Centenary of UofG's first female law graduate and the UK’s first woman solicitor
On this day 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.
Today 100 years since her graduation, the team have released a newspaper cutting featuring a rare photo of Ms Anderson along with 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 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 team is made up of Maria Fletcher; Dr Pat Lucie, University of Glasgow library archivist and former School staff member; Seonaid Stevenson, research assistant, solicitor and University of Glasgow law graduate; Marie-Claire Boyle, research assistant and freelance communications professional and Glasgow law graduate.
Madge Easton Anderson (24 April 1896 - 9 August 1982)
Ms Anderson who was born in Glasgow in 1896 was the first woman to graduate from the University of Glasgow with a degree in Law.
She graduated MA(Ord) on 26 Jun 1916, BL on 8 Nov 1919, then LLB on 20 Apr 1920.
However she was not the first law graduate in Scotland – Eveline MacLaren and Josephine Gordon Stuart graduated from the University of Edinburgh some years earlier but at that time women were not allowed to practise as lawyers.
Anderson began her working life as an apprentice law agent at the Scottish law firm of Maclay Murray & Spens in Glasgow now, the international law firm Dentons.
In December 1920, Anderson became the first woman in the United Kingdom to qualify as a solicitor, following a successful petition to the Court of Session (Scotland’s highest civil court), although the decision was not formally registered until January 1921.
The details of her later life remain obscure. Madge Easton Anderson died in August 1982 in Auchtergaven, Perthshire.
For more information contact Aine Allardyce in the University of Glasgow Communications and Public Affairs Office on 0141 330 7126 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
First published: 8 November 2019