#legally hers: Ivy Williams

14th July 2017
Dr Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the Bar of England and Wales. She had waited 17 years to receive her degree. Despite passing her law examinations in 1903 at Oxford University, she could not get the credit she deserved until after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. Universities could not award women degrees hitherto. In 1922, Dr Williams joined the Inner Temple, and at the age of 42, became the first woman to be called to the Bar. Writing in 1904, Dr Williams had considered the possibility that women would never be permitted to formally become lawyers. She speculated that women might establish “a third branch of the profession” and practise as “outside lawyers” to circumvent the barriers to their entry. At the time, her remarks were dismissed as “futile” by the Law Journal. However, in 1922, the same publication hailed her appointment as “one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession.” Dr Williams went on to become the first woman to receive a Doctorate in Civil Law and to teach law at an English university. Read more about this remarkable woman whom Lady Justice Heather Hallett (the fifth woman to sit as a judge in the Court of Appeal) has described as her legal hero. Join us in our countdown to the centenary of the 1919 Act. Discover more on the First 100 Years timeline. Help us fill in gaps in the timeline with other interesting facts and support the project to produce a new digital museum of 100 video stories.