In March 1903, Bertha Cave applied to be admitted as a student to Gray’s Inn, for the purpose of being called to the Bar. This was the first time a woman had applied to an Inn with the express purpose of being called to the Bar. The Benchers were initially receptive to the application, however, Master Mattinson urged that the matter should be referred to a committee due to the legal implications.
The committee concluded it was not in the power of a single Inn of Court to decide to admit women as students. Judges alone could decide, and the committee concluded that “males and males alone” were considered to be admissible as students.
Bertha Cave appeared before the House of Lords to appeal the decision. Despite there being no written rule against the admission of women to the Inns, the Lord Chancellor was unwilling to change precedent.
Although Bertha wasn’t admitted, two Benchers had moved in favour of admitting her, which is significant in itself.
Christabel Pankhurst and Ivy Williams also applied to be admitted to Inns on separate occasions in 1903. They were also refused.
For more information on Bertha Cave, visit Gray’s Inn website
and the articles written by Daniel F. Gosling, archivist.