Among the many reasons for opposing the admission of women to the legal profession was the idea that court room advocacy was not a suitable occupation for women. In 1903, in an interview with Eliza Orme, The Law Journal asked ‘Would not the introduction of women into the field of advocacy hinder the administration of justice by checking the fighting instincts of the chivalrous barrister? Is not the struggle in the Courts too keen and personal to admit the of the rivalry of women?’ This objection is one which persisted. See how Eliza Orme, Bertha Cave and Maud Crofts responded to the idea of the ‘chivalrous barrister:
No Undesirable results have followed the admission of women to the legal profession in America. I have met a number of American advocates of both sexes, and I have been told that any sense of strangeness has soon disappeared. I cannot believe that any man would be less vigorous in the cause of his client merely because he was opposed by a woman. The forensic attitude would be too strong, and no woman who succeeded in becoming a member of the Bar would expect or wish it to be otherwise.
Eliza Orme, The Law Journal, 12 December 1903
We frequently witness extremely undignified and protracted wrangles between opposing counsel on matters quite beside the issue at stake. Even if a male member of the Bar so far forgot himself as to abuse or insult a woman, which I do not think anyone would, no doubt it would be met by her with dignified silence and contempt.
Bertha Cave, The Saturday Review, 17 December 1903
If women are capable of succeeding in the legal profession it is in the interests of society that they should be admitted, and if they are “intellectually incapable” it is carrying chivalry rather too far to refuse to permit them to expose themselves as failures.
Maud Crofts (née Ingram), Daily Express, 28 March 1919
Maud Crofts (née Ingram) was one of the four women who in 1913 challenged the Law Society’s refusal to admit women as members. After the passing of the Sex (Disqualification) Removal Act in 1919 she was the only one of the four original claimants who ultimately achieved her aim of becoming a solicitor and in 1923 she was the first woman in England to be issued with a practising certificate. She was a passionate campaigner for women’s rights. She was the Honourable Secretary of the Working Women’s Legal Advice Bureau and in 1925, with support from the National Council of Women of Great Britain and Ireland, published a guide entitled Women under English Law.
Gillian Murphy is the Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship and looks after the Women’s Library collection at the London School of Economics (LSE) Library, London. Maud Crofts’s scrapbooks are available to view in the Women’s Library collection at LSE Library.
Listen in browser to hear Gillian read from an editorial Maud wrote for The Evening News on 14 March 1914 setting out her views on why the legal profession should be opened to women.
[Image: Cutting from the Scrapbooks of Maud Isabel Crofts (née Ingram) held in The Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, London]