Dr Mari Takayanagi is an archivist and historian with a 1st class honours degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford, an MA in Archives & Records Management from UCL, and a PhD in History from King’s College London.
Her PhD thesis ‘Parliament and Women c.1900-1945’ examined legislation affecting women’s lives and gender equality in the period following the First World War, the role of women in Parliamentary committees including the early women MPs, and female staff in Parliament. In particular she studied the Parliamentary passage to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which amongst other things allowed women to become barristers, solicitors, magistrates and jurors for the first time.
She works full time as a Senior Archivist at the Parliamentary Archives, where she has worked in various roles since 2000 including public services, outreach, preservation and access. She was previously an archivist at LSE Archives for three years. In 2008 she was project manager and curator for ‘A Changing House’, an exhibition and website marking 50 years of the Life Peerages Act 1958 which allowed women to sit in the House of Lords for the first time. She currently is joint project manager and co-curator of ‘Vote 100’, Parliament’s project to commemorate 100 years of the vote for some women and all men in 2018.
She is on Twitter as @satisfactory20 and occasionally blogs at Parliament and Women in the Early 20th Century.
I find that people often have no idea how recently equality battles were won. I have talked to many audiences over the years about aspects of women’s history, and I have found that it is possible for everyone, from young schoolchildren to hardbitten journalists, to be amazed to find that we have had equal franchise for less than 90 years – nothing in the grand scheme of things – and that women could not sit in the House of Lords until 1958, a date within plenty of people’s living memories. Even in Parliament, an institution imbued with history, what should be ‘famous firsts’ can be lost to collective memory. My PhD research on women staff in Parliament re-discovered early pioneers, such as the first women Accountant in the House of Lords and the first woman Clerk in the House of Commons, who had been forgotten within a generation. We should not let this happen with the first women lawyers; we need to make sure that this story is out there for anyone to readily discover.
After some women got the vote in 1918, women’s organisations were able to move on to campaign on other issues, which had been outstanding for years or even decades. And now that MPs had female constituents for the first time, they were much more inclined to legislate on these subjects than previously. One of these long-standing issues was the entrance of women to the legal profession, and I think that the First 100 Years project is really important in telling both the legal profession and the general public how this happened. We have plans in Parliament to commemorate 100 years of the vote in 2018, and it’s really important that the story doesn’t stop there, but goes on to what happens next, because the vote was not an end in itself but a means to proceed to other battles. And this is why I think it’s incredibly important that we mark the centenary of women in the law in 2019, to get this particular battle into the public consciousness. It’s important in particular to help young women today appreciate what their predecessors had to go through, and therefore better understand the context in which they are working.