By Jennifer Argent, solicitor in the Medical Negligence Department
In 1919 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was implemented and paved the way for women to attend university and become lawyers for the first time.
The first female to practice as a Barrister, Helena Normanton, had expressed since a young age the wish for the law to be available to all. She had witnessed her mother struggling to understand a solicitor’s advice and saw this as a form of sex discrimination and wished to help all women gain access to the law. She went on to become the first woman to obtain a divorce for her client, the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial and the first woman to appear at the High Court and the Old Bailey. Alongside Rose Heilbron she was of the first two women King’s Counsel at the English Bar.
Ten years after the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919 she spoke at the Women’s Engineering Society’s annual conference and said “while any woman was held back from the position to which her talents drew her, the whole of womanhood was lowered”.
The First 100 Years is a new history project being supported by the Law Society, the Bar Council and CILEx to chart the journey of women like Helena in law since 1919 in a digital museum of video stories. See here for their time line so far; https://first100years.org.uk/digital-museum/timeline/
If it were not for the change in the law and the efforts of those like Helena Normanton, I am sure we would all agree that the law would be a very different scene in 2019.