08 November 2019
On this day (8 November) 100 years ago, the UK’s first female solicitor graduated with a law degree from the University of Glasgow.
Madge Easton Anderson was the University’s first woman to gain a Bachelor of Law degree - though not the first female law graduate in Scotland.
However, Ms Anderson went on to have a special place in UK legal history when in 1920 she became the first woman to qualify as a solicitor. The Glasgow-born law pioneer also went on to be the first woman to practise law professionally in both Scotland and then England, and she was a partner in the first UK law firm to be run only by women.
But despite making legal history thrice, much of the detail of her life remains obscure and her achievements are not widely known or celebrated. Now academics at the University of Glasgow are helping to change that.
By marking the centenary of her law graduation as part of a wider project to mark 100 years of women in law the team hope to honour her achievements and encourage Ms Anderson’s living relatives to get in touch.
A small team of University law staff and students have been working with Alison Lindsay from the National Records of Scotland to delve into the archives and follow leads to try to piece together more about the life of Ms Anderson – with some success.
A 'brilliant' student
Today 100 years since her graduation, the team have released a newspaper cutting featuring a rare photo of Ms Anderson and a photo of her grave stone which reads – “A brilliant Glasgow University student and first woman solicitor in Scotland.”
Maria Fletcher, Senior Lecturer in European Law, who is leading the University team researching the life of Ms Anderson, said: “As we mark the centenary of the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which permitted women to practise law for the first time, wider attention is rightly being paid to these important and incredibly inspiring early pioneers.
“Like so many women in history, their stories were not well documented at the time, and so they and their contributions have been under-recognised.
“We are excited to share this rare photograph of the pioneering Ms Anderson with the wider world today. We look forward to sharing it with the fabulous First100Years online exhibition which seeks to celebrate the past to inspire new generations of aspiring lawyers. We also hope that we can trace Ms Anderson’s family to make them part of our project to celebrate pioneering woman in law.”
Seonaid Stevenson, research assistant, solicitor and University of Glasgow law graduate, said: “Recently, we interviewed Ms Flora Douglas, Ms Anderson’s former neighbour, to ask about her memories of this remarkable lady. Ms Anderson, who appeared to leave legal practice behind when she left London in 1949 to run a guest house in rural Perthshire, seemingly never spoke a word of her career and her many ‘firsts’ in the legal profession. She was described as kind, extremely independent, and always wearing a brown felt hat and tweed suit!
“However, some of her achievements were known and marked by her family when she died in 1982 and is reflected on her gravestone. We know Madge is survived today by a great niece and nephew descended from Ellen Davidson Anderson, one of her elder sisters. It would be wonderful to be in touch with them.”
The School of Law team is Maria Fletcher; Seonaid Stevenson, research assistant, solicitor and University of Glasgow law graduate and Marie-Claire Boyle, research assistant and freelance communications professional and Glasgow law graduate.
(images ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections)