Eulalie Evan Spicer

Published 23rd July 2014
Eulalie Evan Spicer was a lawyer and Legal Aid administrator, described as “one of the most prominent divorce lawyers of her day”.

Born on 20th April 1906 to Charles Evan Spicer, a wholesale stationer, and Elsie Mary née Williams who came from a family of paper manufacturers. Eulalie was educated at St Helen’s School, Northwood. She graduated from King’s College London with a BA in philosophy, and later was awarded a PhD in philosophy from University College London.

Having then read law, Spicer qualified as a solicitor in June 1938. Such was the scarcity of women in the legal profession at the time that her Law Society exam certificate reads that Eulalie served ‘his’ Articles of Clerkship, and was placed in the Second Class. She worked in a small firm for several years, often undertaking social work, an interest which eventually became the underpinning of her career.

During the war, the 164 female solicitors holding practising certificates at the time became crucial, as male solicitors were called for duty. In December 1942, Spicer became supervising solicitor in the services divorce department at the Law Society, which was established to deal with the increase of marriage breakdowns during WWII. This work included preparing for thousands of divorces, and travelling across the country for divorce petitions. One serviceman helped by the divorce department told Spicer “I know you are doing your best for me, but I suppose all the proper solicitors are now in the Army”.

With increasing divorce rates and following the Rushcliffe committee in 1945, the Labour government established a state-funded Legal Aid Scheme after the war ended, administered by the Law Society. Spicer helped to prepare for the new arrangements and was appointed secretary of no. 1 (London) area, the largest of the new Legal Aid divisions in the country. As secretary, she was responsible for administration, and helped to arrange appeals by applicants for Legal Aid. A formidable worker, by the time Spicer retired in 1966, no. 1 area was handling 25,000 applications for legal aid a year, and subsequently was divided into two.

Spicer’s renown even reached Singapore. An article in The Straits Times described her as one of the “principal administrators” of the Legal Aid Scheme. It wrote:
Miss Eulalie Spicer has a distinction which is almost as uncommon as her first name She is a successful woman in the bewigged, striped-trousered, very masculine world of the law.
Spicer is quoted as saying that the Legal Aid Scheme had fulfilled her hopes for it, and she had no doubt “it performed a useful and humane public service”.

After retiring as secretary of no. 1 area, she went into private practice for seven years. She also became secretary of the legal aid committee of the general synod of the Church of England, and a lay reader. Aged 70, she gained another degree from KCL. Spicer died on 29th March 1997.

Spicer will always be remembered for her role in the founding of the Legal Aid, but those who knew her personally will remember her for the vivacious spirit and unique character with which she tackled the challenges of the legal profession. One of the highest-ranking female lawyers in the post-war period, she cultivated a stern, masculine exterior, wearing her hair in an Eton crop, travelling often by motor scooter, and spending her spare time practicing revolver shooting. She was never addressed by her Christian name, opting instead for Miss Spicer, or simply EES; her clients were often surprised upon their first meeting with their solicitor ‘E E Spicer’ to be greeted by a young woman but, by all accounts, Eulalie’s prowess left no room for unflattering comparisons with her male counterparts. She worked tirelessly to command the level of respect that she held within the field.

Sources
Cruickshank, Elizabeth & Rose, Neil, “Doing Their Bit”, The Law Society Gazette, 2005
Virginia Nicholson, Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men after the First World War, Oxford University Press, 2008
“Spicer, Eulalie”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, 2004
Thompson, JWM, “Britain moves forward in free legal aid”, The Straits Times, 6th March 1959