The Inns of Court exercised a practically unchallengeable discretion over the training and admission of students to read for the bar and qualify as a barrister. Efforts to cooperate with universities in the training of lawyers were resisted and a clear separation persisted between the academic study and practice of law. The Inns could decide who they would admit and applicants could not appeal their decision to the courts until 1873.
In 1903 Bertha Cave made use of this right and appealed against the decision of the Benchers at Gray’s Inn not to admit her as a student because she was a woman. The Benchers’ decision was upheld by the House of Lords who held that ‘there was no precedent for ladies being called to the English bar, and the tribunal were unwilling to create such a precedent’. In the same year, Christabel Pankhurst applied for admission as a student at Lincoln’s Inn, her application was dismissed on the same grounds that women were not allowed to practise at the bar.
Women were no more successful in their efforts to become solicitors. In 1913 Gwyneth Bebb and her colleagues initiated legal challenges when the Law Society refused their applications to take the preliminary examinations. Despite being represented by leading counsel the court found that the language of the statutes should be interpreted in accordance with ‘long usage’ in the common law, citing a decision made three hundred years earlier by Lord Coke: “fems ne poient ester attorneys”, women could not be attorneys.
The position for women changed after the First World War partly because of their efforts, capabilities and competencies in the war period negating any argument that they were ‘unfit’ for professional occupations. Partly because women had to be economically independent as over a million women would not be able to marry as a result of the male death toll during the War. Also because of a change of attitude, many men, including MPs were supportive of women entering professions. There were some who remained conservative, Lord Birkenhead for example, expressed the common view that any working woman deprived a man of a job and thereby prevented him from establishing a family. Nevertheless, this did not stop three proposed Acts of Parliament, culminating with the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 being passed largely uncontested. Employment opportunities significantly increased and women could finally enter the legal profession.
The 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act stated that:
A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation.
When the Act was passed Carrie Morrison was the first woman admitted as a solicitor in 1922 and Maud Crofts the first to hold a practising certificate in 1923. For the purposes of this project, I have focused on the first women barristers who are considered legal pioneers. Helena Normanton became the first women to be admitted as a student, on Christmas Eve 1919 at the Middle Temple, Dr Ivy Williams the first to be called to Inner Temple in May 1922. Other women followed suit see The First Women Cohort called to the bar. I have focused on three of the initial cohort Dr Ivy Williams, Helena Normanton, Sybil Campbell, and two women who were later admitted and considered pioneers, Rose Heilbron and Elizabeth Lane.
For those in the law their stories, especially Rose Heilbron, are usually well-known but outside the law, they are not. I aim to take these pioneering women into the spheres of historians, teachers and wider society arguing that these legal pioneers are inspirations for all women alike because they did not take no for an answer and overcame a male designed, dictated and dominant profession. The bar was not only masculine in attitude but also in practical terms, separate dining tables were rarely provided for women, there were no separate facilities in chambers, attire (gowns and skirt suits) were determined by men, there were no maternity rights and there was a dire lack of opportunity for women and sometimes men. While the practical factors are not of paramount concern, they do reflect the fact that the bar never conceived women entering the profession and in this sense, women had to adopt what has been called a ‘voluntarist ideology’ whereby it lay with them to accommodate themselves to these practices.
With this in mind, I wonder why these women would want to pursue a career in a profession that was not open or indeed made for them, what inspired these pioneers to enter the law, and in turn become inspirations, and what individual challenges did they face?
Dr Ivy Williams (1877-1966), barrister and lecturer of law
Ivy Williams was born in Newton Abbot in Devon on 7 September 1877, the daughter of George St. Swithin Williams, Oxford solicitor. Ivy’s brother, two years her senior, was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and became a barrister but was tragically killed in the First World War. Educated privately with her brother, Ivy studied Latin, Greek, Italian and Russian but also spoke French and German fluently; she travelled to Europe before becoming the third Oxford female law student by joining the Society of Oxford Home Students in 1896 at the age of 19.
In 1900 Williams took second class honours in jurisprudence and another second in the BCL two years later. At the same time as she was studying at Oxford, Ivy Williams graduated with an external LL.D from London in 1901. It was not until 1920 when women were finally admitted to full membership at Oxford University that Williams could officially receive her honours and BCL.
Ivy Williams was inspired and encouraged to become a barrister by her father who was an Oxford solicitor. On 11 May 1922, the night of her call, she thanked the benchers for the honour they had bestowed and said,
“It had been the dream of her life and her father’s dream for her that she should be a barrister. Now that dream had come true she felt dumbfounded”.
Law was likely to have been a hot topic at home and Williams must have been not only interested in the subject but also aware of the concepts of justice, equality and rights from a young age. It is understood, for example, that Williams set her heart on being called to the bar not just for her or her father’s sake but also to offer free legal advice to the poor. Williams also made her view on women’s rights clear. During the years preceding her admission she noted in the Law Journal, 1904 that,
The legal profession will have to admit us in their own defence… a band of lady University lawyers will say to the Benchers and the Law Society ‘Admit us or we shall form a third bench of the profession and practice as outside lawyers’.
Although her comment was seen more as a ‘threat’ than a promise, as Williams never intended to practise, her awareness and acknowledgement of the inequality women faced speaks volumes. She was also prepared to fight for her own cause, claiming that she would petition to parliament if her application to join the bar was unsuccessful.
As a keen academic the law would also have offered Williams an intellectual challenge and opportunity to be an expert. The fact that became a Doctor of Civil Law illustrates her love of the subject and personal goal.
Although Ivy had read unofficially in chambers in Lincoln’s Inn long before women were allowed into the Inns as students, after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act came into force in December 1919, Williams, then age 42, joined the Inner Temple as a student on 26 January 1920. Having received a first class certificate of honours in her final bar examination in Michaelmas 1921 she was excused from keeping two terms of dinners and consequently called to the bar on 10 May 1922 by Henry Dickens, Charles Dickens’ son, becoming the first woman barrister in England.
Henry Dickens, KC directed the first half of his speech to Miss Williams, speaking of the great advance of women since the days when they were regarded as chattels when they had no property rights but were thought of as mere adjuncts to men; women had won their rights. He advised the students, as his father advised him, to be thorough in all their work and Ivy Williams most certainly took this advice.
Williams chose never to practise as a lawyer. She was a tutor and lecturer in law from 1920 to 1945 to the Society of Oxford Home Students. As the only and first women law tutor, she effectively taught all the women law students in all four colleges, as well as home students over this period. In 1923 she became the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Civil Law in Oxford for her published work.
In 1930, she represented Great Britain at the Conference for the Codification of International Law in The Hague and was elected an honorary fellow of St Anne’s College Oxford in 1956. She died at her Oxford home on 18 February 1966, aged 88.
Education and the law itself presented the most obvious challenges for Ivy Williams. Despite achieving honours and a BCL in 1900 and 1902, her efforts were not officially recognised until December 1920 when women were finally admitted to full membership of Oxford University. At the same time, Williams could not achieve her and her father’s dream until 1919 when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed.
As the first female law lecturer, Williams did not choose a typical career for barristers, yet she was able to successfully overcome male prejudice, progress and effectively manage all the women law students at Oxford. Ivy did not marry or have children, perhaps her career would have been different if she did, but at the same time her choices may reflect her endless devotion, thought and care to the work and careers of her pupils. In 1923 she was able to overcome previous barriers and progress to Doctor of Civil Law and set the standard for future women in the law.
Ivy Williams was the first woman to pass a barrier which had been impassable for six hundred years. She tried to change attitudes by striving for equal treatment and opportunity and was all too aware of the challenges future women in the law would face. In her speech she gave to the benchers on the night of her call, she spoke of the women who would follow and who would practise at the bar, and she asked that every help and encouragement should be given to them in the difficulties they would have to face.
Although Williams did not practise as a lawyer she opened the door and set the standard for other women entering the law and this is why she is an inspiration to women lawyers and society more generally. Like her pioneer counterparts, she did not give up on her or her father’s passion and desire and persisted with a profession and subject that was closed to her.
Many exceptional women have followed her in the Inner Temple, including the first woman to be appointed a County Court judge and then a High Court judge, Elizabeth Lane, and Lord Justice Heather Hallett who was the only woman to have been elected chairman of the bar in 1998. In acknowledging Ivy Williams as her ‘legal hero’ Hallett sends out a clear message,
If the legal profession, and the judiciary drawn from it, are to continue to command the confidence of the public, they must properly reflect the society they serve. It takes pioneers such as Williams to make this happen. I hope there will be a growing and continuing stream of others like her ready to fight the good fight.
Helena Florence Normanton (1882-1957), barrister and feminist campaigner
Helena was born on 14 December 1882 in London, the eldest of two daughters of William Alexander Normanton, pianoforte manufacturer; her father died in mysterious circumstances when she was four. Her mother supported her daughters by letting out rooms of the family home until they moved to Brighton where they ran a small grocery store and later a modest boarding-house.
In 1896 Normanton won a scholarship to York Place Science School in Brighton and left in July 1900 as a pupil teacher. After her mother’s death she helped to run the family’s boarding house before leaving Brighton in 1903 to accept a place at a teachers’ training college at Edge Hill, Liverpool giving lecturers predominantly in history, at Glasgow and London universities.
During the period up to 1918, Helena Normanton combined a teaching career with a developing interest in the position of women. After leaving the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1907 to form the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) Helena continued to campaign for equal rights and resistance of protective legislation but with limited impact. As well as campaigning for women’s suffrage Normanton also wrote several pamphlets.
Alongside this Normanton read for a history degree at King’s College, London passing with first class honours. In 1918 Helena submitted an application to enrol as a student at Middle Temple, who subsequently refused her application. She appealed the Bencher’s decisions, with the support of the WFL, at the House of Lords. Before the hearing date was fixed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill was introduced; the press attributed its enactment in part to her campaign.
On Christmas Eve 1919, within forty-eight hours of passing the new Act, Helena made a second application to the Middle Temple as was successful; she became the first women admitted to an Inn of Court.
Helena became interested in the law at the age of 12 when, taken by her mother, who was discussing some mortgaged house property she listened to the solicitor’s explanation. Her mother could not grasp what the lawyer was saying, whereupon the man said:
I am sure your little girl quite understands what I have told you, from the look on her face. He observed that Helena was “Quite a little lawyer!”
As well as having an aptitude for the law Helena was also aware of women’s inferior place in society. Her published essay on “Magna Carta and Women” recognises this inferiority. Normanton, drawing on a seven-hundred-year-old document, claimed that the disenfranchisement of women contravened Clauses 39 and 40 of Magna Carta. In this assertion, Helena propels the Great Charter into the feminist sphere and serves a legal justification for equality.
Judith Bourne, a lecturer in law and biographer to Helena Normanton, believes that the Magna Carta was instrumental in Helena’s choice to enter a profession that was closed to her. In this way, Helena had an innate sense of equality and believed that women, if admitted to legal professions, could change the injustices within the law. Helena put this notion into practice by taking on women’s and poor persons’ cases for free; openly and plainly speaking about the rights and constraints of women; campaigning for legal change for women inside and outside the law.
At 35 Helena Normanton, now a well-known feminist, finally became the first women to enter as a student at an Inn of Court; she was called three years later along with Sybil Campbell, on 17 November 1922. On 26 October 1921, Helena married Gavin Clark and attracted considerable public interest after insisting she retained her maiden name after marriage. Reflecting later on this event in The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, Normanton notes that, “I was regarded as the enfant terrible.” Helena was able to practise as ‘Normanton’, becoming the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name, but scandalised the legal profession in the process.
Helena practised at the divorce bar and fought for divorce reform. She was the first woman to obtain a divorce for a client and the first female counsel in cases in the High Court of Justice in December 1922 in Searle v Searle. Normanton continued to do divorce but became better known as a criminal advocate being the first female counsel to appear at the Old Bailey on a dock brief in February 1924 and to lead the prosecution in a murder trial in May 1948. It was said that she was inclined to make too much of a meal of quite straightforward Old Bailey cases, trying to turn them into mini-state prosecutions.
