We were very pleased to welcome two speakers to our March meeting.
First up was Bethan Evans who came to Bristol to study law and stayed in the area and built up 35 years of experience, specialising in local government.
Bethan’s talk focused on women in the law and began by looking back at the history of women in the profession. In 1843 The Solictors Act defined the persons who could enter the profession, however at that time the definition of persons did not include women.
It was just over 100 years ago that Gwyneth Bebb brought a case against the Law Society to challenge this and it wasn’t until 1919 that the Sexual Discrimination (Removal) Act meant that women could become lawyers.
When Bethan herself graduated and took up a role as an article clerk in 1983 it was noteworthy that the three new article clerks at that firm were all female. The male-domination of the profession was further demonstrated by the fact that when law firms sent their article clerks to collect their post from Bristol’s Commercial Rooms only men were allowed in. When Bethan and her fellow article clerks undertook this task a special area was cordoned off for female clerks.
She went on to look at how the situation has and continues to change. She herself went on to become senior partner at Bevan Brittan LLP.
When it comes to recent figures:
- 67% of those studying law are women
- 48% of those entering the profession as solicitors are women
- 33% of partners in law firms are women
- 28% of judges are women
- 22% of high court judges are women
- 2 out of 12 Supreme Court judges are women
Finishing on a positive note, she highlighted some of the things that the law society and judiciary are working on to improve these statistics and also look to address the gender pay gap.
Our second speaker was Jane Duffus. Having trained as a journalist and worked on Fleet Street Jane come to Bristol around 10 years ago and became involved in women’s issues. She set up What The Frock, the all female comedy event to address the fact that comedy clubs were not booking women, is currently a Trustee of Bristol Women’s Voice and author of the recently published book The Women Who Built Bristol.
Jane wanted to write a book about some of the incredible women of Bristol, tell their stories and document their contributions to the city.
She went on to tell us about a few of the incredible women in the book. There was the first female solicitor Angela Tuckett in 1929, who was also followed into the profession shortly afterwards by her sister Joan. They were also international hockey players, held pilots licences, worked to build the membership of the communist party and in their later years busked to raise money for striking miners.
There was Frances Power Cobbe, a social reformer, anti-vivisection activist, women’s suffrage campaigner and lobbyist on education for women who arrived in Bristol aged 15 and found herself on the Leigh Woods side of the Avon gorge before the Clifton Suspension Bridge was completed. She and her brother bribed someone to use the basket and pulley system to winch them across the gorge to Clifton!
There were Emily & Mary Blathwayt, a mother and daughter who were actively involved in the Women’s Suffrage Society and Women’s Social and Political Union. They opened their house as a retreat for suffragettes who had been imprisoned and force-fed. They not only gave them a place to recuperate but also planted an arboretum. The suffragettes who stayed there were encouraged to plant a tree or bush in the grounds of the house.
Jane spoke about many other fantastic women and we learnt that the women’s police force & Red Cross boxes also came about because of some amazing Bristolian ladies. If you want to read about these women and many more you can buy Jane’s book, plus if you make your purchase from Bristol Women’s Voice then they will receive 100% of the profits.