Stories in Biography

21st February 2017

The story of Ada Yeates and Sisters, legal stationers, scriveners and typists, who were the successors to a “law and commercial stamp retailer” business operated by Catherine Carroll since 1851. Ada Yeates was born in 1852 to Robert Eustace Yeates and his wife Sarah. The Yeates family lived at Elm Hall in Celbridge, but in […]

30th November 2016

A woman of fierce determination, Agnes Twiston Hughes qualified as a solicitor in 1923 and thus became the first Welsh woman to qualify as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. Born in 1896, the younger daughter of solicitor John Williams Hughes, Agnes was trained by her father; on qualification she joined […]

23rd November 2016

Born in 1896 Mary Elaine Sykes was one of the first four women to pass the Law Society’s Final Examinations in 1922. She was the middle child of Huddersfield solicitor James Sykes and his wife Emma Amelia Turner. Her elder brother, Eric, died in France in May 1917 at the age of 22 but her […]

19th October 2016

In 1923 Mithan Tata became the first woman called to the bar by Lincoln’s Inn and the first practising Indian woman barrister. She would have been remarkable in any era, but for those times she was extraordinary. Mithan was born into a Parsi family in Maharashtra in 1898 and spent her childhood in different parts […]

13th October 2016

Mercy Ashworth was called to the bar on 26 January 1923 at the same time as Mithan Tata. They were the first two women from Lincoln’s Inn. At the age of 54, Mercy had waited a long time for to be called. Mercy’s age was not unusual amongst the early barristers. Cornelia Sorabji, Amy Edwards […]

12th September 2016

These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with Ruth Lady Morris of Kenwood. The video is currently being produced and will be released shortly. Let me start by saying that in my day, and it’s as long ago as that, there were only 28 women a year who qualified, so it was […]

5th September 2016

These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with Dame Janet Gaymer, first woman to become Senior Partner of a Top 20 law firm. The video is currently being produced and will be released shortly. I think the story of women in law is very much a slow burn. It’s obvious if you […]

29th August 2016

These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with June Venters QC, first woman solicitor to be appointed a Queen’s Counsel. The video can be found here. What happened was that the solicitors firm where I was working, one morning, on a Monday called me in to say they were closing the department […]

22nd August 2016

These are excerpts from the First 100 Year’s video interview with Shami Chakrabarti which can be found here. I think I wanted to become a lawyer fairly early on. I think I was partly shaped by the books and movies that my Mother shared with me, that’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, ‘Rumpole of the […]

17th August 2016

Guest post by Caroline Derry. A member of the first small cohort of women to practise at the English Bar, Ethel Bright Ashford was called alongside Helena Normanton and seven other women at Middle Temple in November 1922. Her political background and subsequent career were very different to Normanton’s, highlighting the diversity of the legal […]

15th July 2016

There is a saying in Latin America that when one woman comes into politics, she changes, but when many women come into politics, politics changes. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister she was one of very few women in the political arena. By comparison when Theresa May became the second female Prime Minister on Wednesday […]

12th July 2016

In 2016 Chambers & Partners described Clare Montgomery as ‘the most formidable member of the bar’. She is a highly respected specialist in criminal, regulatory and fraud law, known for her work on legally and factually complex cases. The following article is based on Clare’s video interview with First 100 Years and is written in […]

5th July 2016

This article is based on the video interview with Linda Dobbs which can be found here. I came to the UK when I was seven in the 1950s to stay with my English family, and I was usually the only person of colour in the area. I would have names thrown at me by the […]

5th July 2016

Guest Post by Elizabeth Cruickshank When Maud Crofts was formally admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales on 11 January 1923 she realised an ambition for which she had been working for more than a decade. Maud Isabel Crofts, (nee Ingram) was born in 1889, one of the twelve children […]

