The early history of the West Midlands’ Association of Women Solicitors

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Documents from the West Midlands Association of Women Solicitor’s [MS 4825]

It all began on a warm summer afternoon in 1983.  Sara, Lisa, Louise and I agreed that we would explore the idea of starting an association for women solicitors in the Midlands. 

We publicised our intention to hold a meeting at the Birmingham Law Society’s premises in Birmingham on 24 October 1983.  To our astonishment, at least 50 women came.  Certainly they wanted an association.  We were so overwhelmed by volunteers wanting to participate that our first committee comprised 18 members, including Sara as first secretary.  I was appointed the first chairman.

The National Association of Women Solicitors was already in existence.  This had been established in 1923 following the admission of Carrie Morrison, the first woman solicitor to be admitted to the Roll. We affiliated to the national association, which kindly gave our Association a grant of £25 towards the cost of setting up the group.  And so we began.

In our first year we had 71 members.  We offered honorary membership to men.  Our initial annual subscription was £2 and our members were expected to contribute a further £2 to the national association.

We held eight events in our first year, including two one-day events, which were well attended.  Speakers in that first year included a representative from the Equal Opportunities Commission and talks on care proceedings, women in custody and the work of the Tribunal Unit.  We arranged a visit to HM Prison Drake Hall.  A one-day training course on income maintenance on marital breakdown was attended by 30 women.

We also held a one-day conference on part-time and locum working.  This stimulating day was attended by 64 women.  It led us to decide to create a register of women who wished to undertake part-time or locum work and to try to help them find jobs.  To our surprise, we were contacted by a number of firms of solicitors who were seeking such help.  Demand was greater than the supply of solicitors wishing to register.  But our letter to the Law Society’s Gazette describing the scheme, and which we hoped would attract more women to register, was not published.  We decided that the cost of advertising would be excessive.

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Files of records that have been donated to the Library of Birmingham [MS 4825]

At our first AGM, in January 1985 we agreed to maintain a mix of social events and talks and conferences on legal topics.  The Association enjoyed some very successful years, offering women professional development, support and networking possibilities at a time when there were relatively few women practising and women suffered from thick glass ceilings.  Over the years, with new chairmen and other officers, and enthusiastic members, the Association maintained its early success.

I believe that the Association remained in existence for a number of years and then ceased to operate.  Early members might have welcomed that – one view had been expressed that the Association would have achieved its purpose, of supporting women in the law, if the need for such an organisation disappeared.  However, I was surprised years later to receive an invitation to join an organisation called the West Midlands Association of Women Solicitors.  I contacted one of the officers, who told me that the new organisation did not know that there had existed, many years before, an organisation of that name.

I am delighted that the Library of Birmingham has agreed to accept a donation of those papers I have been able to locate.  These cover only the period from the Association’s beginning in 1983 until about 1993.  If others have papers, I hope that they will contact the Library of Birmingham with a view to adding these to the current archive.  If others have recollections or can add to the Association’s story, I hope that they will send these to the Library.

Frances Kirkham

 

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