Ivy Williams

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Dr. Ivy Williams (7 September 1877 – 18 February 1966) was the first woman to be called to the English bar in 1922. She never practiced but she was the first woman to teach law at a British university.


Williams was born in Newton Abbot in Devon and educated privately. Her father was a solicitor. Her brother Winter Williams became a barrister, but died in an accident on 14 July 1903.

She studied law at the Society of Oxford Home Students (later St Anne's College). By 1903, she had completed all her law examinations, but was prevented by the prevailing regulations concerning the qualification of women at Oxford from matriculating or receiving her BA, MA and BCL until the regulations were reformed in 1920. She obtained an LLD from London in 1903.

After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force in December 1919 and abolished the prohibition on women becoming barristers, she joined the Inner Temple as a student on 26 January 1920. She was called to the bar on 10 May 1922, having received a certificate of honour (first class) in her final bar examination in Michaelmas 1921 which excused her from keeping two terms of dinners. Her call to the bar was described by the Law Journal as "one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession".[1] She was soon followed by other women, including Helena Normanton.

Williams did not enter private practice, but taught law at the Society of Oxford Home Students from 1920 to 1945. In 1923 she became the first woman to be awarded the degree of DCL (Doctor of Civil Law)[2] in Oxford for her published work, The Sources of Law in the Swiss Civil Code. In 1956 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford.

She enjoyed tennis, travelling, gardening, and driving. She learned to read Braille after she began to lose her sight in later life, and she wrote a Braille primer which was published by the National Institute for the Blind in 1948.

She died in Oxford in 1966.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "(Law Journal, 57, 1922, 161)". 1922. 
  2. ^ Hallett, Heather (2011-02-10). "My legal hero: Dr Ivy Williams | Heather Hallett". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-03. 
  3. ^ Hazel Fox, ‘Williams, Ivy (1877–1966)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 20 July 2012

England's First Woman Barrister. Miss Ivy Williams "Called.", The Times, Thursday, May 11, 1922; pg. 7; Issue 43028; col D

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