Monday May 10, 2021’s Smile of the Day: First Female Lawyers

On this Day:

In 1922, Dr Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the English Bar.  However, she wasn’t the first female lawyer in the world.  Not by a long shot.

In fact, the first 10 female lawyers in the world are as follows:

1847 – Marija Milutinović became the first female lawyer and attorney in Serbia, doing exclusively pro bono work for charity throughout her whole career

1869 – Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the United States when she was admitted to the Iowa bar.

1870 – Ada Kepley became the first woman to graduate from law school in the United States; she graduated from Chicago University Law School, predecessor to Union College of Law, later known as Northwestern University School of Law.

1872 – Charlotte E. Ray became the first African-American female lawyer in the United States.

1872 – Clara Hapgood Nash became the first woman admitted to the bar in New England.

1873 – Johanna von Evreinov became the first woman to obtain a JD in Germany on 21 February 1873, after having been admitted as a guest student at Leipzig University.

1879 – Belva Lockwood became the first woman to argue before the United States Supreme Court.

1897 – Clara Brett Martin became the first female lawyer in Canada and the British Empire.

1897 – Ethel Benjamin became the first female lawyer in New Zealand and the first to appear as counsel for any case in the British Empire.

1905 – Flos Greig became the first female barrister in Australia.

But back to Dr. Ivy Williams.

Dr. Ivy Williams (7 September 1877 – 18 February 1966) never practised but she was the first woman to teach law at a British university.

Williams was born in Newton Abbot in Devon and educated privately. Her parents were Emma and George St Swithin Williams. Her father was a solicitor. Her brother Winter Williams became a barrister, but died in an accident on 14 July 1903.

She studied law at the Society of Oxford Home Students (later St Anne’s College). By 1903, she had completed all her law examinations, but was prevented by the prevailing regulations concerning the qualification of women at Oxford from matriculating or receiving her BA, MA and BCL until the regulations were reformed in 1920. She obtained LLB from the University of London in 1901, and LLD from the same university in 1903.

After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force in December 1919, which abolished the prohibition on women becoming barristers, she joined the Inner Temple as a student on 26 January 1920 after Theodora Llewelyn Davies. She was called to the bar on 10 May 1922, having received a certificate of honour (first class) in her final bar examination in Michaelmas 1921 which excused her from keeping two terms of dinners. Her call to the bar was described by the Law Journal as “one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession”. She was soon followed by other women, including Helena Normanton.

Williams did not enter private practice, but taught law at the Society of Oxford Home Students from 1920 to 1945. In 1923 she became the first woman to be awarded the degree of DCL (Doctor of Civil Law) in Oxford for her published work, The Sources of Law in the Swiss Civil Code. In 1956 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford.

She enjoyed tennis, travelling, gardening, and driving. She learned to read Braille after she began to lose her sight in later life, and she wrote a Braille primer which was published by the National Institute for the Blind in 1948.

She died in Oxford in 1966.

In 2020 barrister Karlia Lykourgou set up the first outfitter dedicated to offering courtwear for women. She named it Ivy & Normanton, in honour of Ivy Williams and Helena Normanton.

A blue plaque to her memory was installed on her home at 12 King Edward Street, Oxford on 21 September 2020. 

First, a Story:

Why are female lawyers always so charming? Because they have their own special appeal.

Second, a Song:

OK here it is – from the Law Show 2015 – Harry Lawter and his fellow students at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Law, performing “Law School Funk”.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Paul Robeson was an athlete, Rutgers valedictorian, lawyer, writer, actor in movies and plays, great voice – a black male doing it all, back when some people thought he shouldn’t. One reason I do all the things I do is to break stereotypes that people can only do certain things.” – Dhani Jones


Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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