On 23rd December 2019 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Act of Parliament that removed the legal barrier to women becoming lawyers, paving the way for equality in the industry.
At Thomson & Bancks Solicitors, we are proud of the fact that we champion an equal playing field. Four of our eight partners are women – Angela Scott, Sylvia Gillham, Sarah Ingles and, most recently, Emma Cottell. This is a statistic matched by very few law firms, and that doesn’t even include the number of other women who work within our company as solicitors, paralegals, legal executives etc.
These wonderful women are prime examples of how far the industry has come as a whole, and it would not have been possible without the influence of early pioneers such as one Gwyneth Bebb, who married T Weldon Thomson, a solicitor from Tewkesbury, whose name is continued by Thomson & Bancks Solicitors to this day.
By standing up to the prejudiced system in 1913, Bebb was joined by three other women who took their case to the Court of Appeal against professional body The Law Society. Women were not permitted to take the necessary exams to become solicitors, and when the court refused to grant them their request based on “traditions”, it was left to parliament to change the law.
Thus, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was born, enabling women to enter the law profession. One week later, Ada Jane Summers became the first British woman to sit as a magistrate.
Sadly, Gwyneth would pass away in 1921 aged 31, following complications from her second pregnancy. The fruits of her and her fellow women’s labours were shown though when Dr Ivy Williams became the first woman in England to be called to the bar in May 1922, while Carrie Morrison became the first English female solicitor the following December.
The most recent studies show that 48% of all lawyers in law firms are women, while women also make up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners. The difference is greater still in larger firms with 50 or more partners, where 29% are female, so we still have some way to go towards complete equality for women in law.
Nevertheless, without the bravery and commendable persistence of women like Gwyneth, we would not be celebrating this anniversary. It is up to the women of today to continue breaking the walls down and challenging any limitations that society places on them, inspiring women of the future to continue the fantastic work started by Gwyneth Bebb over 100 years ago.
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