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On this day, 100 years ago, the first woman was called to the bar

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Dr Ivy Williams made history on 10 May 1922

Dr Ivy Williams (image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this day, 100 years ago, Dr Ivy Williams made history by becoming the first woman to be called to the bar of England and Wales.

Born in 1877, Williams studied law at the Society of Oxford Home Students (later incorporated into Oxford University as St Anne’s College) and despite completing her law examinations in 1903, she was unable to receive her BA, MA and BCL until 1920 when Oxford changed its regulations.

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Williams joined the Inner Temple as a student in 1920 and went on to score several ‘firsts’ during her legal career. She was the first woman to be called to the bar, on 10 May 1922, and the first to teach law at an English University, lecturing at her alma mater from 1920 to 1945. Williams, who never practised, was also first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford.

The accolade of first woman to practise at bar of England and Wales goes to Helena Normanton, who was called to bar several months after Willams.

Legal Cheek reported how Normanton was commemorated with an English Heritage London blue plaque in September 2020. It marks the address she resided for the early part of her legal career at 22 Mecklenburgh Square in London’s Bloomsbury.

Like Normanton, a blue plaque in Williams’ memory was placed at her former Oxfordshire home in 2020.

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11 Comments

Anonymous

If Dr Williams could see the lack of female representation on the bench, the endless accounts of sexual harassment and the number of organisations set up to respond to the terrible treatment women of all ethnicities face at the Bar in 2022, she would be appalled.

Older gent

Whenever women are underrepresented, it is a systemic issue of discrimination and the patriarchy. When men are underrepresented it is simply okay. Women may never make up 52% of the bench because of the fundamental fact that men and women are different and make different choices in life.

Not so old, and I don't identify as a gent

Assuming unequal gender distribution among a starting selection cohort and equal distribution of merit across that cohort, equal representation can be achieved but at the expense of merit based selection. But equality is more important than quality these days in such matters.

Anonymous

Was there a post for the first female Barristers in the UK? Clue, it wasn’t England

Anonymous

I think it is correct to say she is the first in the UK to be called to the Bar. Averril Deverill preceded her in Ireland which isn’t really the UK. The first Scottish woman advocate had to wait until 1923. Or have I missed someone?

My lovely horse

Deverill was admitted before the Anglo-Irish Treaty so it was the UK then.

I’ll shower you with sugar lumps…

I suppose the UK pre and post 1921 consisted of three separate jurisdictions, so perhaps it matters not.

It’s a pity it took so long though, and that 100 years later it’s still not an equal crack of the whip for women at the Bar.

Pour some sugar on me

Explain the “equal crack of the whip” remark. The reality is the very opposite now, positive discrimination has made the playing field hugely advantageous for women.

Anne Barrister

Aww! Man who
Didn’t get
Pupillage?

Cry me a river!

Duff Beer

No-one cares.

And Bring You To The Horse Dentist

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