On this day, 100 years ago, the first woman was called to the bar
Dr Ivy Williams made history on 10 May 1922
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.
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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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.
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.