Madge Easton Anderson

Born in Glasgow in 1896, Madge Easton Anderson was to become one of the most important female pioneers of her generation, becoming the first woman to work professionally as a lawyer in the UK when she qualified in 1920. 

Yet, until recently, little was known about Madge.  The School of Law is immensely proud that Madge was a graduate of the University of Glasgow and is celebrating the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 – which allowed women to become lawyers for the first time – by shining a light on her and her pioneering peers.

Madge was born in Glasgow, the youngest of three girls, and grew up in Pollokshields.  When she was born, her father was a cutlery salesman, although he later sold surgical instruments. Madge was educated at Melville Street Primary School before going on to be educated at Hutchesons’ Girls’ Grammar School from 1904 – 1913, where she received a bursary to assist her with the purchase of school books.

After leaving school, Madge began her studies at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA in 1916.  Madge then began studying at the Faculty of Law.  In 1917 Madge she also began working for the Glasgow law firm Maclay Murray & Spens LLP (now merged with Dentons LLP). John Alexander Spens gave her the opportunity to train as an apprentice, as he suspected that women would soon be allowed to be admitted as law agents.

In 1919, The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 allowed women to enter the legal profession for the first time. Section 1 of the Act simply states “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).”

Following the passage of the Act, Madge was admitted as a law agent in Scotland, making her the first woman in the UK to become a professional lawyer.  Her admission was not without its challenges.  Initially the intimation of her apprenticeship was not recognised on the basis that it began before the 1919 Act came into force.  She petitioned the Court of Session and the Court held that the intimation of her apprenticeship should be accepted and she should be allowed to sit the final Law Agent exam.  She passed the exam and was admitted in late 1920.

During this time, through the University’s settlement organisation, Madge also volunteered her time to offer free legal advice to those in the Anderston community of Glasgow. Records show that she acted as a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ from 1920-1930, providing legal advice to those who simply could not afford it. 

In 1937, Madge qualified as a solicitor in England, making her the first woman to qualify in two jurisdictions in the UK.  She worked in partnership in London with two women – Edith Annie Berthan and Beatrice Honour Davy; believed to be the first law firm in the UK with an all-female leadership.  They worked together until 1951.

Little is known of Madge’s later life.  We know that she moved back to Scotland and ran a hotel in Perthshire for a time.  She ultimately moved to a small cottage in Perth and spent her latter years there before passing away in 1982.

Madge was a true pioneer. One of only a handful of women in her University classes, and the only female lawyer in the UK at one point, she paved the way for a profession which is, today, 51% female.

The coat of arms of the first female President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, an honorary graduate of this University, carries the motto – ‘Omnia Feminae Aequissimae’ - “women are equal to everything”.  Madge Easton Anderson certainly showed the world that this was the case. The University is delighted to be celebrating her legacy by researching her life and discussing what is next on the equality agenda.