A year later in 1949, by then 65, Normanton was made King’s Counsel along with the younger and “more highly regarded” Rose Heilbron. She also became the first woman to be elected to the Bar Council. Helena died in a nursing home in Sydenham, London on 14 October 1957 and was buried after cremation with her husband in Ovingdean churchyard, Sussex.
As a feminist Helena Normanton faced a number of challenges. Within the law, she was conscious of the inequity of treatment of male a female barristers. To counter this she actively supported women pursuing a legal career as a mentor and sponsor and protested that the informal segregation of men and women seriously disadvantaged women who were denied the opportunity to develop contacts that would be important for the progression of their career.
Helena’s progress may have suffered as a result of her feminist activity in the public when she faced charges of advertising (forbidden by legal etiquette) due to the notoriety she gained from her writing, public speaking and feminist activities. Helena believed her application for the Western Circuit was rejected for this reason, which only highlighted the unequal treatment between men and women at the bar. The Bar Council did not reach a conclusion in this matter. It is possible that this experience deterred Helena from applying for a judicial post, as so far as is known, she was never considered for, nor applied for, any. Yet equally Normanton may neither have wanted nor desired to be a judge and by the time she ‘took silk’, at age 65, may have believed herself too old.
Despite Normanton’s public reputation she struggled to build a practice and could not, therefore, earn a living from the law alone. To supplement her income she wrote various publications and articles, occasionally charged for public speaking and let rooms in her house. Insufficient income was not unusual. Many barristers, male and female, had to engage in other activities such as lecturing or writing textbooks to get by, even the esteemed Rose Heilbron initially struggled. Barristers then as now are self-employed and effectively in competition with each other. As advocates barristers’ work depended on referrals from solicitors. If they had no connections in this area work would be difficult to come by.
It could also be the case that Helena’s plain speaking and feminist views hindered her practice. In wider society, she received negative press after she expressed that women should receive pin money from their husbands. The deputy-chairman of the Married Women’s Association expressed that Normanton “insulted” wives with her Victorian approach to property. As a feminist in a predominantly masculine profession and society, Helena would undoubtedly attract criticism. Her views were not always agreeable or revolutionary. Yet she did not compromise her character or cause in the face of discrimination and inequality.
Helena Normanton is among the best known of the first generation of woman barristers. A feminist who strongly believed in equality in all spheres, she is an inspiration because she would not take no for an answer. Like Ivy Williams, she did not give up on her dream of becoming a barrister because the law did not allow it, she waited for her opportunity and grabbed it with both hands at the earliest opportunity. Furthermore, she did not forget her feminist cause and ensured the success of other women barriers by supporting and mentoring them at her chambers. Her donations and bequeath to Sussex University also benefits law students today.
As Judith Bourne argues,
“For me, she is up there with the Pankhursts and Rose Heilbron in terms of her contribution to women’s history. Helena should be a name that law students know and I’m on a one-woman mission to promote her.”
Better make that a two! Helena is an inspiration not only for law students but all women in society.
Sybil Campbell OBE (1889-1977) civil servant, barrister and stipendiary magistrate
Born in Ceylon, now the nation of Sri Lanka, the eldest of three daughters and a son of Neill Graeme Campbell, a tea company agent. Sybil was educated at home by her mother and then at a private school in Berwickshire, followed by finishing school at Paris during 1906-7. She enrolled at Girton College, Cambridge in 1908 and took the natural sciences tripos, part one in 1911 and the economics tripos part two in 1912.
It is not exactly clear what or who inspired Sybil to enter the law if she was inspired at all. However, Patrick Polden, who has written extensively on Campbell, argues that,
She had the law in her genes, for her [maternal] grandfather was Sir William Bovill, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.
As Sybil was taught mostly by her mother until 13 her grandfather could have been an influence through Sybil’s mother or in person. Campbell certainly appears to have inherited the typical characteristics of a lawyer, she was a “stickler for discipline”, assertive, emotionally robust and dedicated and possessed similar traits to her grandfather. Whether these were innate or learned Sybil certainly put these to use in the courtroom.
One further factor that could have influenced Campbell’s decision to enter the law is her experience gained in the courtroom when working as an investigating officer from 1913 to 1918. Sybil prosecuted her on cases and went to the Midlands as an assistant enforcement office for the Ministry of Food, policing the food controls imposed during the latter stages of the War.
Either way, when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed she was among the first cohort to enrol at the Middle Temple on 16 January 1920.
Called on 17 November 1922, Sybil Campbell was in her thirties when she went to the bar. She found a place in the chambers of H.H. Joy and “devilled” for him for seven years, going the midland circuit with little profit.
Sybil Campbell was not overly successful at the bar and made her name instead in her war work, being awarded an OBE for her services in 1942. Towards the end of the Second World War Sybil returned to the bar. At the same time the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, who had a reputation for advancing women, was looking for a suitable juror to replace Arthur Morley who was retiring from Tower Bridge. Morrison went directly to the Lord Chancellor Lord Simon, departing from usual procedure, with his intention to appoint Sybil and Lord Chancellor made no objections.
On 3 April 1945 Campbell’s appointment as stipendiary magistrate, a salaried role where a professional lawyer is appointed under statutory provisions to act instead of or in cooperation with unpaid lay justices of the peace, was announced in the press with a mixed review. The Solicitors’ Journal approved but the Law Journal did not. A number of objections were raised by some members of the bar with regards to the formalities of the appointment and on the grounds of what constitutes “practise”. Legalistic objections overcome Sybil Campbell took her seat at Tower Bridge on 23 April 1945. Before long, however, she faced public scrutiny and criticism, particularly by the South London press, due to her heavy sentencing of first offenders, one of which caused five thousand factory workers to demonstrate in protest; a branch of the local Labour Party called for her dismissal.
