Category: First women

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz

On 28 December 1918 the first woman MP was elected to the House of Commons. She was an Irishwoman, a nationalist, a revolutionary & a suffragette: Constance Markievicz, ‘the Rebel Countess’. Of 1,623 candidates in the election, only 17 were women & only one, Markievicz, succeeded. However, she never took her seat. She was one of 72 Sinn Féin MPs who all followed an abstentionist policy, not recognising the validity of Westminster’s jurisdiction in Ireland.


The full version of this landmark is written by

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Karl McDonald, ‘Countess Markievicz: The Violent Republican Feminist Who Was UK’s First Female MP’ (iNews The Essential Daily Briefing, 8 January 2018)

Lesley MacDonagh

Lesley MacDonagh

Colour photo of Lesley MacDonagh
Lesley MacDonagh

In a sector known for its macho, long-hours culture, the appointment of a woman as managing partner of a top 10 law firm in 1995 was striking. The successes of Lovells during MacDonagh’s time as managing partner are proof (if such proof was ever needed) that a woman can lead an elite law firm. And lead it well. MacDonagh’s life away from the office evidence that it is also possible (as a woman) to combine a family with elite law firm management (such a combination seeming to be a given for men in law firms).

Steven Vaughan

In 1995, Lesley MacDonagh (1952- ) was appointed as the managing partner of Lovell White Durrant (now Hogan Lovells), the first time that a woman had been chosen to lead a top 10 law firm in England & Wales. At the time of her appointment, the firm comprised 1400 partners and associate lawyers spread across nine offices in Europe and Asia. By the time Ms MacDonagh stepped down as managing partner, 11 years later, Lovells had doubled in size, due mostly to its merger with German firm Boesebeck Droste that MacDonagh led at the beginning of the millennium. She was voted ‘Legal Business Managing Partner of the Year’ for the year 2000.

The full version of this landmark is written by Steven Vaughan.

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eFinancialCareers Ltd., ‘Day in the Life: Lesley MacDonagh, Managing Partner, International Law Firm’ (22 April 2002)

The Independent, ‘First Woman Among Equals’

The Law Society Gazette, ‘Glass Ceiling Shattered— Lesley MacDonagh the First Woman to Become Managing Partner of a Top Ten City Firm’ (8 February 1995)

Patricia Scotland

Patricia Scotland

In June 2007, Patricia Scotland (1955- ) became the first woman – and to date only woman – to take up the position of Attorney General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland since its foundation in 1315. She was also the first black woman, and indeed the first black person – and only black person – to be elevated to the post. She was in office from June 2007 until May 2010 when the Labour party lost the general election, after which she became the shadow Attorney General until 2011. On her appointment, members of the press described her as the most prominent black woman in government and as a leading voice on racial, feminist and equality issues.

However, this was not her only ‘first’.

Colour photo of Patricia Scotland sitting on a couch
Patricia Scotland, from Commonwealth Secretariat [CC BY-NC 2.0(]
In 1991, she became the youngest and first black woman to ever become Queen’s Counsel. She was also the first black woman to be appointed Deputy High Court Judge, Recorder and Master of Middle Temple. In 2001, she became the first black woman ever to be appointed as a minister in a UK government when she was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for the Lord Chancellor’s Department.

The full version of this landmark is written by Linda Mulcahy.


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Chuka Umunna, ‘The Duty to Inspire’ (New Statesman Media, 30 August 2007)

Dan Newling, ‘The Future QC Born Into A Family of 14’ (17 September 2009)

Patricia Scotland QC, ‘Who I Am’

Patricia Scotland QC, ‘News’

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson

Colour photo of Mary Robinson standing in front of flags shaking hands at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation in 2017
Mary Robinson at the OECD from OECD 2017 [CC BY-NC 2.0 (]

It has been almost 27 years since Ireland elected its first woman President, yet it is clear that the legacy of this landmark endures as Irish women continue to claim their rightful place in public office and continue to demand more for themselves, persisting in the quest for further reproductive rights. As Mary Robinson said, ‘Feel empowered. And if you start to do it, if you start to feel your voice heard, you will never go back

Leah Treanor


Black and white photo of Mary Robinson as President of Ireland in 1990
Mary Robinson as President of Ireland in 1990, from the Irish Labour Party [CC BY-ND 2.0(]
In 1990, Mary Robinson (1944- ) became the first woman President of Ireland, making Ireland the first EU country to elect a woman as Head of State. Her political career had begun 20 years earlier when she was elected to Seanad Éireann, the Upper House of the Oireachtas. A constitutional lawyer, Mary Robinson championed human rights and gender equality both in her work as a lawyer and as a Senator. Despite the limited constitutional remit of the Irish President, Mary Robinson’s Presidency was an active and meaningful one. Indeed, many would say that Robinson redefined the office of President itself.

