“I believe that the sex-exclusiveness of the legal profession is doomed. Women won’t stand it, and men, who have been learning a great deal lately about women’s capabilities, will not tolerate it either.”
That was Helena Normanton’s prediction as she made her first application to be admitted to the Middle Temple in 1918. It was declined but she refused to give up and lodged a petition at the House of Lords. However, before the hearing, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919
was passed, allowing women to enter the legal profession.
Within 48 hours of the Act becoming law, Normanton made a second application and was successful this time. She was called to the Bar in November 1922, a few months after Dr Ivy Williams
, and became the first practising woman barrister.
Normanton went on to forge an outstanding legal career that featured notable firsts. She was the first female counsel in cases in the High Court of Justice, the first woman to obtain a divorce for a client, and (along with Rose Heilbron
) the first female King’s Counsel in England and Wales. Throughout her life, Normanton campaigned for women’s rights and women’s suffrage. She was the first married woman in Britain to have a passport in her maiden name and believed that men and women should keep their money and property separately.
Read more about Normanton and other inspiring women on the First 100 Years timeline
. Listen to Dr Judith Bourne, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, read from an interview Normanton gave to the Ladies’ Pictorial in 1918
in this wonderful project by First 100 Years champion Katie Broomfield.
Join us in counting down to the centenary of the 1919 Act. Help us fill in gaps in the timeline with other interesting facts and support the project
to uncover more stories of women in law.
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