first qualified as a barrister, but having decided that “for a woman who must earn her own living, the Bar is the very last profession in the world” she re-qualified as a solicitor.

This new partnership worked from offices in Manchester Square, just off Oxford Street, and they trained several other women as solicitors, including, in 1937, Madge Easton Anderson, the first Scottish woman solicitor, after she left Scotland for London.

December 1919 also saw the prohibition on women serving on juries in the United Kingdom brought to an end.

But the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was, itself, a compromise, with the government agreeing to lift various sex-based disqualifications but refusing to equalise the parliamentary franchise, or open membership of the House of Lords to women.

The First 100 Years project was created by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support.

It is supported by the Law Society and the Bar Council, and powered by Spark21, a charity founded to celebrate, inform and inspire future generation of women in the legal profession.

Work is now under way to produce a new digital museum made up of 100 video stories that tell the story of women in law and which will be donated to the British Library in 2019.

The project’s legacy will be the creation for the first time of positive role models for women in law, a greater understanding of the past combined with a celebration of today, a cross-sector platform for intelligent debate and change, and a valuable archive accessible to everyone from law students to High Court Judges.

The aim is to ensure a strong and equal future for all women in the legal profession.

Launching the project, Denis-Smith said: “People don’t know their history — who the first woman solicitor was, for instance.

“There is no archive like the First 100 Years to help us place ourselves in history.”

But there will be.

To view the First 100 Years: Women In Law Timeline, click here.

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