When we think about International Women’s Day, we think about important topics in relation to gender, equality and social justice. It’s all about creating visibility and giving women a voice about issues that they may not have felt they were able to speak up about in the past. The same way that it is important to consider men’s mental health and how we break toxic stereotypes of masculinity, it’s important that we address women’s issues with patience, understanding and an open mind.
Here at Gowing Law, we believe in equality for all. We will provide justice and legal advice to anyone who asks for it. Previously on our blog, we have already discussed a number of social issues for International Men’s Day and within our BAME diversity blog series. That’s why we have been having a hard think about how we can do something similar for International’s Women’s Day. We want to discuss some of the biggest adversities that women have faced and overcome when it comes to the legal world. To do this, we are going to look back deep into history and focus on four amazing individuals who paved the way for so many female law experts in the future. These women are Carrie Morrison, Mary Elizabeth Pickup, Maud Crofts and Mary Elaine Sykes.
Before we jump straight into the content, don’t forget that Gowing Law Solicitors is here to help you with any sort of personal injury or tax claim. For expert legal advice, contact us today at 0800 041 8350 or use our claim’s checker below:
UK Law History & International Women’s Day: A little context
Before we jump into the actual history of our aforementioned female legal experts in relation to International Women’s Day, let’s have a look at life in 1920’s Britain. That way we can understand the trials that women faced during the “Roaring Twenties”. Before the 1920’s, life was rather difficult for women. An article by The Mirror captures the sentiment perfectly of the time through their headline:
“No vote, poor pay, little help”
Before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act came into play in 1919, women were practically seen as second-class citizens. Not only did they not have the vote, but they were greatly encouraged to maintain the household as a full-time mother. This came with the mentality that their main purpose was to serve their husbands and to raise their children. If they did get an education, their lessons mainly focused on domestic subjects (i.e. needlework, childcare and house-management skills.) rather than pragmatic skills that could get them work. That was why a lot of lower-class women ended up as domestic servants in an upper-class household.
Here is a list of some professions that women would be found in during the early 1900s:
International Women’s Day: Myths of 1900s Family Life
Due to their lack of independence, including financial independence, it was unlikely that a wife would be able to leave her husband in the early 1900’s. One of the overarching “myths” of the time was that there was a great importance placed on the family unit. If a woman did end up getting divorced from her husband, it would be very likely that she would be shunned from her society and become an outcome. Overall, this meant that they would become outcasts in their own community. Therefore, even if they were unhappy in their marriages, they could not leave their situation.
Suffragettes and Suffragists
This was where the suffragettes and suffragists came in. You will notice that all of the female lawyers we speak of were disgusted by the conditions of the lives of working-class women. One of the biggest speakers of this time was Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). One of her main beliefs was that the inability to vote was one of the main reasons women were classified as inferior. In particular, she believed that women:
“would remain a servant class until they lifted themselves out of it.”
With these words in mind, let’s move onto the four women who brought such a significant change to the world of law by becoming the first female solicitors in the UK. It was thanks to them that women today now have the opportunity to engage in the world of law.
International Women’s Day: Carrie Morrison
“Men say the law is too rough and tumble for women”
Carrie Morrison is known as the first women in the UK to become a legal solicitor. She achieved this status in December 1922. This was after she had tried out many different types of careers and found that none of them actually suited her. In an interview with the Dundee Evening Telegraph, on the 31st October 1922, she stated:
”I dropped into the work by accident; I had tried teaching but hated it, and that was bad for the children I had to teach. Then I took a secretarial course, hoping to get a job as a political secretary… When I returned, the Women’s Sex Disqualification Bill had been passed and Mr Baker agreed to waive a premium to give me a salary for my work as solicitor’s clerk.”
Not only did she have her education at Girton College in Cambridge, she was known for entering legal articles in “The Strand” whilst she was trying out various career paths. One of the most interesting things about Carrie Morrison was her opinion on equal treatment of genders. She is known for working as a Poor Man’s lawyer for those who could not afford legal assistance. This included prostitutes whilst she was a solicitor in the Women and Children’s Protection Society. However, she also defended men who she believed were being taken advantage of by their wives. She even tried to shield her 17-year-old male clerk from reading and seeing the brutal details of her cases. This shows how she had empathy for both genders. She also believed in equal treatment in the justice system for men and women alike.