The full version of this landmark is written by Leah Treanor.


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Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Mary Robinson: President of Ireland’

The Mary Robinson Centre, ‘Mary Robinson— Global World Leader’

President of Ireland, ‘Mary Robinson’

President of Ireland, ‘Office of the President of Ireland— A Timeline’

RTÉ Archives, ‘President Mary Robinson: From Rocking the Cradle to Rocking the System 1990’

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss

She chose to turn her status as an outsider – by virtue of her gender – into a strength rather than a weakness. Making something unusual, like being the first woman on the Court of Appeal, look utterly normal is her legacy to future generations of women lawyers. And is something that might resonate more in the future that it was appreciated in her day.

Dana Denis-Smith

Baroness-Butler-SlossIn 1988, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss became the first woman to be appointed to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Hers was a speedy rise, after less than a decade as a High Court judge. It was also an historic one; she was – at the time – the highest-ranking woman judge in the country, a position she held until Lady Hale’s appointment to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords in 2004. Ten years later, in 1998, she became the first woman President of the Family Division, a role she held until her retirement in 2005, and in which she is yet to be followed by another woman. She chaired a number of high-profile government inquiries, including the Cleveland Child Sex Abuse inquiry and the inquiry into the death of Princess Diana, as well as ruling in high-profile children’s rights and capacity cases.

The full version of this landmark is written by Dana Denis-Smith.

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A conversation with Lady Justice Butler-Sloss:

Profile: Elizabeth Butler-Sloss:

Claire Palley

Claire Palley

Claire Palley’s appointment demonstrated that it was possible for a woman not only to succeed in academia, but at the same time to be a mother and to play a leading role in public life as a political activist, concerned with the effects of her research on the society in which she lived. In that regard, she was far ahead of her time

Fiona Cownie

Black and white photo of Dr Claire Palley
Dr Claire Palley from Cyprus Mail Online

In 1970, Claire Palley became the first woman to become a Professor of Law in any university in the United Kingdom, when she was appointed to a Chair in Public Law at Queen’s University Belfast. Her academic career had begun in South Africa and subsequently continued in Southern Rhodesia, but as strong opponents of apartheid and white minority rule, the political views held by Claire Palley and her husband led to social ostracisation, which also affected the lives of their children. For that reason the Palleys decided to educate their sons in the UK necessitating a move for both the children and their mother. Claire Palley took up a lectureship at Queen’s University Belfast in 1966, and was promoted to Reader the following year before taking up a Chair in 1970.

The full version of this landmark is written by Fiona Cownie.


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Fiona Cownie, ‘The United Kingdom’s First Woman Law Professor: An Archerian Analysis’ (Journal of Law and Society, March 2015)

National Portrait Gallery, ‘Claire Dorothea Taylor Palley’

St Anne’s College, ‘Principals: Claire Palley’

Elizabeth Lane

Elizabeth Lane

Elizabeth Lane represents a woman’s distinctive contribution to ‘justice’, or rather (in view of the statistics) mostly the lack of it, which still persists 50 years after she was the first woman on the High Court Bench

Judith Bourne and Frances Burton

Elizabeth Lane (1905-1988) was the first woman to be appointed as a County Court Judge (in 1962) and as a High Court judge (in 1965) in England and Wales. Her first official appointment came in 1948 as a member of the Home Office Committee of Enquiry into the use of Depositions in Criminal Cases. 12 years later, in 1960, she was appointed Queen’s Counsel – the third woman Silk in England & Wales alongside Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron. In 1961 she was appointed Commissioner of the Crown at Manchester, the equivalent of today’s Deputy High Court Judges, and the Recorder of Derby.  In 1971, she chaired a committee on the working of the Abortion Act.

