Margaret Kidd

Published 24th May 2018
Margaret Kidd was the first female member of the Faculty of Advocates and remained the only female advocate in Scotland for over 25 years. She was also the first female advocate to appear before the House of Lords and before a parliamentary select committee, and the first woman appointed King’s Counsel in the UK.

Born in Bo’ness on the 14th March 1900, Margaret’s father was a solicitor and Unionist MP and her mother was a teacher. The eldest of nine children, she was educated at Linlithgow Academy, and went on to study law at Edinburgh, graduating with an LLB in 1922.

After training with Mitchell & Baxter WS, she was called to the Faculty of Advocates in 1923, becoming the first woman lawyer to have the right to plead in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. At her call to the Bar, The Scotsman reported on her clothes, remarking on her “soft white collar with narrow white bow tie” and her “straw hat trimmed with velvet.” The courts were so ill prepared for a woman that for a long time, the ladies’ robing room was situated opposite the cell of the condemned, and hot water was only put in after the Second World War.

In 1930 she married Donald Somerled Macdonald, a senior solicitor and a Writer to the Signet, and together they had a daughter called Anne. Margaret had a number of interests beyond the law, including politics. She supported Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom, and believed that trade would grow worse if Scotland became independent. When her father died in 1928, she stood for parliamentary election as a Unionist candidate, but was defeated. However, she was also proud of Scotland’s unique history, and in 1934 she helped to find the Stair Society, which was established to promote understanding of the history of Scots law.

Margaret also championed improving women’s access to work, and promoted equal opportunities. In 1930, she made a speech at Glasgow University entitled “Law as a Profession of Women”, where she commented on the difficulty of being a female advocate given they were dependent on male solicitors for work, and discussed how old lawyers were “inclined to be distrustful of women”. The Scotsman reported:
She did not want them to think that she had not received fair play. She had had an easy time, but she did not think that she had been so successful as she would have been had she been a man.

Margaret spoke of the greater opportunities for women to become solicitors than advocates, as they dealt directly with the public. However, she remarked on the difficulty not only of the “bias of the masculine mind” but also of the large numbers of women who preferred the advice of men, and that it may “take a long time before that attitude of mind was dispelled.”

In another speech, she complained of the “Victorian” idea that women should not be employed outside the home, which “did not show a proper appreciation of how important the freedom of the individual was to society.” As a result, women were not given equal opportunities in business. She was reported as saying that there was too much stress laid on the accident of sex, and what mattered was brains and character, and whether or not the job was done well.

In December 1948, Margaret was appointed King’s Counsel while she was still the only female advocate in Scotland. This was shortly before Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron were appointed KC in England. On the occasion, The Scotsman remarked:
Although Portia took all the honours in a law report written by William Shakespeare, it is not recorded that she ever took silk. Miss Margaret Kidd, the only woman member of the Faculty of Advocates, has never had to use her eloquence in respect of pounds of flesh, but she has become a King’s Counsel – so far as we know, the only woman from either the Scottish or the English Bar to attain such a distinction.

For many years Miss Kidd has been what Homeric scholars call a “hapax legomenon” at the Scottish Bar. As the only woman in a hitherto masculinely exclusive and exclusively manly fraternity, and a naturally conservative one at that, her presence might have led to a certain amount of perturbation, or even resentment, if such commonplace sentiments can agitate the midriffs of advocates. The fact that she is one of the most popular and well-liked members of the Faculty is a tribute to her character and personality, possibly reinforced by her womanly intuition.

Although the work in which she has immersed herself has not brought her before the public as a pleader, she has served ably and well on behalf of the community. Recently, she celebrated her jubilee at the Bar, and her demonstration that a housewife can become a King’s Counsel will bring her well-merited congratulations from all quarters.

Alongside her work as an advocate, Margaret found time to lecture in public law at Edinburgh University, and work as the editor of the Court of Session law reports of the Scots Law Times between 1942 and 1976. She was also honorary keeper of the Advocates’ Library from 1956 to 1969. She became the first woman sheriff principal, for Dumfries & Galloway in 1960.

In 1975, Margaret was appointed CBE, and later received honorary degrees from the Universities of Dundee and Edinburgh. She died in Cambridge on the 22nd March 1989. At her funeral, Lord Hope of Craighead said “her success was won by strength of character, courage and integrity and is a mark of her true qualities that, despite what might seem to be the revolutionary nature of her achievements, she always held the affection and respect of others.”

Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years