Eventually, the outcry against Campbell died down. Some of it had been fuelled not just by genuine social outrage but also by misogyny. As Campbell continued in her role she felt it was less necessary to be severe, believing that ‘her public image was one of toughness but fairness’ and she served dutifully and competently until retired in 1961, age 72, to her home in Lochgilphead, Argyll, with its eight acres of land. She did not marry and died on 29 August 1977, buried at Lochgilphead.
Campbell was lucky, she was not an outstanding barrister but was still the first woman to be offered a senior position as stipendiary magistrate. In this sense, she overcame prejudice at the bar and in wider society. However, in this position Campbell, with her harsh sentencing and indifference to public scrutiny, did not advance the case for other women in the law. To the contrary she may even have delayed it with the next female judge, Elizabeth Lane, appointed almost twenty years later. In some way, Campbell had to overcome this negative reputation and put things right for future women in the law.
Campbell, like other pioneers, was conscious that her actions and reputation would set back the appointment of other women and with this in mind firmly told the newspapers that she wishes simply to be judged on her merits as a magistrate but that was neither realistic or possible. While it is the case, as Polden argues, that Campbell alone was not responsible for the long gap before the appointment as ‘pioneer’ for women in the law her story is somewhat wanting.
On the other hand, she was not the only member of the judiciary to be criticised or pass a harsh sentence. When the fate of an individual’s life is decided by one person, the judge, that decision is open to comment and criticism. I wonder what expectations the judiciary and public had of Sybil Campbell, did they expect her to follow precedent, to be fair because she was a woman, or lenient because she was new? Was she so stern because she wanted to make an impact or merely acting in accordance with her character? Either way, as a pioneer her legacy would be a very different story if she followed the status quo or would it?
As a twentieth century pioneer, Sybil was a difficult choice in some respects. She did not campaign for or advance the case for women in the law and perhaps even hindered it. Yet she did make her mark, mistakes and all. She persevered with a male dominant and dominated profession and did not comprise her character. Towards the end of her career, she softened and learnt from her mistakes, becoming more sympathetic and humane.
Her efforts outside the law secured Crosby Hall as a residence for women graduates in 1927. Inside the law, she was concerned with conditions in prisons, borstals and probation hostels, all of which she visited, a then most unprecedented step for a judge and believed that magistrates had a duty to help mitigate the poverty that could breed crime.
Sybil Campbell may not be a pioneer like Williams or Normanton but in her own way, she is an inspiration. She reminds me that we are human, we make mistakes and quite literally misjudgements but her cricticisms should not deter us from our path nor overshadow our achievements.
Rose Heilbron (1914-2005), barrister and judge
Born on 19 August 1914 in Liverpool, the younger daughter of Max and Nellie Heilbron, her father ran a boarding house for Jewish emigrants en route to the United States, and then took over a small hotel. Rose attended Miss Bell’s primary school followed by a Montessori independent school, and in October 1924 at the age of 10, joined her older sister at the Girls’ Public Day School Trust’s Belvedere School, Liverpool. She also took elocution lessons and in 1931, aged 16, passed with merit the Licentiateship of Guildhall School of Music in elocution, entitling her to teach the subject; her trained voice stood her in good stead as an advocate.
Heilbron was also a drama enthusiast, taking her to the London stage for six months after leaving school. Her acting career did not last long and she returned home to attend Liverpool University in October 1932 to study law; there was only one other girl reading law in her class. She lived at home but engaged in university life through joining societies, becoming the Jewish Student’s Society treasurer, and was determined and critical of her work, always achieving top grades, allegedly working 14 hours prior to her finals.
In 1935 three students out of 29 were awarded a first class honours LLB, Rose was one these. In the same year, she entered Gray’s Inn after being the first woman awarded a Lord Justice Holker Scholarship, the sum of £300 per year. While simultaneously reading for the bar Rose studied for the LLM, graduating with a first in 1937, aged 22. Following an outstanding performance in bar finals, she was called just before the outbreak of the war in 1936.
In reporting on Rose Heilbron’s appointment to King’s Counsel, Langston Day notes that Rose,
Decided at an early age to become a barrister, and she remembers being upset when, as a child, she was taken to a bungalow where a notorious murder had been committed but was not allowed to go inside to see the ‘exhibits’.
This event is not mentioned in Rose Heilbron’s biography. There were a number of high-profile murders in Liverpool so it is possible that this occasion did occur but so far I have not found any evidence of this event.
There is no doubt that Rose was encouraged and inspired by her mother. In Heilbron’s biography, it is noted that,
Nellie Heilbron was the driving force of the family, ambitious for her children and innovative in their education… Consideration was given to her [Rose] going to Cambridge, but this never materialised… She went instead, aged 18, to Liverpool University to read law and so to take the first steps on the path to becoming a barrister.
As well as her mother’s influence Rose was extremely intelligent, had a dramatic flair and a well trained voice, necessary for an advocate. It may, therefore, be a combination of her mother’s influence as well as a character suited to the complexities, challenges and requirements of the law.
Either way, Rose had a particularly close relationship with her mother who was extremely proud of her youngest daughter. She had been Rose’s guiding force, the mainstay of her whole life. When Nellie Heilbron died on 10 May 1938 Rose was heartbroken and traumatised, she nearly gave up her career at the bar but in the end found that becoming a barrister was her only means of financial support.
Heilbron was called to the bar on 3 May 1939. She joined the chambers of her pupil master, Richard Trotter in Liverpool and was elected to the Northern Circuit on 2 February 1940, proposed by the recorder of Liverpool, Edward Hemmerde KC. Rose managed to build up a substantial criminal defence and personal injury practice. Like Elizabeth Lane, she may have found it easier to get started, despite the ingrained prejudices of clients, solicitors, clerks and other barristers, because so many men were away during the Second World War. However, she was able to maintain her practice after this and continued to grow it.
