Elizabeth Cruickshank is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, having obtained both her MA and M Litt at her “local” university. She taught English Literature at a Sixth Form College in Surrey for 10 years before qualifying as a solicitor and practicing Law in the City of London. Her current focus is on researching and writing about the lives and experiences of women solicitors, especially those few who qualified between 1922 and 1962.
She was the founding editor of “Link”, the magazine of the Association of Women Solicitors of which she was Chairwoman in 2004/5. Her involvement with that organisation led to her being given the Eva Crawley Award in 2005 for services to women solicitors.
She is the author of “Women in the Law” and “Sisters in Law”, both of which are based on interviews with outstanding women lawyers, the first dealing with English lawyers and the second, co-authored with Boma Ozobia celebrating women lawyers in Nigeria. “All You Need to Know About Being a Trainee Solicitor” co-authored with Professor Penny Cooper offers practical advice to young and aspirant lawyers. Currently she is engaged in researching and preparing material for the 100th Anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and writing a biography of Carrie Morrison, the first Englishwoman to qualify as a solicitor, although being a Scot herself, she usually points out that the first woman to qualify as a lawyer in the United Kingdom was a fellow Scot, Madge Easton Anderson.
I believe that the exploration of the past enables a better understanding of the present and can help us to make better choices about our future. When I became a solicitor it was under the naïve impression that there had always been women lawyers, and it was not until 1997, when the AWS decided to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Carrie Morrison’s admission, that I realised just how brief a time women had had even a walk-on part on the legal stage. Even forty years after Carrie’s admission only about 400 women held Practising Certificates, but now more women than men qualify into the profession.
In 2019 we shall justifiably be celebrating the passing of The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which prohibited the professions from refusing women the right to be admitted to their ranks simply on grounds of their gender. This was the culmination of several attempts by women going back to the latter decades of the Nineteenth Century to become solicitors or barristers. They carried on through rejection by the Law Society, the Inns of Court and in 1914 by the Court of Appeal in the famous case of Bebb v The Law Society and through years of lobbying and argument until with the passing of the 1919 Act they were entitled to be called to the Bar and to be admitted as solicitors and members of the Law Society.
Rather than swamping the profession as many men had argued, women solicitors were initially so few that many practised for almost the whole of their careers without encountering another solicitor of their own sex. Despite this they were notable for the skill, knowledge and determination that they devoted to benefit the legal position of other women. They were to be found arguing for Divorce Law Reform, for the rights of women to retain and manage their own property, to have custody of their own children and even in 1943 to retain some at least of the savings they had made from judicious use of their housekeeping money (Blackwell v Blackwell).
The First 100 Years project is an opportunity to remember not only the 1919 Act itself but to celebrate the achievements of those many highly intelligent and tenacious women who have worked over the past one hundred years to improve the legal position and social status of those less advantaged than themselves. And who continue to do so.