Welshwoman Enid Rosser was known as to the Bar of England and Wales by Lincoln’s Inn in 1927. She is likely one of the few ladies attorneys of this era to have left any written document of her experiences.
Housed within the Ladies’s Library Assortment on the London College of Economics, her memoirs had been written between 1963 and 1970. Writing to her granddaughters, to whom the memoirs are addressed, she confesses to feeling they ‘could seem unduly egotistical; however on reflection this can’t be averted’ they usually definitely present a vivid image of her life up till her marriage to George Locket in 1944.
Rosser attended Oxford College and the London College of Economics. Between 1920 and 1927, she labored within the Home of Lords as secretary to the Advisory Committee to the lord chancellor. On this position, she made many contacts with members of the authorized occupation and, upon passing her bar examinations and after consuming the required variety of dinners in Lincoln’s Inn, she was accepted as a pupil at 5 Paper Buildings.
She describes the nice and cozy welcome she obtained from the in any other case all-male members of chambers. Her memoirs additionally present nuance and context to the well-publicised story that the dearth of feminine bathrooms was used as an excuse to maintain ladies out of the occupation.
As she remembers, ‘Life in chambers could be very shut and intimate and the house is restricted, and in these days considerably primitive as there was no sizzling water laid on and toilet lodging may show an issue as soon as the sexes had been blended.’ Throughout a go to to Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Courtroom, she was supplied with a basin, jug and an old style commode.
Nevertheless, known as to the bar lower than 10 years after the passing of the Intercourse Disqualification (Removing) Act 1919, which first opened the authorized occupation to ladies, it was, as she later recalled, ‘in 1927 a removed from rosy outlook for girls on the bar. We weren’t solely regarded considerably as figures of enjoyable all dressed up in our wigs and robes. Solicitors regarded us with horror and it was a brave solicitor who gave us a short.’
It was for that reason that she states Beatrice Honour Davy (known as by Center Temple in 1922) requalified as a solicitor ‘as she felt strongly that till there have been solicitors keen to temporary ladies barristers their future prospects had been arduous and dim’. Davy incessantly briefed Rosser in matrimonial circumstances within the police courts and Rosser was ‘greater than happy to have these’.
The prejudices ladies confronted had been additionally revealed in courtroom. She remembers appearances within the Outdated Bailey earlier than Ernest Wild, ‘who didn’t take kindly to feminine barristers’, and Henry Dickens, earlier than whom she ‘with a lot trepidation stood up on my ft and known as the subsequent witness. I instructed his Lordship that we’d begin at web page 205 of the depositions. He fastened a fierce have a look at me and stated “I’ve by no means trusted a lady in my life and I’m not going to start out now. You’re fairly fallacious, it’s web page 204”. He then sat again, threw off his wig and roared with laughter at his joke. So did the courtroom. He was technically proper for there was one phrase, “and”, left on web page 204. That was my first effort on my ft.’
In 1928, Rosser was the primary lady barrister to be instructed (as a pupil) in a homicide trial in England and he or she described the press curiosity this generated as ‘overwhelming’. For 2 weeks, to keep away from photographers ready for her outdoors chambers, she discovered a means out and in via the basement.
Unsurprisingly maybe, Rosser discovered life as a barrister brought on her ‘intense nervous pressure’ – and her earnings on the bar had been inadequate with out the assist of her father, who died in 1933, so she left the bar. As Beatrice Davy wrote, ‘for a lady who should earn her personal residing, the bar is the final occupation on this planet’.
Rosser as a substitute selected to take up employment as the primary authorized adviser to the John Lewis Partnership – a job she held till 1954. As she recalled, ‘In these days we had been nonetheless battling alongside and it was not troublesome to be the primary lady to do something.’
In 1965, upon her appointment as the primary feminine Excessive Courtroom choose, Elizabeth Lane wrote to Rosser: ‘I’m very wise of the truth that I mustn’t have been made a choose if it had not been for the sumptuous efforts of these ladies who preceded me on the bar, and I’m positive that my appointment is to be taken as a well-deserved tribute to them. I feel it applicable that I ought to thanks, as I do, for blazing the path’.
Tellingly, nevertheless, ladies are nonetheless reaching firsts within the authorized occupation. In 2019, the centenary 12 months of the Intercourse Disqualification (Removing) Act, Dame Victoria Sharp turned the primary lady appointed president of the Queen’s Bench Division of the Excessive Courtroom. This was precisely 20 years after Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss’s appointment as president of the Household Division. Th ere has not but been a lady president of the Chancery Division of the Excessive Courtroom.
Full equality won’t be achieved till the appointment of a lady to a place of authority ceases to be notable in any respect.
This text was commissioned for lawgazette.co.uk’s Ladies within the Regulation part
* Image of Enid Rosser copyrighted to the Ladies’s Library Assortment on the London College of Economics (LSE) Library, London
Katie Broomfield is a postgraduate researcher within the historical past division at Royal Holloway, College of London, and co-author of First: 100 Years of Ladies in Regulation