Rose worked extremely hard partly because she was ambitious, partly because she loved her job, the law was her work and hobby, but also because she had to support herself and her family. Heilbron was junior counsel in some notable reported cases, including her first solo murder trial R v Larkin (1943) in which Rose reduced the client’s charges from murder to manslaughter, a good result in the circumstances; Constantine v Imperial Hotels Ltd (1944), establishing that a common innkeeper could not refuse a room to the famous West Indian cricketer Leary Constantine; Adams v Naylor (1946), her first appearance in the House of Lords, where she was commended for her excellent argument; Christie v Leachinsky (1947), establishing that an arrested person must be told the reason for his arrest; and Braddock v Bevins (1948) in which the Liverpool MP Bessie Braddock sued a Conservative candidate for saying she had a tacit deal with the Communists.
By then she was married and shortly afterwards had a daughter, Hilary, in 1949. Have a child did not check Rose’s progress, for in the same year she and Helena Normanton became the first women KCs from the English bar. Their circumstances were very different: Helena was 56, of 27 years’ call and had struggled to build up a practice. Heilbron only 34, then the youngest women to achieve such progression, had a practice of only ten years, the minimum requirement for making such an application, illustrating how successful she was as a barrister.
Once Rose had taken silk her practice really took off and she became one of the most famous and successful defence advocates of the day. The Kelly murder trial in 1950, in particular, brought her name before a wider public, since before the suspension of capital punishment in 1965 murder trials were uniquely potent in spreading the fame of counsel involved. Rose was unsuccessful in the case and Kelly was convicted and sentenced to death and after losing his appeal was hanged on 28 March 1950. In 2003 both convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal as the prosecution had failed to disclose to the defence that a witness had told the police that another man had confessed to the murder months before. Unfortunately Rose, who was now in the early stages of dementia, never knew of this development.
Another notable case, which all law students will learn, is Sweet v Parsley (1970), where the House of Lords held that the mens rea (a guilty mind) was required for every criminal offence unless otherwise expressed by parliament.
By then Heilbron had has established a judicial career. In 1956 she became the first women recorder, for Burnley, and held the post until 1971 when it was abolished. Hale argues that although Sybil Campbell was the first woman to hold salaried judicial office and Dorothy Dix the first to preside over a jury trial, Heilbron can properly be claimed as the first woman to be appointed a judge. In 1957 she also became the first commission of assize and in January 1972 the first woman to sit as a judge at the Old Bailey. Other notable first include the first woman circuit leader (1973) and first woman Treasurer of any Inn (1985).
In 1974 Heilbron was appointed the second woman High Court judge and made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) on her appointment, an honour corresponding to the knighthood customarily conferred upon male Higher Court judges. She was appointed to the Family Division, despite her expertise in criminal law. When Heilbron was appointed to the High Court her husband had retired from medical practice and their daughter, Hilary, was practising at the London bar. They left their home in Wirral to live in the flat at 2 Gray’s Inn Square.
Heilbron retired from the High Court bench in 1988. She died at Highgate Nursing Home, Islington on 8 December 2005. She was survived by her daughter and husband who is still living in Gray’s Inn at the age of a hundred.
Despite Rose Heilbron’s renowned success and fame, she faced a number of challenges as a woman in the law. The Great Depression of the 1930s saw her family struggle financially. As well as receiving the Lord Justice Holker Scholarship she lectured at Liverpool University to raise extra funds and borrowed monies from the bank to get by. Rose also had great difficulty getting pupillage, despite achieving a first class honours degree. One set of chambers explained that she was rejected because the other men in chambers, including the clerk, would not welcome a woman pupil. There were indeed not many women the year Rose began in practice on the Northern Circuit, she was one of 12 female barristers out of approximately 300.
Eventually, Rose overcame her financial difficulties and managed to build up a substantial practice, a task many other women barristers could not do, and earn more than a respectable wage with estimated earnings believed to be around £3,000 to £5,000 in 1948.
Despite her excellent reputation, Rose could still not break artificial ceilings. Hilary Heilbron in her mother’s biography makes it clear that the reason Rose never reached the highest echelons of the judiciary was prejudice and misogyny. Even when appointed to the High Court it was to the Family Division, which was considered suitable for a woman, not the criminal court where her expertise lie.
In some respects, Rose’s daughter Hilary posed a further challenge. When she was born in 1949 there were no maternity rights, no flexible working, and certainly no bar nursery, most of which developments are very recent. Rose took six weeks off when Hilary born she managed to juggle home life and work but it was not easy. Rose and her husband were fortunate to be able to afford to employ a nanny, cook and housekeeper to ensure her work and family life was not compromised. Most women, men or couples today would not be able to afford the luxury.
Gender inequality did not just apply to women. When Rose died her widower received no pension as judicial pension could only be passed to wives. Given the fact that Rose loved, relied and depended on her husband so much, this was a real shame but again emphasises the inherently discriminatory nature of the legal profession.
Of all the twentieth century legal pioneers Rose Heilbron attracted the most, largely positive, public attention and left an inspiring legacy to other, especially northern, women in the law. The rarity of her position as a successful, young and beautiful working wife and mother led to her acquire an extensive public and press following, both nationally and globally. She is regarded by many prominent barristers including Cherie Blaire QC, Veira Bard QC and her daughter, Hilary Heilbron QC, as an inspiration and it is no coincidence that five of the six women High Court judges appointed in 1994 were members of the Northern Circuit.
Rose was not an overt feminist but she believed in women’s rights and called for greater opportunities and empowerment for women. In 1950 at a Women’s Group on Public Welfare she addressed the audience on the legal position of women noting that “prejudice against women is still rampant”. In 1963 at an event organised by the British Federation of University Women, she noted that “this is still a man’s world, although men in this country are dependent on eight million women who work”.
Rose criticised the prejudice women in the professions, yet also patiently tolerated it. She subtly embraced her gender by making small gestures such as not wearing a wig or hat in court, something that women then had to do. When the usher went to evict her Mr Justice Birkett exclaimed in open court that ‘this rule does not apply to Miss Heilbron’; the story made headlines the next day.
