The First 100 Years Project – a History of Women in Law

I recently had the pleasure of hearing about this project in a talk to a packed conference from an inspiring lady Dana Denis-Smith, creator of the project. She explained that the hope is this endeavour will record in both writing and a video library the experiences of women in the legal profession since they were allowed to join in 1919 and help to demonstrate the progress made by women in legal careers over the last 100 years.

I am ashamed to admit that despite being a female solicitor I had little knowledge of the journey taken by and the hardships endured by my predecessors whose actions have allowed me to practice law today. I was fascinated to hear the stories of these women whose determination, perseverance and courage paved the way for all future women wanting to enter a career in law.

100 years ago the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed, without which women would never have even been able to  be accepted into this and many other professions previously considered only suitable for men. However, even before the 1919 Act there were pioneers fighting for the right to join this males only profession. Janet Wood in 1878 became the first female to complete a law degree despite the fact she was not allowed to be officially granted the degree she had passed with first class honours! Later came Eliza Orme who in 1879 was refused permission to sit the Law Society exams to become a solicitor. Despite this she persevered in pursuit of this career and in 1888 became the first woman to actually earn and receive the law degree she had studied for at University College London, although she could not then practice law. Finally in 2020 Madge Easton Anderson had the privilege of becoming the first female solicitor admitted to the Law Society after the passing of the 1919 Act.

The Project has researched and recorded as many of the very inspiring women and trailblazers who irrevocably changed for the better women’s opportunities in this profession. In addition to this they have taken video diaries from many inspiring female legal professionals still alive, whose stories of their fight to be given equal rights and opportunities, even fairly recently, are recorded forever for future generations. I imagine it will be hard for the next generation of women to believe there was ever a time when they had no freedom to choose their profession and that is testament to the incredible women included within this project.

The Digital Museum and all other information about this remarkable “First 100 Years” project can be found on their website https://first100years.org.uk

Joanne Davies – August 2019