£500k in five years to celebrate women in law, yet much more to be done says charity

The First 100 Years project fundraised in excess of £500,000 over five years, according to the charity.

The five-year project to mark the 100-year anniversary of women being able to qualify as lawyers was inspired by the photograph of one female lawyer amongst men.

That photo of Herbert Smith’s first woman partner, Dorothy Livingston, alongside the firm’s otherwise all-male partnership, was the catalyst for The First 100 Years, which became the English legal profession’s foremost initiative in the run up to the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers.

Project founder Dana Denis-Smith said she became obsessed by the photo and used it as her inspiration to rally the profession to document the history of women in law for the first time and leave a lasting legacy to inspire future generations.

Over the five years, the charity, which relied solely on volunteers and donations from across the profession, made 76 films featuring pioneering women in the legal profession; published a book charting the journey of women in law; ran a roadshow exhibition on the history of women in law, receiving over 2.5 million visits, and had a whole programme on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour dedicated to its work.

The culmination of the project saw the commission of an artwork, which is the first hanging in the Supreme Court to depict a woman.

The project’s archive will now be donated to the London School of Economics’ (LSE) Women’s Library for all to access for free. Yet Ms Denis-Smith says that the work of the charity has not stopped. It has created a successor project, The Next 100 Years, and is calling on the profession to support its efforts to drive change, to ensure that women’s voices are heard and not to lose sight of how much we still need to do to achieve equality.

The project wants to continue to record ‘firsts’ to make sure the pioneers of today are remembered, to celebrate the centenary of the first women qualifying in 2022 and to continue to research and gather data on the experiences of women working in law today, addressing barriers to progress.

She said: “The First 100 Years celebrated the hard-won progress of the last 100 years and the stories of those legal pioneers that are so vital in providing a solid, positive platform for the future.

“That wouldn’t have been possible without the time and money given by countless organisations and individuals across the profession. Thanks to them we were able to ensure the centenary last year was celebrated by so many working in the law and that the project left a legacy behind, with an archive of material accessible to both the profession and the wider public.

“This work cannot stop. As we look forward to the next 100 years, we need to continue with our efforts, taking action to accelerate the pace of change. To do that we need support. 2020 has seen the pandemic threaten to reverse some of the progress made in recent years. We would like to hear from all those interested in working with us to continue to remove the barriers to women’s progress still built into the legal profession.”

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