Commemorating the past, embracing the future, an event series marking 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was enacted on 23 December 1919.
About the Act
This event series is spearheaded by King’s Inns in association with The Bar of Ireland, the Law Society of Ireland and the Irish Women Lawyers Association. The yearlong commemoration programme will recognise the impact this Act has had on society over the last 100 years and set the scene for the next generations.
“A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise), and a person shall not be exempted by sex or marriage from the liability to serve as a juror:…”
Section 1 of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, 9 & 10 Geo. 5 c. 71.
2019 is the centenary year of the enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which enabled women to join the legal, accountancy and veterinary professions, and also take up senior roles within the civil service for the first time. 100 years ago, in December 1919, the first piece of equal opportunities legislation entered the statute book.
Prior to 1919, under the common law, women were not considered to be “persons” for the purposes of entering most professions, or from holding civil or judicial office. This Act removed that disqualification. Over the years, both women and men have used the opportunity presented by this legislation to the full, breaking societal barriers.
Interestingly, many of the first women to enter the above professions for the first time were Irish…
- Aleen Isobel Cust was an Anglo–Irish veterinary surgeon. On 21st December 1922, she became the first female veterinary surgeon to be recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
- Frances Christina Kyle BL or Fay Kyle as she was known and Averil Deverell BL were the first women called to the Bar in Dublin on the 1st November 1921, both women were also the first two women called to the Bar of Northern Ireland, in 1921 and 1922 respectively.
- Mary Dorothea Heron was the first woman to be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on the 17th April 1923.
- Georgie Frost from Sixmilebridge, County Clare was the first woman to hold public office from central government in the UK when she was appointed Clerk of the Petty Sessions in 1915. Despite her appointment, steps were subsequently taken to remove her from office because she was a woman. She challenged this, ultimately winning her case in the House of Lords. This case was heavily influential in the enactment of the 1919 legislation.
- Eileen Woodworth was the first woman to be admitted as a student at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1920. She qualified in 1925.
Event Series 2019 – 2020
The year ahead will be an exciting time as King’s Inns continues to celebrate the impact of the legislation on society, acknowledging the contribution of all people to the professions and the public service. As equals, it will be interesting to speculate on what the future might hold over the next hundred years.
We will also reflect on the evolving nature of the professions in modern society and discuss the influence we have on new and developing professions, many of which have yet to be invented. We look forward to a time where gender has no role in placing barriers in succeeding in any profession.
Over the next few months, King’s Inns will be releasing more events as part of this celebration and in the words of Frances Kyle “to prepare the way for those who will follow”. Keep an eye out here and on social using the hashtag #celebratingacentury.
On Saturday 30 November 2019, nearly 200 guests were welcomed to King’s Inns Dining Hall. Dr Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland and Honorary Bencher of King’s Inns, was invited as keynote speaker and delivered a powerful, frank and thought–provoking speech on ‘celebrating a centenary of women in law‘. Among other changes in history, Dr McAleese’s speech focused on how opening up of the professions really took off with the arrival of free secondary education in Ireland.
On the night, King’s Inns welcomed solicitors and barristers practicing in different areas of the industry, both women and men, along with current and former female members of the Supreme Court, other members of the Judiciary, North and South, and some Minsters from the current government. King’s Inns also welcomed members of the veterinary and accountancy professions and senior members of the Civil Service. Two grandsons of Mollie Dillon–Leetch, the third woman called to the Bar in Ireland in 1923, was also in attendance.
Claire Hanley and her team produced a delicious winter dinner ceremony with Landless providing post–dinner entertainment for the evening offering something that challenges our modern preconceptions of what Irish traditional music can be.
King’s Inns would like to thank Claire Hanley and the Employment Bar Association for supporting this momentous occasion.
The Libraries of The Bar of Ireland, the Law Society of Ireland and the King’s Inns, with a contribution from the Veterinary Council of Ireland, have designed an exhibition, honouring the remarkable early women entering these professions. This exhibition was on show at the celebratory dinner on Saturday 30 November 2019.
Trailblazers: 100 Years of Women at the Bar
To mark the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, The Bar of Ireland Library Services have curated an online exhibition of the first 100 women called to the Bar in Ireland.
Many of these first 100 women pushed through the barriers of society to blaze a trail for those that have followed over the last century and given a voice to women all over Ireland.
If you have any further information on the women featured in their exhibition, or any pictures that could help fill the gaps, The Law Library would love to hear from you. Please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Print by Irish artist Stephen McClean
The Irish Women Lawyers Association in partnership with legal publishers Hanna Fine Art are delighted to announce the forthcoming release of a fine art print of Irish artist Stephen McClean’s original oil on canvas – “Entering the Four Courts”– as part of our “Celebrating a Century” commemorations.
Every print in the edition will be individually hand–signed by Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland, and The Hon. Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, the first woman Chief Justice of Ireland, to create an important and historic Irish legal collectable, which is already being referred to as the most significant and valuable print in the history of the Irish legal profession.
This special print will raise funds and awareness for Breast Cancer Ireland and a cheque will be formally handed over to the charity by the IWLA from the edition proceeds.
The print was formally released on Tuesday 26 November at 6pm in King’s Inns.
The cost of the double–mounted and framed print (25” x 29”) is Sgt £395, including delivery to your home or office address.
More information can be found here.
IWLA Blog Competition
For the inaugural Irish Women Lawyers Association Blog Competition, IWLA asked participants to write a short blog piece inspired by our celebrations commemorating 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The winner received a year’s free membership of IWLA along with two tickets to the celebratory dinner.
Competition entry details is available here.
The winner of the competition is Alison Coyne, a PhD student at UCD. The IWLA President, the Honourable Ms Justice McGuinness selected Alison’s entry after careful consideration of the worthy contenders. Read her blog entry here.
The First 100 Female Solicitors
The first woman, Mary Dorothea Heron, was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 17 April 1923. It took a further 27 years before the 100th woman, Mary Matthews, was admitted on 7 July 1950. The Law Society of Ireland are looking to celebrate the first 100 women solicitors who qualified between 1923 and 1950.
They are looking for your assistance in compiling a digital archive celebrating the first 100. The Law Society Library staff have examined the handwritten Roll Books and compiled the names of these pioneering women and the firms they were associated with.
More details can be found here.
To honour women entering higher ranks of the civil service for the first time, The Department of Justice and Equality hosted a talk on Thekla Beere, the first female Secretary General of a Government Department, along with a panel discussion on ‘Creating the inclusive workplace of the future’.