Rose did not immediately open doors to all women but her achievements, reputation and circumstances make her an inspiration to past, present and future women lawyers. She is an inspiration to me personally as she found that balance between passion, work and family. While she was undoubtedly more fortunate than most to be able to afford staff, the fact that she remained level headed, held on to her passion and embraced new identities and at the same time became a role model to her daughter is remarkable. Unfortunately, not all women are able to strike that balance. The sad news of the lawyer who killed herself because she felt she had let her family down and was not a good mother sends a sobering message: women in the law are still having to make choices or indeed sacrifices in order to succeed, choices of which can have devastating effects.
Dame Elizabeth Kathleen Lane (1905 – 1988), barrister and judge
Born in Bowden Cheshire on 9 August 1905, to Edward Alexander Coulborn, mill owner at Bury in Lancashire, the second of three children. Lane categorised her family as “upper middle class and neither rich nor poor”, although it is likely they were closer to rich than poor.
Elizabeth showed no interest in academic studies at school and believed that on leaving school she would be “done with academics and have a good time”. That proved not to be the case when, in 1924 at the age of 18, she met Randall Lane and married him two years later.
Her husband’s decision to read for the bar changed Elizabeth Lane’s entire life. Randall Lane, a university lecturer and son of a merchant, decided to read for the bar and encouraged and inspired his wife to do the same; they read law together at the Inner Temple in 1937. Elizabeth excelled at the bar exams and was called in the summer of 1940. Paul Sandlands KC found Elizabeth, now 36, a pupillage in Geoffrey Howard’s chambers where she began work of poor prisoners’ defences and service divorces.
Patrick Polden considers Lane one of the “shining stars” of women in practice at the bar. Her progress, according to Polden, was steady rather than spectacular but her capabilities as a judge were so highly regarded she was placed above Rose Heilbron.
Considering women still had little numerical presence or impact at the bar Elizabeth Lane’s achievements were substantial. She joined the midland circuit the same year she was called, became the third woman KC, after Rose Heilbron and Helena Normanton, in 1950, became the first woman to appear before the House of Lords in a murder appeal and became assistant recorder to the, albeit reluctant, Lord Chancellor in Birmingham in 1953.
Lane was offered a number of opportunities and part-time judicial posts, including her appointment to the County Court in 1962, making her the first woman county court judge. She sat until 1965 when at the age of 60, an age which candidates were felt to be almost too old, she was promoted to the High Court assigned to the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty, later the Family Division and on the appointment made DBE.
Lane retired just over ten years later, in 1978, and sat occasionally in the Court of Appeal from 1980 to 1982. Before she died on 17 June 1988 Elizabeth was made an honorary member of the western circuit and an honorary fellow of Newham College, Cambridge.
Elizabeth Lane may not have faced some of the challenges other women faced at the bar, she could obviously afford pupillage, then around a hundred guineas (about £105), found work in chambers and made a respectable 160 guineas in her first year and did not have to support dependents or juggle childcare as her and Randall’s only son, born in 1928 sadly died at the age of fourteen, when Lane’s career was just taking off.
While it could be argued that Lane did not break through the typically male fields of work such as conveyancing, tax and probate, indeed not one of the leading women made their name by that route, perhaps reflecting her intentions but also the attitudes of male barristers and judges, she overcame a number of glass ceilings and inherent challenges present in a profession designed for men. Her ability and competency allowed her to progress to become not only the first female judge in the High Court but also a highly regarded one.
Lane was undoubtedly aware of the prejudice and discrimination at the bar. She thought her application for county court judgeships in 1955 hopeless if not silly and did it only because “of the urging of other women barristers who argued that unless such applications were made it could be said that women did not want to become judges”. Even when appointed and making a good job of it members of the judiciary still held traditional views of women, such as Mr Justice Hawke who hoped Lane would not be appointed to the London sessions, still less the Old Bailey.
Lane reminds us that our passions can be found at any stage of our life. She always encouraged women entering the law and with her portrait hanging in the Inner Temple, her legacy is undoubtedly an inspiration to all women then and now. Not just because of her then unprecedented progress and the overcoming of personal difficulties, including the death of her son, but also her perseverance with a masculine-designed, dominated and dictated profession.
When we look back at the first women lawyers it is important to remember that as well as pioneers they were human beings who made a difference to people’s lives then and now. The career steps they took and the challenges they overcame are inspirations for us all. We must not forget that, nor must we forget them.
 Patrick Polden, “Portia’s progress: women at the Bar in England”, 1919-1939, International Journal of the Legal Profession, 2007, 12:3, 293-338 notes there were nineteenth century attempts to challenge the bar.
 Rosemary Auchmuty, “Early Women Law Students at Cambridge and Oxford”, The Journal of Legal History, 2008, 29:1, p.63-97.
 Mossman, 2006.
 The Times, 3 December 1903; Elsie M. Lang, British Women in the Twentieth Century (London: T Werner Laurie Ltd, 1929).
 Bebb v Law Society (1913), Times Law Reports, Law Times. Gwyneth Bebb and Karen Costelloe had taken Firsts at Oxford; Maud Ingram had achieved Honours in History and Law and had been working for six months with a firm of solicitors, Lucy Nettleford had taken a First in Part I of the Law Tripos.
 The Appellants were represented by Lord Buckmaster and Lord Robert Cecil who provided several examples of women holding public office such as Lady Crawford who represented an accused in 1563, women practitioners in the courts of medieval Scotland and of a woman solicitor in a seventeenth century. Lord Buckmaster presented the Barristers and Solicitors (Qualification of Women) Bill in the Lords a few months before the Women’s Emancipation Bill in 1919; this bill would open up the solicitors’ profession to women and, he believed, encourage the Inns to admit women.
 For example, the “First Englishwoman Barrister”, The Manchester Guardian, 11 May 1922 reported Mr H.F. Dickens’ (Charles Dickens’ son) speech addressed to Ivy Williams in which he states that “During that war woman had by their work swept away a mass of prejudices, and had won their rights”.
 Lang, 1929; Constance Rover, Women’s Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain 1866-1914 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967).
