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Glasgow University conference marks role in women in law centenary

15 April 2019

A special conference at the University of Glasgow today celebrates 100 years of women in law – and the university's role in seeing the first woman qualify in the legal profession.

The university is very proud of the fact that the first female lawyer in the UK was Glasgow graduate Madge Easton Anderson.

After completing her degree, she qualified to practise law in Scotland following the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which renoved the bar on women becoming lawyers. She went on to become the first woman to qualify and practise in both Scotland and England, and a partner in the first law firm in the UK to be run only by women.

At today's event, the university will celebrate Ms Anderson and other women connected to law in Glasgow and Scotland, while also raising awareness of the ongoing need to promote gender equality and diversity in the legal profession.

Court of Session judge Lady Wolffe will open the event, and Lady Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, will offer closing remarks. Speakers will reflect on Ms Anderson's life, and share personal insights into their journeys as women in law. The conference will also host the Scottish Feminist Judgments Project, which aims to imagine how important legal cases might have been decided differently if the judge had adopted a feminist perspective.

Supported by the First Hundred Years project (a history project charting the journey of women in law since 1919), the Law Society of Scotland and Dentons, whose legacy firm Maclay, Murray & Spens is where Ms Anderson began her career in law, the conference will be attended by legal academics, students and members of the legal profession from across Scotland. Joining them will be Glasgow school pupils from Pollokshields Primary School and Hutchesons’ Grammar School, where Ms Anderson was educated. 

Maria Fletcher, senior law lecturer at the School of Law, who is leading on the university’s centenary celebrations commented: "Today more than half (51%) of those in the legal profession in Scotland are women. This conference will celebrate the woman who came before us and upon whose shoulders we stand today.

"The stories of pioneering women like Madge Easton Anderson should be told and retold, to inspire future generations of schoolchildren and law students. A centenary on from legislation which paved the way for woman to become lawyers, we can’t be complacent. Access to the legal profession appears to be a gender battle won looking at today’s numbers, but career progression remains more challenging for women, and access to the sector for other groups – such as ethnic minorities and those from poorer backgrounds  remains a real problem."

Seonaid Stevenson, co-founder of RebLaw Scotland and a research assistant on the project, added: "As a young female lawyer, I am inspired by the life of Madge Easton Anderson. I studied at the university where she studied and trained at the firm where she was an apprentice. I often reflect on how different our experiences must have been.

"Madge’s legacy reminds everyone that change can, and does happen. But we have to continue to fight for and protect these rights.

"At the event today we will be asking everyone to commit to taking action of some sort. Every delegate will be asked to complete a card that reads ‘to champion equality, I pledge…’”

As part of the celebrations of the centenary, the university is also gathering the "voices" of 100 women associated with the School of Law to create a digital exhibition called "100 Voices for 100 Years". Aiming to capture the stories and aspirations of women, past and present, the exhibition was launched last week with stories from the first five female professors of law at the University of Glasgow – Sheila MacLean, Elizabeth Crawford, Esin Orucu, Olivia Robinson and Noreen Burrows. Click here to access.


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