Carrie Morrison & Divorce Reforms
Morrison also had strong opinions when it came to divorce reform. In 1931, she actually became the first women to speak at the Law Society’s yearly provincial meeting. She spoke about there being a need for an institution to help with family and marital problems known as a “Courts of Domestic Relations”. It would also help to settle divorces and make sure that both parties would receive an outcome that they were happy with.
Although Morrison did go through a divorce herself, she actually stayed on good terms with her husband. They together to improve the legal UK divorce process. They were both actually involved in the Married Women’s Association, with her husband as the chairman. Morrison worked hard to ensure that both women and men were respectfully treated within the court system and is known as a ”trailblazer”. She was seen as such an inspiration that after her death in 1950, the Association of Women Solicitors held a minute’s silence to commemorate her achievements in the field of law. It is clear that she paved the way for many, many women to come. After all, by 1967, around 2.7% of lawyers in the UK were women!
International Women’s Day: Mary Elizabeth Pickup
“There is a field open to women solicitors to do certain types of work”
Just like Carrie Morrison, Mary Elizabeth Pickup was one of the first female lawyers to operate in the UK. Similarly, she believed that legal advice was a human right, therefore it should be available to all who needed it.
Pickup was born in 1881 into a prosperous household and was able to benefit from the social mobility of the time. Her father, Joseph McRoberts Snoddy, believed in education and send his daughter to the University of Wales to receive a BA degree. She ended up working in the office of Thomas William Pickup, her future husband, and after 1919 (when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) act came into play), she became articled to the Birmingham firm. This made her the first female solicitor in Birmingham, as well as one of the first four women in England to become a lawyer.
Balancing Life Commitments
Not only did Pickup relish being a full-time mother, but she took on the challenge of juggling her private life with her public ambitions. This included studying for legal examinations and carrying out volunteer work. Normally, Pickup would go to literary societies and women’s meetings to speak about equality and how they could work together to improve the lives of women and men around the country and overseas. Pickup even became the President of the Birmingham Soroptimist Society!
Pickup was an inspiration to those around her. Perhaps if she had been given more opportunities then she would have been able to achieve more in her life before she sadly passed away in 1938 at 57 years old. This is why it is so important to give people in the present equal opportunities to see how they could make the world better for everyone, regardless of gender, race or sexuality.
International Women’s Day: Maud Crofts
“We women want not privileges but equality. We do not want to be treated as children, and we are willing to take the responsibility if we get the privileges.”
Out of the first four women who qualified as solicitors in the UK, Maud Crofts was one of the most vocal and most intelligent. She was born in 1889 and was one of 12 children fathered by Thomas Lewis Ingram, a Middle Temple Barrister. Crofts believed that the best way for women to attain equality to men was through education and was constantly seen reading. In particular, she was interested in legal documents, so much so that her parents gave her a copy of the legal documents of her home. It was through this that she began to understand the importance and power of the law.
Overcoming the odds
As she grew older, she began to understand the bias against her due to her gender. She saw herself as an educated woman, yet she was unable to vote. She often used the example that her father’s gardener was allowed to vote on UK decisions, yet she was not. That led her to become a suffragist and use her voice to speak on behalf of all women. However, she did seem to harbour a slight disdain for suffragettes, believing that they would not present their cause in the best light by ” by chucking themselves in front of race horses or tying themselves to railings…” instead ”it had all to be done in a legal way”
During her time at Cambridge University, she overcame many adversities. One of these was in 1913 where she was refused by the Law Society in her request to undertake a preliminary examination. However, this did not stop her. She had completed her studies in History and Law and instead joined the Committee for the Opening of the Legal Profession to Women. It was this committee of activists that assisted in the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) act by December 1919. This is what allowed women to take their first steps into the world of law, as well as Crofts herself.