 Martin Pugh, Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain 1914-1959 (Hampshire: London, 1992), p.90.
 Lord Buckmaster’s Barristers and Solicitors (Qualification of Women) Bill and the Private Member’s Bill, Women’s Emancipation Bill.
 Harry Kirk, Portrait of a Profession: A History of the Solicitor’s Profession, 1100 to the Present Day (London: Oyez Publishing, 1976); see interview with Elizabeth Cruickshank.
 Hilary Sommerlad and Peter Sanderson, Gender, Choice and Commitment (Aldershot: Ashgate/Dartmouth, 1998).
 Hazel Fox, ‘Williams, Ivy (1877-1966)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, available: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36924?docPos=1; accessed: 24/8/15; Auchmuty, 2008.
 The BCL was a long standing degree introduced in 1851 and reformed in 1873. It comprised four papers: jurisprudence, Roman law, English law and international law and a chosen subject. As well as written exams there was a viva voce for the BCL. Effectively it was a postgraduate course, students would normally only take it after they had graduated with a BA, see Auchmuty, 2008.
 It was not unusual for Oxford and Cambridge women to study with an external institution, since London granted them actual degrees and their own institutions did not. The University of London opened its degrees (all but medicine) to women in 1878.
 “First Englishwoman Barrister”, The Manchester Guardian, 11 May 1922.
 Heather Hallett, “My legal hero: Dr Ivy Williams”, The Guardian, 10 February 2011, available: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/feb/10/my%ADlegal%ADhero%ADivy%ADwilliams1/2, accessed: 20/8/15.
 The Law Journal, 1904; Newton Abbot Museum, Dr Ivy Williams, 2014, available: http://www.museum-newtonabbot.org.uk/dr-ivy-williams, accessed: 24/8/15; Fox, 2004.
 Hallett, 2011.
 Legal terms are known as Michaelmas (autumn), Hilary (winter), Easter (spring) and Trinity (summer).
 Auchmuty, 2008; The Manchester Guardian, 1922.
 Dickens was referring to the women’s efforts and work during the war which had swept away a mass of prejudices but he noted that women were still under the control of men, quoting Mr Bumble, “the laws an ass”, see The Manchester Guardian, 1922.
 Auchmuty, 2008.
 The Sources of Law in the Swiss Civil Code (Oxford University Press, 1923).
 Fox, 2004; Hallett, 2011.
 Polden, 2007.
“First Englishwoman Barrister”, The Manchester Guardian, 11 May 1922.
 Hallett, 2011.
 Joanne Workman, ‘Normanton, Helena Florence (1882-1957)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, available: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/39091, accessed: 22/8/15.
 Workman, 2004.
 The WFL found itself handicapped by its inability to carve out a distinctive role; this was reflected in the 1920s by its small and dwindling membership, a severe shortage of funds and a heavy reliance upon a handful of leaders including Helena Normanton see Pugh, 1992, p.47.
 For example, in 1914 Helena published a pamphlet entitled Sex Differentiation in Salary arguing for equal pay for equal work and in 1915 an essay on “Magna Carta and Women”, appearing in The Englishwoman.
 Workman, 2004; Mari Takayanagi, 2012 also acknowledges Helena’s role in lobbying for this Act to be passed.
 Helena Normanton, Everyday Law for Women (Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1932); “Interested in Law at 12”, The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette, 21 December 1932.
 British Library, Helena Normanton, “Magna Carta and Women”, The Englishwoman, May 1919, Vol. XXVI, No.77. Helena later became the founder of the Magna Carta Society in 1921 and served as its honorary secretary until 1953.
 Interview with Dr Judith Bourne, February 2015; “Red Light Stop for Talkers”, Daily Mail, Issue 11995, Thursday 4 October 1934, p.16; Helena Normanton, “Strait-Jacket Women”, Daily Mail, Issue 7737, Wednesday 26 January 1921, p.3; Mavis Landon, “The women who would not take her husband’s name”, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, Friday 26 March 1954, p.7.
 Mavis Landen, “The woman who would not take her husband’s name”, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, Friday 25 March 1954.
 Judith Bourne, ‘The Legacy of Helena Normanton’, Edge Hill University, 11 February 2011, available: https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/news/2011/02/the%ADlegacy%ADof%ADhelena%ADnormanton/1/3, accessed: 22/8/15.
 Workman, 2004 writes more on Helena’s divorce reform.
 Daily Express, 22 December 1922; Polden, 2007; Workman, 2004.
 Polden, 2007; Workman, 2004; Bourne, 2011.
 Polden, 2007, p.308.
 Workman, 2004.
 Circuits date back to the twelfth century when judges were required to travel around the country to hear cases rather than having them all heard in London.
 Helena provided supporting evidence to prove that she was not ‘advertising’ and called attention to male barristers who used family connections for self-promotion see Workman, 2004.
 Candidates were felt too old at 60 but Elizabeth Lane was appointed High Court judge at 60 years and served for around ten years, Polden, 2007.
 Under the pseudonym Cowdray Browne Helena published Oliver Quendon’s First Case in 1927, a romantic detective novel, she contributed to the thirteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica she also published two books on famous cases, The Trial of Norman Thorne (1929) and The Trial of Alfred Arthur Rose (1931). She wrote several titles published under the Books of Our Time series and numerous articles including many feminist articles in Good Housekeeping drawing attention to women who had proved to be successful in spheres other than the purely domestic and columns in the legal query section see Workman, 2004, Pugh 1992 and Antonia Byatt, “100 years of fighting for women’s rights… So where are all the celebrations?”, Good Housekeeping, available: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/28002092/I-n-the-1930s—not-even-100-years-ago,-not, accessed, 24/8/15.
 Polden, 2007; Hilary Heilbron, Rose Heilbron, Legal Pioneer of the 20th Century, (Oxford: Hart Publishing Ltd, 2012).
 “Pay wives pin money by law-woman QC”, Daily Mail, Tuesday 25 November 1952.
