Last 12 months, we celebrated ‘Vote a hundred,’ the anniversary of the primary ladies having the right to vote in parliamentary elections inside the UK and Ireland. Statues had been raised to the leaders of the suffrage movement – Millicent Fawcett in London, Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester. This year marks every other crucial centenary: a hundred years seeing that women’s access into the felony career. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 allowed women to turn out to be solicitors, barristers, magistrates, and jurors for the primary time. It also enabled girls to enter different professions, such as accountancy, and admitted girls to the higher ranks of the local carrier.
The act begins promisingly: ‘A man or woman shall now not be disqualified with the aid of intercourse or marriage from the workout of any public function, or from being appointed to or conserving any civil or judicial post, or from coming into or assuming or wearing on any civil career or vocation.’ It has now not been well remembered. This is because it eliminated barriers instead of actively giving girls rights, so its impact was restricted. Women have been still hampered using limitations, including the bar on married girls operating in many professions. Additionally, the act had provisos that averted women from coming into the overseas and diplomatic carrier and allowed judges to rent all-male juries. But how did it come to skip at all as early as 1919? It turned into the handiest a 12 months because of the partial ladies’ franchise.
The conflict had barely ended, with the peace settlement ongoing, trouble in Ireland, returning squaddies – there were many different political priorities. The 1919 act turned into a central authority bill delivered to kill off a more radical Labour celebration non-public member’s invoice. The Women’s Emancipation Bill might have not only allowed girls into the professions but additionally given girls the vote on equal terms as men and enabled women to sit down inside the Lords. All these problems have been left top-notch after 1918, while the Representation of the People Act 1918 had given the vote to girls over 30 who met a minimum assets qualification. The Women’s Emancipation Bill handed the Commons; however, it became killed off within the Lords. It turned into just too radical for the Conservative-dominated coalition government. The equal franchise needed to wait until 1928, and women could not sit down inside the Lords till 1958.
However, the access of girls into the professions was no longer so debatable through 1919. This turned into thanks to campaigning women in many previous years, including Bertha Cave’s unsuccessful software to Gray’s Inn in 1903. Suffragette chief Christabel Pankhurst (pictured, center) had a regulation diploma but was unable to train; she famously defended herself and other suffragettes in a courtroom in 1908 following their arrest for setting up a ‘rush’ on Parliament and referred to as cabinet ministers as witnesses. The campaign for girls to go into the legal career culminated in the 1914 check case of Bebb v The Law Society. It becomes discovered that girls couldn’t emerge as solicitors as they’d by no means been solicitors, and regulation in parliament turned into had to change this case. Supporters of Gwyneth Bebb and her fellow campaigners took up the cause in parliament, including her legal suggest Lord Buckmaster in the Lords and Lord Robert Cecil in the Commons.
Progress changed initially gradually, with opposition to ladies suffrage still strong and conflict ongoing. However, after some women got the vote in 1918, the manner turned into clear to transport forward on other problems regarding girls’ rights, and in 1919 a Barristers and Solicitors (Qualification of Women) Bill surpassed thru the Lords with nearly no opposition. It changed into rendered pointless through the passage of the wider Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. At the time, Lord Buckmaster reassured the House that: ‘Nobody thinks that this bill goes to flood the legal profession with girls. On the contrary, it will enable some ladies, who’re specifically certified, to earn an honorable residing.’
The trouble of ladies in the professions changed into additionally discussed inside the Commons at some stage in the passage of the Women’s Emancipation Bill, wherein MPs from all events supported the idea of girls inside the law, many arguing they might bring a brand new perspective, especially inside the magistrates’ court docket. Coalition MP Captain Loseby, a schoolmaster and barrister, talked about his six ‘shabby genteel’ sisters who had the options handiest of being governesses, nurses, or schoolmistresses been honorable, however ‘underpaid, overworked and unwell-fed professions… all different avenues have been closed. The parliamentary debate suggests a sea change in attitudes when you consider that 1914.
Although no longer as radical as a few were hoping, the 1919 act was enormous. Previously girls had no function in the courtroom apart from as defendants or witnesses; now, they could argue instances, preside from the bench or weigh up proof in the jury box. The manner was open for Ada Summers to end up the first justice of the peace; for Carrie Morrison, Ivy Williams, Helena Normanton, and other pioneers to go into the prison profession; and for ladies everywhere to serve on juries. The 1919 act became a prime leap forward. We have to consider and rejoice it 100 years on.