Normanton’s admission … symbolised the end of women’s formal discrimination. It was a ground breaking step and her fortitude in remaining in practice despite the negative narrative that grew up around her and the constant allegations of self-publicity demonstrate her resolve in opening up the bar to women, not just by one landmark admission to an Inn of Court, but by a continuing personal sacrifice to break down discrimination against women at the Bar.
Helena Normanton (1882-1957) was the first woman, alongside eight other women (Monica Geikie Cobb, Auvergne Doherty, Ethel Bright Ashford, Naomi Wallace, Sybil Campbell, Elise Wheeler, Lillian Dawes and Beatrice Honor Davy), to be admitted to an Inn of Court (Middle Temple). She was admitted on 24 December 1919 immediately after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 received royal assent. Theodora Llewellyn Davies was admitted to Inner Temple the same day.
While Normanton was not the first women to be called to the Bar, that honour went to Ivy Williams in May 1922, she was the first woman to be briefed in both the High Court and the Central Criminal Court and she was, with Rose Heilbron, one of the two first women King’s Counsels in 1949.
The full version of this landmark is written by Judith Bourne.
100 First Hundred Years, ‘Helena Normanton’ (15 October 2014) http://first100years.org.uk/helena-normanton/
Caroline Derry, ‘Ethel Bright Ashford: A Member of the First Small Cohort of Women to Practice at the English Bar’ (100 First Hundred Years, 17 August 2016) http://first100years.org.uk/ethel-bright-ashford/