We know very little about Lane, save what she tells us in her autobiography. This could be because she feared accusations of self-publicising (a disciplinary offence for barristers). Her autobiography relates that she did not intend to be a pioneer of any sort, putting her success at the Bar down to good health and stamina, a capacity for hard work, a good temper, her ability to conceal her true feelings, not becoming emotionally involved, a pleasing voice, and good luck.

The full version of this landmark was written by Judith Bourne and Frances Burton.


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Joshua Rozenberg, ‘Blazing a Trail: Women and the Judiciary’ (The Law Society Gazette, 1 November 2012)


Frances Moran

Frances Moran

The significance of what Frances Moran achieved cannot be understated. As a pioneering professor in a university and a profession that were particularly resistant to the inclusion of women, she ‘dominated Irish legal education’ at time when women at any level in the legal profession were rare.

Emma Hutchinson

The life of Frances Moran was one of firsts. Appointed Reid Professor of Law at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), in 1925, she was the first woman law professor in Ireland, predating her UK counterpart by 45 years. She was also the first woman to hold a Dublin University chair in any subject. In 1924 she was only the fourth woman to be called to the Irish Bar and, in 1941, she became the first woman Senior Counsel in Ireland.

The full version of this landmark is written by Emma Hutchinson.

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A timeline of the History of Women in Trinity

Margaret Kidd

Margaret Kidd

Allowing women to become advocates was an essential step in changing the nature of both the arguments being put before Courts, and the decisions made by them. Kidd’s practice centred on family law, where she was appreciated by her contemporaries as adding a new dimension to old problems.
Catriona Cairns

Black and white photo of Margaret Kidd in her wig and gown
Margaret Kidd from The Sphere (13 Mar 1926), image copyright to the British Newspaper Archives

Margaret Henderson Kidd’s (1900-1989) life was a series of firsts: first woman member of the Faculty of Advocates (the Scottish Bar) in July 1923, first woman advocate (barrister) to appear before the House of Lords and a parliamentary select committee, first woman King’s Counsel in the United Kingdom, and the first woman member of the Scottish judiciary (as sheriff-principal).

She was a remarkable woman. Typically for her generation, Margaret Kidd denied having faced any discrimination at work during her career while at the same time remarking that ‘if I’d been a man I might have built up a bigger practice.’

Kidd followed Madge Easton Anderson, the first woman in the United Kingdom to qualify as a solicitor in December 1920, Ivy Williams, the first woman called to the Bar in England and Wales in May 1922, and Helena Normanton, the first woman to practice at the Bar in England and Wales. Frances Kyle was the first woman called to the Bar in Ireland, in November 1921 and Averil Deverell was the first woman to practise at the Irish Bar.

The full version of this landmark is written by Catriona Cairns.


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Stewart McRobert, ‘A Bar Removed’ (The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, 20 October 2014)


Carrie Morrison

Carrie Morrison

Carrie Morrison … demonstrated how a woman could combine a professional career with a public person
Elizabeth Cruickshank


Black and white photo of Carrie Morrison
Carrie Morrison from the Law Society Library

On 18 December 1922 Carrie Morrison (1888–1950) became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. Unlike the other women who qualified as solicitors by passing their Law Society Finals in December 1922, Carrie Morrison had no familial legal background. She went on to use her skills as a solicitor to argue for equality between the sexes and through organisations, such as the Women and Children’s Protection Society and the Divorce Law Reform Union, for changes to family law legislation and procedure. She was one of the founding members of the 1919 Club, which became the Association of Women Solicitors.

Like Helena Normanton, Morrison was a persistent advocate of a woman’s right to an independent professional persona: refusing to use her married surname, and successfully petitioning the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division to be permitted to use a professional rather than a marital status descriptor in official documents. In reply to the question, ‘Do you suffer from any physical difficulty?’ on an official form Morrison replied, ‘No, except being a woman.

The full version of this landmark is written by Elizabeth Cruickshank.


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Ambrose Appelbe Solicitors, ‘Carrie Morrison’

Elizabeth Cruickshank, ‘Building a Profession’ (The Law Society Gazette, 26 June 2003)

Elizabeth Cruickshank, ‘Carrie Morrison’ (100 First Hundred Years, 8 September 2015)


Find out more about the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project

Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

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The landmarks that appear on this website were chosen by participants in the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project.

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