Women’s Suffrage and Legal Rights
Crofts is known as an advocate of women’s suffrage and rights in the workplace. Eventually, she married John Crofts and opened up an office together at 5 New Square alongside her brother, Robert Ingram. She became an expert in family law, deciding to use her new status as a solicitor to work for charities and people in need. This included the Six Point Group and The National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child. Her specialities included divorce, custody of children and marriage decisions. During her work as a solicitor, she also wrote a book in 1925 known as “Women under English Law”. It contained a defined description of law in relation to women’s rights and their legal status. This was the first of its kind, as it was actually written by female lawyer and contained detailed discussions about a woman’s place in society.
One of the major things that has stood out in Crofts life was her ability to juggle her professional and private life. She actually continued being a lawyer until she was around 66 years old. Her own daughter, Rosemary, and her grand-daughter, Mary, actually both became lawyers themselves! This meant that her family actually became in the first in England to have three generations of female lawyers.
International Women’s Day: Mary Elaine Sykes
”The Wise Little Owl”
Out of the four women who first qualified as solicitors, Mary Elaine Sykes was known as one of the most intelligent. Not only was she a polymath but she was able to speak several languages. She also had quite an impish sense of humour about her and enjoyed using Shakespearean quotes in her conversation.
Sykes was born in 1896 and was able to pass her final exams in the Law Society in 1922. Living in Huddersfield with a solicitor father, James Sykes, the day that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was put into the place, he rushed his daughter onto the train so she could register her articles with the Law Society. That way she would be the first woman in the UK to do so. Unfortunately, she was beaten by another girl, Katharine Elizabeth Chambers, the daughter of a London lawyer who got there first.
Sadly, Syke’s father died in 1921 and never got to see his daughter flourish in the field of law. She was able to become a solicitor in 1923 and worked for his own law firm. This was up until 1930 where she decided to set up her own firm. This firm was known as “Mary Sykes & Co.” Many people described Sykes as a person with an “acute legal mind” and ended up being able to split her life between legal matters and local politics. She was a natural problem-solver and actually started off her political career by becoming a Labour Party stalwart member. In 1937, she became the first female alderman and then the Lord Mayor of Huddersfield. As you can see, she managed secure a number of “firsts” under her belt. This was whilst being able to balance all of her duties effectively.
Politics and the legal world
Syke’s actively encouraged women to get involved in politics. She trained at least four women as solicitors, including Dora Atkinson who came into her partnership. Although she was quite a quiet woman, she was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in. This included women’s rights. The cases she took on were incredibly diverse as she aimed to help as many people as possible. For instance, not only did she argue for municipal laundries in council homes to be open to make it easier for ladies to work, but she even took on private murder cases in post-war Germany.
If there was anyone who was truly passionate about her work, it was Sykes. She carried on her law work and position as a solicitor up into her seventies. Sykes passed away in 1981, but still stands as a role model to young women who wish to learn more about the field of law and the career of a solicitor.
The Importance of International Women’s Day
Here at Gowing Law Solicitors, we aim to get justice for all of our clients. We believe in equality. No matter your gender, our solicitors will be there to give you personalized legal advice. That way they can get you through this difficult time. International Women’s Day is about empowering young women to follow their dreams and ambitions. However, it is also a day to reflect on the lives of those who have paved the way for the next generation. We celebrate this day in their memory. It’s our hope we can keep inspiring young women around the world to move forward with their goals.
Gowing Law Solicitors is a firm that supports change and equality between all people. That’s why we have also set up our own charity “Together in Football Foundation”. We want to bring all children together from a range of different backgrounds to enjoy a game of football. We even have Michael Owen as our brand ambassador! For more information about our charity, click the link below:
Don’t forget about our International Women’s Day Competition!
Don’t forget that Gowing Law Solicitors is also hosting a giveaway to celebrate this important day! The deadline is at the end of the day to get involved, but you could win a “Soap & Glory Mini Tin Set” for yourself or someone close to you. It’s really simple to get involved. All you have to do is:
- Leave an answer to the question “What does International Women’s Day mean to you?” in the comments of our social post
- Like and share the post
We will then pick a random winner through a raffle! You have until the 12 am to get involved. So make sure to click the links below to visit our Twitter and Facebook posts for more information. That way you can find out more about our International Women’s Day giveaway.
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