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 won, it’s her name in the record books. Although not as fast a runner, Mary Sykes is just as much of a pioneer, and her journey to qualification and beyond is one to be celebrated with equal gumption.
Born and raised in Yorkshire, Mary graduated from Royal Holloway with a degree in English in 1917. Her aspiration to become a lawyer came from watching her father’s career as a solicitor, and she served her articles at her father’s firm alongside studying for her law degree. After becoming the second woman to qualify as a solicitor, Mary continued to work for her father, but by 1930, she had set up her own firm – a remarkable achievement after only eight years of qualification, in a world completely dominated by men.
Mary went on to become a Justice of the Peace, and was the first female mayor of Huddersfield, further demonstrative of her determination to succeed in those fields which had been previously entirely intangible to members of her sex. The efforts of all four of these trailblazing women served as a catalyst for change, and the transformed landscape that newly qualified women (who do not have to race down Chancery Lane!) find themselves in today is thanks to the battles that their predecessors tirelessly fought.