100 years ago, on 6 February 1918 the ‘Representation of the People Act’ was passed. This was the first piece of legislation giving women the right to vote. Even then, it was limited to women over 30 who met a property qualification. It was a further 10 years before women received full voting rights.
Nonetheless, this is still an important milestone involving women and the law. In acknowledgement of this, here are some other legal landmarks involving women in the last 100 years.
Believe it or not it was in 1888 when Eliza Orme became the first woman to gain a law degree. In 1913 the Court of Appeal refused four women the right to take their law exams so that they could qualify as solicitors because the Judge, Mr Justice Joyce, ruled that women were not “persons” within the meaning of the Solicitors Act of 1843.
In 1919 after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, four women were actually allowed to pass their law exams and become lawyers.
1920 was the first year that a woman was able to part of a jury. The barrister involved in the case remarked that it was strange to use the words ‘ladies and gentlemen of the jury.’
The first woman to qualify as a solicitor was Carrie Morrison in 1922.
A year later women, for the first time, were given the right to divorce – but only if their husbands had committed adultery. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937 extended this to include desertion for over three years and cruelty.
In 1945 the Family Allowances Act first introduced child benefit.
In 1948 with the introduction of the National Health Service, women were given free access to health care. Previously only the insured could do so, and it was usually men that benefitted.
In 1969 the Divorce Reform Act made the fact of a marriage breaking down an acceptable reason for divorce.
The Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 made it illegal for employers to promote male workers with fewer qualifications. It also became illegal to demote women following their return from maternity leave. The same act outlawed some types of sexual harassment.
A year later the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act was passed and gave more powers to the police to protect victims of domestic violence. In 1977 the first Rape Crisis Centre opened in London. It wasn’t until over 15 years later in 1994 that rape in a marriage was made a crime.
In 2002, Carolyn Kirby became the first female president of the Law Society of England and Wales.
In 2014, the number of women practising as solicitors overtook men for the first time – this is true at The Family Law Company as we have more female solicitors than male solicitors.
According to the Law Society only 25% of partners in law firms are women. Here at the Family Law Company we pride ourselves on being a modern practice offering equal opportunity to everyone.
When we were first formed as Hartnell Chanot, one of the two founding partners was Jane Chanot. On our board of directors there are an equal number of men and women.
Amongst our successful women lawyers is Director and Shareholder, Rachel Buckley who heads up the Divorce and Finance team. If you would like to discuss any family issues, Rachel can be contacted on 01392 457155 or [email protected]