27th June 2016

In 1974 Barbara Calvert earned her place in the historical timeline of female lawyers by founding her own chambers at 4 Brick Court. Eight years later she broke another record as the first woman to become a Bencher at Middle Temple in 1982, where she delivered a reading in 2001 on the history of women […]

13th June 2016

I should like to see more and more women at Westminster, and in the highest places, too. It would certainly be a good thing for the women of Britain. And I’m sure it would be a good thing for the men, too!’. As well as two term prime minister of the UK, in 1953 Margaret […]

7th June 2016

Born in Manchester into a well-off family, Joyanne Bracewell was educated largely at home and became a talented child actor. As a young teenager in 1948 she appeared in two comedy films and seemed destined for a career as an actress. Baroness Brenda Hale suggested that this acting training contributed to her outstandingly clear diction […]

6th June 2016

First 100 Years is delighted to share the story of BT’s first female lawyer, Mrs. Chaya Ray. Chaya and her ex-colleagues at BT have been able to tell us about her story in becoming their first female lawyer. She was born on 21st August 1931, and was called to the bar in 1957. She completed […]

3rd June 2016

These excerpts are special previews from Baroness Brenda Hale’s video interview capture her experiences of working in the legal profession, which is currently still in edit and will be published soon. We are honoured to share the details of her experiences and journey working in the legal profession. The journey of women in law was […]

27th May 2016

Mary McAleese, the second woman ever elected as president of Ireland, discusses the structural prejudices which are holding back the new generation of women working in law. She identifies the pressures facing female lawyers and the ways to overcome them, as well as the crucical importance of female voices in public affairs. At the recent […]

27th May 2016

This week we heard the sad news that Frances Murphy – the former corporate head at Slaughter and May - has died after a long illness.

26th May 2016

The first female Irish president who proved that women could be ‘the hands that rocked the system’ as well as the ‘the hands that rocked the cradle’. Mary Robinson’s views of the legal system were shaped by the optimism of the 1960s to use the law as an instrument of social change. As president of […]

6th May 2016

Story submitted anonymously through the website. Scene: Christmas Day, Cambridgeshire, 1980 Me (aged 5): [throws ball in sitting room narrowly missing Christmas tree] My mother: “Alice, don’t throw balls in the house!” Me: “But I didn’t throw the ball, I bowled it.” Auntie Joyce: “One day Alice, you will be a lawyer…” Fast forward to […]

14th September 2015

Guest post by Alice Tyson Lady Barbara (“Bill”) Littlewood (1909-1995) may not be a familiar name to many, but her contributions to women in the legal profession should not be overlooked. She spent her long career at a firm of “country solicitors” (as they were known). Alongside this, she held an impressive list of achievements […]

8th September 2015

Guest post by Elizabeth Cruickshank In December 1922 Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales. At the age of 34, and with a varied career behind her, Carrie set a high standard of determination and dedication to her profession for the women who came after her. […]

4th September 2015

Photo credit: Court of Justice of the European Union Eleanor Sharpston QC, Advocate General at the European Court of Justice Interview by Alison Maitland Eleanor Sharpston QC, the first woman appointed by the UK as Advocate General to the European Court of Justice, is one of the most distinguished contemporary lawyers. Yet her struggle to […]

7th August 2015

Eliza Orme (1848-1937) was the first woman in England to earn a law degree, in 1888 at University College London; she was 39 years old and already unofficially ‘practicing’ law out of an office in London’s Chancery Lane where she and a colleague prepared the paperwork for property transactions, patent registrations, wills, settlements, and mortgages. […]

19th June 2015

Baroness Brenda Hale has always been known for her vivacious attitude towards women’s rights and diversity in the legal profession. At grammar school, she first noted there were only half the number of places available for girls as for boys. Whilst reading Law at Girton College, Cambridge, she found that she was one of only […]

