December 2022 marks 100 years since the first woman was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales.
The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919
Prior to 1919, being a woman or being married prevented you from being appointed to or holding a wide range of professions. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act enabled women to be able to work in the Civil Service and the judicial system. Before this, women were not allowed to join the legal profession as they were not classified as ‘persons’ under the Solicitors Act 1843.
The Act was short, but had profound effects on the abilities of women to participate fully in society. Building on the Representation of the People Act 1918, which had given some women the right to vote, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.
In December 1922, Carrie Morrison was the first woman to qualify as a solicitor, with Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes, and Maud Crofts also admitted.
Championing Women in Law
Over the years many women have had a significant impact on the legal industry. In the UK, women now outnumber men within the legal profession overall, however, males make up 62% of partners while females make up only 35%. Although there has been substantial progress since 1922, it is still important to champion women to senior positions within the legal industry. This encourages other women and girls to pursue a career in law and helps us work towards gender equality within the legal profession.
CEL Solicitors is a female-owned law firm with a female majority workforce. We champion women through mentoring, professional development, and our female empowerment sessions where external speakers will visit the firm to discuss various topics which affect women.
Commenting on the 100 year milestone, CEL Solicitors owner and director, Jessica Hampson said:
‘100 years of progress in the legal profession is an amazing milestone. It is really personal to me as law is my absolute passion and I believe people with passion can change the world just like Carrie. So, for me it is important to honour her achievement by continuing to break barriers and disrupt the industry.
As a female owner, I know I have a duty to support and inspire the future generations of women. I do this through mentoring, promoting, and working alongside other female leaders and directors, having an active social media presence (sometimes just being seen is powerful), and by hosting my female empowerment sessions which cover subjects such as equal pay, birth and doulas, the impact of social media, mental health and more.
As a mother of two young girls, I want to be an example that women in law can have a choice of both career and children in the right supportive environment. At CEL, we aim to provide that supportive environment for our staff.
In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made” – and ain’t that the truth!’
There are limited archives revealing the history of women in law over the century, but research is ongoing. Be sure to check out The First 100 Years project which aims to record and reveal the journey of women in law since 1919 and make this very significant history public.