New blog post documents incredible lives of first female barristers

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Chronicles their lasting legacies

Helena Normanton

The incredible lives of some of the country’s first female barristers have been documented in a new blog.

The post, The Portia effect: Early women law students and their legacy, recounts the story of Helena Normanton, the first woman to practise at the bar, and her pioneering colleagues. It was published on the University of London’s Leading Women blog to mark Equal Pay Day (10 November).

The blog explains how Normanton was a remarkable woman known for achieving a number of “firsts” in her legal career. She began as a history lecturer and, while teaching, gained a first-class degree from the University of London. Having been called to the bar in 1922, she became the first woman to practise as a barrister. A committed feminist and a staunch advocate for divorce reform, Normanton later became the first woman to obtain a divorce for her client, the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, and, in 1949, one of the first women to be appointed King’s Counsel.

The 2019 Chambers Most List

Written by Open University PhD student Laura Noakes, the blog also tells the story of Ivy Williams, the first woman to be called to the bar — narrowly beating Normanton by a few months. Williams never practised but became an academic, the very first woman to teach law at a British university.

So what of their legacy? The blog explains:

“These women were variously involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage, national and local politics, academia and reforming the law to improve women’s lives.”

Normanton’s legacy continues today. In September, we reported that 218 Strand Chambers, a London-based set which launched earlier this year, is set to rebrand as Normanton Chambers in January 2019 — a century after its namesake became the first woman to join an Inn of Court. In a letter to The Telegraph at the time, joint head of chambers Andrea Barnes, said:

“[Normanton] was a pioneer and a rule changer and went on to have a remarkable career opening doors that many thought were firmly closed.”

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Is that you Katie?



I am NPC-2397.

My sensors detect the following key words: “first woman”, “committed feminist” and “legacy.”

The social justice ranking associated with these inputs is…8/10.

Automatic output thus generated:

Wonderful article Aishah. So stunning and brave. A timely lesson for all the sexists and bigots out there.



This is very funny and amusing because I am proving that people who disagree with me are mindless robots spouting off other people’s views by spending my time mindlessly repeating a meme invented by someone who tells me what to think.



“If a group collectively rejects groupthink without scrutiny, that rejection is in itself a manifestation of groupthink.”

I can’t work out if Trumpencuck’s comment contains an exceedingly intelligent, meta-level, philosophical insight, or whether it instead displays stupidity of almost epic proportions.

I’d be interested to hear others’ views…



It depends on whether the thing you are criticising is actually groupthink or if you just think it’s groupthink because, ironically, you’re part of a groupthink that says it is groupthink.

Personally I’m happy to just repeat whichever talking points are raised by alt-right YouTube personalities and NPC is one of those. I don’t have to think very hard about whether the people I’m calling NPCs are in fact guilty of groupthink – /r/The_Donald and Alex Jones tell me they are.



I’m disappointed by this response. Your second paragraph merely repeats the satirical point you made at 12.07pm.

Your first paragraph, meanwhile, shows that any deep philosophical insight on your part was purely accidental.

Essentially, you disagree with NPC-2397, and you’re making the overwhelmingly facile point: “It’s bad to reject ideas without scrutiny”.

I thought there was a chance that you were seeking to make a far more intelligent point by drawing attention to the inherent irony in the idea that it might be desirable if people rejected unscrutinised ideas without scrutiny.


I realise you think you are being clever, but this is really simple. At the core of the NPC thing is simply the fringe right making the tenuous point of ‘everyone who supports women’s rights/the EU/anti-racism/insert anything I dislike’ is doing so because they are a pre-programmed goon parroting what they’ve been told by others.

There is an inherent irony in that this talking point – “everyone I disagree with is an unthinking drone” has sprung up all at once amongst a collective group of people (the alt right) who are themselves one of the groups most prone to simply following whatever they are told by their heroes. See Trump – when he does a U-turn, his followers will the very next day say they never in fact liked Steve Bannon and he was always a fat traitorous monster. Very much the same with Brexit for example – before Farage saying that leaving the single market was lunacy and no one was suggesting it is now backed up by his supporters insisting it’s a betrayal of Brexit to do anything else.

The even greater irony is that in expressing this view that their enemies are mindless drones, they are themselves using a single meme handed down to them by the pallid YouTube stars from whom they get all their news.

It’s not really a difficult point – the alt-right loons tend to believe things because they are told them by the strongmen they adore rather than because there is any evidence or reality behind them. The latest of the things they have been ordered to believe is that their enemies are all mindless drones who believe everything they are told. It’s deeply ironic and good for a few laughs when you imagine the kind of dweeb who sits around thinking they’re clever because they reposted a meme.


Your characterisation of a large portion of the Trump constituency is correct. However, the problem is that you do not appreciate just how much validity there is to the NPC meme.

I thought you might have been making a really intelligent point about the inherent contradiction in unthinkingly rejecting groupthink. Instead you were essentially just saying that people who use the NPC meme are stupid and it is THEY who do what people tell them.

Bitter Basement Dweller

HOW DARE SOMEONE WRITE SOMETHING ABOUT WOMEN. What about the many great male barristers? Shouldn’t they also get recognition? This “””blog””” is just rewriting history by pretending that women couldn’t be barristers just like men if only they hadn’t all wanted to cook and clean for their husbands. Instead of glorifying these “””women””” you should be writing about how they didn’t know their place in the home and decided to selfishly take jobs from honest hard working MEN.



Agreed, people should just enjoy the article instead of engaging in gender related point scoring.


Charlotte Proudman QC

This is somehow about me, I think.



Spookiest picture ever.


not named

Obviously if she was the first woman barrister she was the first at lots of things. First woman barrister to have a piss. First woman barrister to have sex…



By the looks of it I doubt she was the first women barrister to have sex…


I love women barristers

So, so, brave. Well done Aishah for bringing the issue of women barristers to public attention. We don’t hear half enough about women barristers in the legal press. Don’t be put off by the small number of comments, or the fact that most of them are negative. That just proves how brave you are, and how there is MORE WORK TO BE DONE. Keep it up. I see a glittering journalistic career ahead.


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