18th June 2015

Funke is a black, female, single mother and the solicitor leading the UK & Ireland legal team of Roche, the world’s largest biotech company. She is currently the most senior black lawyer working in the UK pharmaceutical industry. Her legal expertise has been recognised through multiple awards and other recognitions including being the only female […]

11th June 2015

Most famously known by her married name – Blair – Cherie Booth QC is celebrated for her work in human rights, in particular women’s and children’s rights. Patron of many charities (Breast Cancer Care, Jospice, Scope…), Booth’s legal work mirrors this. She was one of the 22 barristers to set up Matrix Chambers, known for […]

10th June 2015

When asked what books she wanted on the GCSE set texts, Shami Chakrabarti cited Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Not only is the book’s lawyer, Atticus Finch, one of Chakrabarti’s inspirations, but the novel itself, she argues, has inspired many towards human rights, “ [it is] touchingly human and intimate but concerned with massive […]

20th April 2015

Top City of London lawyer Elaine Aarons is one of the founding mothers of employment law and is a pioneer of flexible working in the legal profession. When Elaine qualified in 1982, employment law was not a recognised speciality. Within two years of qualifying, she decided to make it her sole focus. “I felt I […]

12th March 2015

We are delighted to share with you a post on Gertrude Tuckwell, written for the First 100 Years project by Dr Anne Logan of the University of Kent. On Christmas Eve 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act became law. On the same day the appointment of the first seven women to be justices of the […]

12th December 2014

Baroness Cohen has enjoyed a colourful career, excelling in a remarkably varied number of fields. A published novelist, a Labour peer and Chancellor of BPP University, Janet’s accomplishments to date can be traced back to the earliest part of her career, when she practiced as a solicitor. Having graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge with a […]

22nd October 2014

As a young, black woman, Dawn Dixon’s route into a legal career inevitably involved an enormous amount of determination, and even more hard work. That she had not been educated at a red brick university further stacked the odds against her, as this was viewed as essential for anyone with ambitions of climbing to the […]

15th October 2014

Born in 1882, Helena Normanton was the first woman to practice at the Bar (although not the first to be called to the Bar: that accolade went to Oxford academic Ivy Williams). She continually shocked and scandalised the legal profession – and wider political circles – with her tireless refusal to accept the uncompromising dogmatism […]

30th September 2014

Born in 1954 and educated at Jews Free School in Camden, Barbara Roche’s attitude to equality and diversity coupled with her natural aptitude for public speaking and debate allowed her to flourish in both of her areas of passion: politics and the law. When it came to choosing a path for university, the world of […]

22nd August 2014

Born in Queensland, Australia, Margaret’s journey to prominence in the legal profession has taken her to the other side of the world, with an enormous amount of hard work required to get her there. As one of six children born into a working class family, Margaret’s work ethic was instilled into her at a young […]

21st August 2014

The richness and diversity of Eileen Pembridge’s experience before qualifying as a lawyer perhaps goes some way to explaining why her approach to the law is so vastly empathetic. Her balancing of a rigorous and effective approach with a genuine and palpable interest in those individuals who seek the help of her firm is perhaps […]

18th August 2014

As one of the first four women to pass the Law Society’s examinations, Mary Sykes has been immortalised by her achievement. Legend has it that these four women raced up Chancery Lane to the Law Society, to decide who had the honour of being the very first to qualify as a solicitor. Since Carrie Morrison […]

6th August 2014

As one of the UK’s leading judges, Anne Rafferty commands great influence over the legal system, with her success bringing a new touch of radicalism to a traditionally male profession. As the first female chair of the Criminal Bar Association she is a genuine trailblazer, who capitalised upon her novel status as a female in […]

4th August 2014

As the first female head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde is one of the most powerful women in the world. As well as being an accomplished lawyer, Lagarde has served on the French government, becoming the first female Finance and Economy Minister of a G7 country. Her legal background – most notably her experience […]

