Friday, June 10, 2011

Gwyneth Bebb

Among the people added to the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is Gwyneth Bebb (1889-1921), who gave her name to the case that challenged the exclusion of women from the legal profession: Bebb v the Law Society. Law was the last profession in England, apart from the church, to hold out against women's entry. Women had been trying to gain admission for 40 years. Their lack of success led campaigners to try a legal challenge, and Bebb was selected as the test case in 1913.

A brilliant student, she had studied law at Oxford when women could take the examinations – she got a first – but were not awarded degrees. She lost the case, the judges holding that women were disqualified from carrying out a public function and would remain so until parliament changed the law.

For the most part, the press was sympathetic and the publicity helped to mobilise a campaign. After repeated bills in parliament, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 finally admitted women to the legal profession.

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