Mary Elizabeth Pickup

Published 3rd May 2017
A guest post by Elizabeth Cruickshank

Four women, Carrie Morrison, Maud Crofts, Mary Elaine Sykes and Mary Elizabeth Pickup, passed the Law Society’s finals examinations in December 1922. Later that month Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor by the Law Society of England and Wales. The other three women, including Mary Elizabeth Pickup, were admitted in January 1923.

Mary Elizabeth Pickup was born in 1881, the eldest daughter of Joseph McRoberts Snoddy and his wife Sarah Anne Truscott. Her family benefited from late Victorian prosperity and social mobility. Her labourer grandfather, John Hamilton Snoddy, moved his family from the unhealthy air and poverty of Limehouse in London’s East End to Pembroke Dock, a small but thriving town in West Wales, where her father, determined to make the most of his opportunities, joined the Freemasons, passed examinations to qualify as an engine fitter and eventually became President of the local Pembrokeshire Permanent Building Society. He was sufficiently successful to be able to send Mary Elizabeth to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth where she obtained a BA degree, after which she went to work in the offices of Thomas William Pickup, a Birmingham solicitor, whom she married in 1910.

Immediately after the passing of the 1919 Act she became articled to her husband., whom she had been assisting for at least ten years. In a newspaper interview she stated that for some time had been fascinated by the Law and was “convinced that there is a field open to women solicitors to do certain types of work”. Years of practical experience combined with her undoubted intelligence helped her to achieve Honours in the Finals examinations and the highest marks of the first four women solicitors. Like Maud Crofts she was regarded as an able speaker and was accustomed to addressing women’s meetings and literary societies in Birmingham. Like Carrie Morrison she believed that legal advice should be available to all; Carrie Morrison gave advice at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department of Toynbee Hall and Mary Elizabeth Pickup at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department of the Birmingham Settlement. And like both Carrie Morrison and Mary Elaine Sykes she was a Soroptimist, becoming the President of the Birmingham Soroptimist Society, which set up a Mary Elizabeth Pickup Memorial Fund after her death.

But unlike these other legal pioneers Mary Elizabeth was already a mother when she qualified as a solicitor. Her elder daughter Evelyn was born in 1911, a year after her marriage to Thomas Pickup and her younger daughter Joan in 1914. Thus, while studying for her examinations and presumably carrying out voluntary work, she ran a home, assisted her husband in his practice and cared for two young children. All this testifies to an admirable energy and determination, but also perhaps suggests that she could have achieved even more had the legal establishment been less hostile to women before 1919.

She died in 1938 at the age of 57 only 15 years after she was admitted in January 1923.