Passed only a year after the end of the Great War and the granting of votes to some women, the Act managed to get through Parliament at a time when the peace settlement was still ongoing, there was trouble in Ireland and returning soldiers in need of employment and rehabilitation. Clearly the Government had many other priorities and it is surely remarkable that such a Bill was able to progress at all.
The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 enabled women to become barristers, solicitors, jurors and magistrates, to enter other professions such as accountancy, and with some caveats, to enter the higher ranks of the Civil Service. It allowed women to be admitted to incorporated professional societies, and gave universities the power to admit women to membership or degrees.
The Act was a compromise. From the outset, campaigners knew it did not bring gender equality. Specifically, it did not eliminate the marriage bar – the practice of requiring women to leave paid employment on getting married – in occupations such as teaching, while provisos included in the Act ensured that women could still be barred from some parts of the Civil Service including the Foreign and Diplomatic service, and that judges could exclude women from juries. Nor did the Act abolish discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage, which had to wait for the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to be achieved.
However, while it was clear that its impact would not be as great as feminist campaigners and supportive MPs hoped, given the social, economic and political context of the time it is remarkable that it was able to progress at all.
The full version of this landmark was written by Mari Takayanagi.
Inspirational Women of the Law, ‘Helena Normanton’ http://www.iwlaw.uk/helena-normanton
Mari Takayanagi, ‘Widening Employment Opportunities for Women: The Passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919’, Parliament and Women, c. 1900-1945 (King’s College London, 2012) https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/en/theses/parliament-and-women-c19001945%2834708cef-2efd-4389-9382-5e847fd50189%29.html
Mari Takayanagi, ‘The Sex (Disqualification) Removal Act 1919’ (Women in the Law: Inspired and Inspirations, 30 July 2015) https://womenandthelegalprofession.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/the-sex-disqualification-removal-act-1919/
Mari Takayanagi, Parliament and Women in the Early 20th Century https://parliamentandwomen.wordpress.com