Frances Kyle was one of the first women, along with Averil Deverell, to be admitted to the bar in Ireland on November 1st, 1921. They were among the first women to be called to the bar anywhere in the world. It was almost a year later before Ivy Williams became the first woman to be called to the English Bar.
Little is known about Frances’ life. Born on the 30th October 1893 to Kathleen Frances Bates and Robert Alexander Kyle, her parents had married in New York, before moving back to Belfast. Her father was the son of Mr G. W. Kyle who had founded G.W. Kyle, drapers, outfitters, &c., which was a well-known business in Belfast. Robert inherited the business upon his father’s death. He was also an enthusiastic yachtsman, a member of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and a microscopist with “the finest collection of microscopes in Ulster”, according to his obituary in The Northern Whig and Belfast Post. Robert is described as “a man of benevolent disposition, and all philanthropic and social welfare work found in him a generous supporter.” Frances had a sister, Kathleen, who married a medical inspector, Dr. John McCloy. In 1930 Kathleen was described by the Belfast Newsletter as “very well known in Belfast” and “a delightful speaker”.
Frances received a BA in French from Trinity College Dublin in 1914, and an LLB in 1916. In January 1920, Frances and Averil were admitted as the first female students of law at King’s Inns, Dublin. Frances came first in the Bar Entrance Examinations and was the first woman to win the John Brooke Scholarship. The Irish Times described this as “a women’s invasion of the law.”
When Frances and Averil were called to the Bar on the 1st November 1921, they were part of the first cohort of people to be called since the Irish Judiciary became independent from England. Averil became the first woman to practise at the bar anywhere in the world. Two years after this, Mary Dorothea Heron became the first woman admitted as a solicitor in Ireland, although she never took out a practising certificate.
In 1922, Frances was elected a member of the circuit of Northern Ireland at a meeting in Belfast, becoming the first female member of a circuit. Frances is reported in the Dublin Evening Telegraph in 1922 as having received eight briefs. She told a Daily Mail representative:
“I’m not at all certain that the first women barristers will succeed in making a living at the Bar. Legal friends advised me to devote myself to conveyancing, which does not require attendance at the courts, but I felt that the first woman barrister should practise, if possible, to prepare the way for those who will follow.”
Frances’ mother died in 1930 aged 63, and her father died in 1931 aged 82. Frances seemed to have struggled to find work, and her last listing in Thoms Law Directory is in 1931. In 1937, she appeared in court to defend herself on a parking summons. By 1952, Frances was living in London with her sister Kathleen. She died on the 12th February 1958, aged 64.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years