Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Helena Normanton was the first woman to be admitted to an Inn of Court after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1922. The Bar was closed to women until the passing of this legislation. She was also the first woman to be briefed both in the High Court and the Central Criminal Court. She went on to become one of two first women King’s Counsels and practised law past retirement. Normanton’s childhood ambition was to become a barrister. She declared that
    her one goal in life was to open the legal profession to women.

    This thesis will consider what role Helena Normanton played, if any, to the formal opening of the legal profession (in particular the Bar) to women in 1919 with the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act and will examine her subsequent legal career in order to better understand her role in the fight for substantive equality. Normanton’s battle to practise was an essential part of the struggle for women’s legal equality during that period and therefore her life needs to be recorded, especially as the effort for equality is still ongoing.
    Normanton’s archives are too sketchy for an honest and complete biography, but much of her journey towards practice as a barrister can be told, especially when placed in the context of the women’s movement. Her story is essential because, as Parry wrote, ‘appreciation of the role of the individual agent .... can influence if not steer the course of the wider legal, historical and social development’.1 Female lawyers need to understand their heritage as women now total half of law undergraduate entrants.

    Normanton’s entry to an Inn of Court marks women’s formal entry to the legal profession. Her career is a good example of the beginning of women’s struggle for substantive equality in the legal profession. Her story needs to be revealed and examined ‘to produce a more complete and truthful explanation of how things were, and how they are now’.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • King's College London
    SupervisorPatricia Thane (Supervisor) & Michael Kandiah (Supervisor)

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