Celebrating the journey of women in the legal profession: the First 100 Years project marks its one-year anniversary

Francesca Clixby - Celebrating the journey of women in the legal profession: the First 100 Years project marks its one-year anniversary

The afternoon was already off to an ebullient start with a colleague’s birthday lunch festivities under sunny skies and a taxi driver asking me (genuinely) if I needed the peers’ entrance when being directed to the House of Lords. The celebrations were to continue at the official launch of the First 100 Years project.

Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking to the project founder, Dana Denis-Smith, in the initial phase of development. Launched by the legal business Obelisk Support, First 100 Years seeks to highlight and document the work and achievements of women who have had an impact on the legal profession. The initial goal was to create an online library of 100 photos and videos in the run up to 2019; the year that will mark 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers.  

Yesterday, one year into the process, it was clear that the project has developed into something much more significant, generating serious interest within the profession; the incredibly busy room demonstrating the number of those keen to be involved with its future growth and see more achieved in the run up to the centenary of the Act in 2019.

Lady Elizabeth Cruickshank, former chairwomen of the Association of Women Solicitors, gave a fascinating background to the progression since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, outlining the pressures that affected those who chose to enter the profession and the profession’s often hostile reaction to those early trailblazers. Madeline Heggs received rapturous applause from the room on the announcement that 2015 marked 60 years since her qualification, as she shared her story as a pioneering sole practitioner and commissioner.

Many of us present stayed on to enjoy a private tour of the Houses of Parliament, visiting both chambers, and were privy to amusing anecdotes from our enthusiastic guide about past members and various long-standing traditions (who knew there still remained a chamber pot under John Bercow MP’s chair?!).  

This project has gained momentum from those who have shared their inspirational stories so far – but there is surely much more yet to learn. In building a comprehensive timeline of women’s rise in the legal profession, many more biographies, photographs and stories are needed. You can email your stories and comments to yourstory@first100years.org.uk, as well as follow First 100 Years on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

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