 “‘Insult’ to Give Wives Pin Money”, Daily Mail, Thursday 3 April 1952.
 The School of Legal Studies, University of Sussex benefited from Normanton’s bequest estimated at around £400,000, see University of Sussex newsletter, “Law Students Benefit from Barrister’s Bequest”, Friday 19 November 1999, available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/internal/bulletin/archive/19nov99/article1.html, accessed: 22/8/15.
 Bourne, 2011.
 Patrick Polden, ‘The lady of tower bridge: Sybil Campbell, England’s first woman judge’, Women’s History Review, 1999, 8:3, 505-526, p. 509.
 In the Solicitors’ Journal (1987), 131, p.1008 Sybil was noted to be a ‘stickler for discipline and worked her staff hard’, see Polden, 1999, p.517; Polden, 2007 notes the typical persona of the [male] barrister: physically and emotionally robust, assertive, worldly wise, willing and able to work long, flexible hours and travel at short notice, p.331.
 The Times, 1 September 1977, noted that Campbell ‘sometimes appeared to make up her mind before she heard the whole of a case’, a trait mentioned in the entry on Bovill in the DNB.
 Polden, 1999.
 Polden, 1999; Polden 2007.
 In 1939 the Ministry of Food appointed Campbell Assistant Divisional Food Officer (Enforcement) for London where reported and shut down black market rationing activities.
 Lord Simon wrote that ‘she [Sybil Campbell] lived for a long time with another public spirited lady – the headmistress of a London school – whom I have known since I was a child, and all this predisposes me in her favour’, see Polden, 1999, p. 511.
 Polden, 1999, p.511 provides more information on the objections raised.
 First offenders were usually fined but Campbell sentenced them to prison, Ada Graham (a crippled widow) for example, received three months in connection with the theft of cloth, underwear, blankets, tablecloths and plastic; another man was given six weeks for stealing three bars of soap. Five thousand factory workers demonstrated in protest at the sentence of this latter case and various south London trades councils, the local branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, and one ward of the local Labour Party called for her dismissal, see Oldfield, 2004 and Polden, 1999. Later on there was a full page attack of Campbell by an influential columnist in the Sunday Pictorial of 5 January 1947 which provoked angry letter from individuals and organisations, see Cassandra, “The Lady of Tower Bridge”, Sunday Pictorial, 5 January 1947.
 Oldfield, 2004.
 Polden, 1999, p.517.
 Katherine B. Beauman, Sybil Campbell (London: Sybil Campbell Library Committee, 1987), p.12; Polden, 1999.
 Polden, 1999 argues the main reason was the control of practically all appointments by the Lord Chancellor’s Office, which made selections by criteria unfavourable to women.
 Sybil was the first secretary of the Cambridge University Women’s Appointments Board from 1930 to 1939 and was a supporter of Crosby Hall, the former house of Sir Thomas More, and acquired it as the headquarters of the British Federation of University Women (BFUW), see Oldfield, 2004 and Polden, 1999.
 Oldfield, 2004; Polden, 1999 notes that Sybil had been briefly the honorary secretary of the David Isaacs Fund for the Poor of London as a signal to magistrates that they had a duty to the poor.
 Heilbron, 2012; Brenda Hale, “Heilbron, Dame Rose (1914-2005), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2009, available: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/96231, accessed: 25/8/15.
 Heilbron, 2012.
 Polden, 2007; Heilbron, 2012.
 Langston Day, “Women’s King’s Counsel in Britain”, American Bar Association Journal, November 1949, Vol. 35, No. 11, p.915.
 Heilbron, 2012, p.4/8.
 Ibid, p.17/18.
 Hale, 2009.
 They were preceded by a Scottish appointment, Margaret Kidd, in 1948.
 Hale, 2009; Heilbron, 2012.
 Hale, 2009.
 Heilbron, 2012.
 Heilbron, 2012.
 Cherie Blaire’s forward in Heilbron, 2012.
 Vera Baird, “My legal hero: Rose Heilbron”, The Guardian, 11 August 2010, available: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/aug/11/legal%ADheroes%ADrose%ADheilbron1/2; accessed: 24/8/15.
 Heilbron, 2012, p.109/258.
 Heilbron, 2012, p.24.
 Elizabeth Lane, Hear the Other Side (London: Butterworths, 1985); Polden, 2007.
 Elizabeth Lane went to Twizzletwig School in Hindhead and at Malvern Girls’ College, Elizabeth preferred games to academic studies, see Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, rev, ‘Lane, Dame Elizabeth Kathleen (1905-1988)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, available: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40092, accessed: 18/8/15. Lady Butler-Sloss is the first woman appointed to the Court of Appeal and to become a head of division.
 Butler-Sloss, 2004.
 Lane, 1985.
 Polden, 2007, p.305, quotes Coldstream the permanent secretary to Lord Chancellor (1954-1968) who minuted that Lane was “so inherently capable that she would do almost any second row judicial job thoroughly competently”. Coldstream was not so optimistic about other women, noting in 1961 that Dorothy Knight Dix, QC (1957) and county court judge (1968), would not “be a safe appointment [to the bench]”, p.306.
 Lane became a member of the Home Office committee on depositions in criminal cases in 1948, was assistant recorder of Birmingham (1953-61), the first woman recorder of Debry (1961-2), a commission of the crown court at Manchester (1961-2) and chair of the Birmingham region mental health review tribunal (1960-62), see Butler-Sloss, 2004 and Polden, 2007.
 Between 1971 and 1973 Elizabeth chaired the committee on the working of the Abortion Act, managing controversial and emotive problems with skill and understanding, see Butler-Sloss, 2004 and Polden, 2007.
 Heilbron, 2012.
 Polden, 2007. In the 1940s a barrister would get three guineas for a legal aid case and seven guineas if the case was of exceptional length and difficulty, the comparative figures for silks were 10 and 15 guineas, Heilbron, 2012, p.23.
 Lane, 1985, p.122.
 Coldstream, the permanent secretary, attributed to “simple a traditional preference”, see Polden, 2007, p.326/7.