1st August 2014

Edwina’s career is made remarkable not only by her becoming the first woman president of the Association of District Judges, but also by the atypicality of her education. Her original diploma was in housecraft and needlework and, upon receiving it, Edwina became a teacher. However, she always harboured a nagging aspiration to become a lawyer. […]

29th July 2014

Not only was Juliet a fantastic lawyer, but she also managed to bridge the gap between law and politics in a way far more accomplished than most. Her knowledge of these two sectors led to a tremendous career, encompassing many legal firsts which she took deftly in her stride. Juliet was the first female Treasury […]

23rd July 2014

Eulalie Evan Spicer will always be remembered for her role in the founding of the Legal Aid Scheme, but those who knew her personally will remember her for the vivacious spirit and unique character with which she tackled the challenge of her minority within the legal profession. She cultivated a sternly masculine exterior, wearing her […]

21st July 2014

In her appointment to the role of Director of Public Prosecutions in 1992, the late Barbara Mills became the first female to head the Crown Prosecution Service, presiding over a staff of 6000. Although this may sound like a daunting task, Barbara had been a trailblazer throughout her career, and, it seems, was fazed by […]

17th July 2014

It would be no exaggeration to state that, without the efforts of Eva Crawley, the Association for Women Solicitors might not exist, and that many women who had taken career breaks to become mothers would have had neither the confidence nor the facility to get back into the profession. In 1969, the 1919 Club – […]

15th July 2014

Indubitably one of the most enigmatic and fascinating characters in the legal world, there are many more questions pertaining to Peirce than there are answers. Why did she change her name from Jean to Gareth? What motivated her, a Cheltenham Ladies’ College educated Oxford graduate – an education and upbringing most typically renowned for producing […]

10th July 2014

Although not a qualified lawyer, Ada Summers made legal history by becoming the first woman to serve on an English bench, and the first female Justice of the Peace. Ada’s background was primarily political, this in itself an impressive feat for the time. In fact, she joined the council as a Liberal representative for Stalybridge […]

8th July 2014

The late Moira Gilmour’s remarkable achievements in the legal profession are made all the more laudable by the atypicality of her background. Born to shopkeeper parents and granddaughter to coal miners, she attended the local comprehensive before becoming the first member of her family to attend university, or indeed move out of the 10 mile […]

7th July 2014

Gwyneth Bebb gave her name to the famous ‘Bebb v Law Society’ case of 1913, which ruled that women were not ‘persons’ under the meaning of the Solicitors Act of 1843 and continued to prohibit them from practising law. However, whilst her name has become synonymous with the female struggle for equality, her personal story […]

7th July 2014

The late Dame Rose Heilbron’s remarkable catalogue of firsts reads like a record book: her career was truly unprecedented.  She was the first woman to receive a first class Law degree from Liverpool University, the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn, one of the first two women to be appointed KC (the […]

3rd July 2014

Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman to ever sit the Bachelor of Civil Laws exam at Oxford University. Born in Bengal in 1866, Cornelia achieved the unfathomable, becoming the first woman to practice law in both India and Britain. Coming from a large family, her mother strove widely for the education of girls in India, […]

1st July 2014

Louise Arbour’s list of honours and awards is staggering, and rightly so. Her long and distinguished career began in academia: following her graduation from the Université de Montréal where she completed an LL.B in 1970, she taught at Osgoode Hall Law School, climbing the ranks to become Associate Professor and Dean. From academia, she was […]

27th June 2014

Dr Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the English bar in 1922, and the first woman to teach law at an English university. Born in 1877, by 1903 she had passed all her law examinations with flying colours, but the university regulations at the time meant that she was prevented from […]

26th June 2014

Before rising to fame as a celebrity chef, Clarissa Dickson Wright was a barrister. There are many legends surrounding her time at the Bar, none more colourful than her impromptu appearance at a Gray’s Inn Smoking Concert. Notoriously ‘male only’, the concert encouraged Bar members to showcase their own talents. Clarissa attempted to circumvent her […]