As we have mentioned previously on the blog, this year marks 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was introduced. This landmark act proved to be revolutionary, as it provided women with the opportunity to enter the legal profession for the first time. It was Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup, Mary Sykes and Maud Crofts who took advantage of this incredible opportunity.
Carrie Morrison, at 34 years old, was the first woman to receive acceptance as a solicitor in England and Wales in December 1922. She spent most of her time working as a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ in the East End of London. Furthermore, she also represented prostitutes in court, worked for the Women and Children’s Protection Society and even defended the Becontree Estate protesters in 1932. A pioneering woman who dedicated her career to helping those less fortunate, Carrie set a high bar for other women to follow.
The other three women qualified in January 1923, and also led ground-breaking careers. Mary Pickup worked alongside her husband after getting accepted, having spent the 10 years before that also assisting him. She also worked at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department in Birmingham. Mary was also the only one of the four women who had children to care for whilst studying for her exams. However, it was her determination that allowed her to complete her exams alongside having a family.
Mary Sykes worked for her father’s firm until 1930, when she set up her own legal firm – Mary Sykes and Co. Her father – also a solicitor – died in 1921 so never got to see his only daughter’s achievements. Yet her perseverance and determination allowed her, in 1935, to become the only woman on Huddersfield Town Council and Huddersfield’s only female practising lawyer simultaneously.
Maud Crofts spent a lifetime campaigning for woman’s rights. Even through the First World War she did not give up her fight, instead gaining experience in a solicitor’s office at the same time. Once qualified, Maud and her husband set up their own practice alongside Maud’s brother, Robert Ingram. Maud did not stop work even when she had children, although at the time it was seen as the right thing to do. Maud did not retire until ill-health left her with no other choice. She was 66 years old. Both Maud’s daughter Rosemary and grand-daughter Mary also followed in her footsteps and entered the legal profession. This made them England’s first three generational family of female solicitors.
All four of these women overcame obstacles and fought hard for the right to practice law. They paved the way for women in law now, and in their time they truly changed the legal world for the better.
By Shona Christie
GCU Law Clinic Volunteer, LLB3