© Mitchell Library, Glasgow
Madge Easton Anderson was the first woman to be admitted to practise as a professional lawyer in the UK, when she qualified as a solicitor in Scotland in 1920.
Born on the 24th April 1896 in Glasgow, her father, Robert Easton, made surgical instruments. She attended Hutcheson’s Girls’ School, and later the University of Glasgow in 1913, graduating with an MA in 1916. During her MA degree Anderson studied Latin, French, Greek, English, Zoology and Moral Philosophy. She continued to study at Glasgow, graduating with a BL in 1919 and an LL.B in 1920, the first woman to graduate from Glasgow with a degree in law. During her studies, she received a variety of prizes, including a first class certificate of merit in Evidence and Procedures, International Private Law and Public International Law.
While she was studying, Madge had begun working as an apprentice law agent at Maclay Murray & Spens from May 1917. One of the founders of the firm, Mr John Alexander Spens, had advised Madge to enter into an indenture because he suspected it wouldn’t be long before women would be admitted to the profession.
After the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, Madge applied for admission as a law agent, having already completed three years indenture as an apprentice at Maclay Murray & Spens. However, her admission was refused because her three years of training had taken place before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, and had therefore not been registered properly, because at the time women were disqualified from registering.
She appealed to the Court of Session, the supreme civil court of Scotland, and the case was heard in December 1920. The opinion of the Lord Ordinary Lord Ashmore was that:
If the petitioner in this present case had been a man possessing the petitioner’s qualifications his right to admission under the Law Agents Act of 1873 would have been undoubted. Now the Act of 1919, in this matter of admission to the legal profession, has put the petitioner in the position of a man.
He argued that Madge possessed all the qualifications necessary, being over 21, serving an apprenticeship of three years under a qualified master, holding an M.A. and LL.B, and having passed civil and criminal examinations. While the apprenticeship had not been recorded with the registrar within six months of starting, Madge had attempted to record it. This should be sufficient because “in the case of male apprentices the Court has repeatedly and consistently accepted a reasonable excuse for failure to give due intimation to the registrar.”
Lord Ashmore remitted the case to the Lord President Clyde, who agreed that Madge possessed the qualifications required by law, and she was admitted as a law agent to the Scottish Law Agents Society.
Sadly despite being such an important pioneer, little more is known about Madge’s life. By 1937 she had moved to London, and was working for Edith Annie Jones Berthen and Beatrice Honour Davy, two pioneering English solicitors who formed a partnership and worked from offices in Manchester Square. Madge died in 1982 aged 86.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years