Paving the Way For Women in Law - Celebrating Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, a whole month dedicated to the amazing achievements of women through the ages, and one that celebrates social, economic and political contributions of women to society. It serves to raise awareness of the ongoing need to accelerate gender parity – a topic that has generated a dramatic amount of news coverage in recent times.

2018 marks 100 years since women were first given the right to vote, and next year we mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919. As we honour these acclaimed women in history we look back through our own archives to proudly bring you a Middle Templar who was the first woman to be called to the Bar.

Photograph of Helena Normanton c.1930
Helena Normanton c.1930 - By LSE Library, via Wikimedia Commons

Helena Normanton is generally regarded as the woman who spear-headed the fight for women to enter the legal profession. However, it was not Helena who first applied for admission to Middle Temple. That honour went to Miss Day in 1891, followed by Christabelle Park in 1904. Helena applied in 1918 and, as with Day and Park, was refused entry.

That all changed when, In December 1919, immediately after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, Helena achieved her dream and so began the revolution that would see over 30 other women begin reading for the Bar in 1920.

In November 1922, Helena was called to the Bar and went on to be the first female counsel in cases in the High Court of Justice, also in 1922, and the first woman to obtain a divorce for a client.

She paved the way for women to become lawyers and inspired future generations to join the profession, including the enigmatic Betty Boothroyd - former speaker of the House - and Elizabeth Lane, Barbara Calvert, Mary Robinson, Fiona Woolf, Susan Denham, Barbara Mills, Patricia Scotland and Shami Chakrabarti.

Queen Elizabeth I

But Helena isn’t the only female first at Middle Temple. Queen Elizabeth I was the first woman to grace the Hall and had all the qualities that would have made her an outstanding barrister – intellect, mental and physical courage, emotional control and a tactical mind. She set the standard that is still, five centuries later, the very essence of Middle Temple.

You can read more about Helena and many other successful women in the legal profession in a ground-breaking history project that is charting the journey of women in law since 1919. The First 100 Years is supported by the Law Society and the Bar Council and is powered by Spark21, a charity founded to celebrate, inform and inspire women. https://first100years.org.uk

Why not soak up some of Middle Temple’s history with a guided tour of the Inn followed by a delicious lunch in the stunning Elizabethan Hall?

For further information please visit www.middletemplevenue.org.uk or contact the events team to book your visit events@middletemple.org.uk.

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