Female legal eagles play a major role in the law today but Madge Easton Anderson didn’t have any women colleagues when she joined the profession back in 1920 – she was the only one of her kind.

Now the unsung heroine is being honoured as the UK’s first woman solicitor by her alma mater, the University of Glasgow.

Researchers have discovered a rare photograph of the law pioneer, who was also the university’s first woman law graduate, and now hope to raise the profile of her place in legal history for a project to mark the centenary of women being allowed to practise law, First 100 Years: Celebrating Women in Law. 

Maria Fletcher, senior law lecturer at the university, said: “Madge Easton Anderson had a number of firsts to her name: she was the first woman law graduate at Glasgow, the first to be admitted to practice as a solicitor in Scotland and the first UK female lawyer, as well as being a partner in the first UK law firm to be run only by women.

“Next year is the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time. We should celebrate Madge and her tenacity. She studied law and underwent her professional training before the passage of the 1919 act.”

Anderson faced discrimination right up to the point of being admitted into the legal profession. 

When she applied to the Court of Session she was faced with the argument that she should not be allowed to practise because she had started her studies before the act was passed.
“She was a formidable woman and argued her case successfully,” added Ms Fletcher. 

Born in 1896, Anderson, from Pollokshields, Glasgow, was the daughter of a surgical instrument maker, and was educated at Hutcheson’s Grammar School, matriculating at the university in 1913. She graduated with an MA (Ord) in 1916, a Bachelor of Law in 1919, and an LLB in 1920, receiving a number of prizes. In December 1920, she became the first woman in the UK to qualify as a solicitor. 

She began her working life as an apprentice law agent at Maclay Murray & Spens in Glasgow. Up until 1930, she volunteered through the university as a poor man’s lawyer, giving free legal advice, before moving to London to an all-female practice.

“I most admire her sincere social conscience. Her work undoubtedly inspired the later opening of a Free Legal Dispensary run from the University of Glasgow, a precursor for the first Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Glasgow,” Ms Fletcher said.

“She was a real pioneer and is a wonderful inspiration for our students today. It’s only right and fitting that her legacy is remembered at her alma mater. I am delighted to be able to unveil a photo of her found in the Mitchell Library archives.”

Anderson retired to Scotland after the Second World War and ran a private hotel in Perthshire. She was married but had no children and died in 1982 in Auchtergaven, Perthshire. The university is calling for any relatives to come forward to get a fuller picture of her life. 

“We found her grave in a small cemetery near Perth,” Ms Fletcher said. “The headstone reads: an outstanding student of Glasgow University and the first woman lawyer in Scotland.”

Professor Anne Anderson, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Social Sciences, said: “This is a remarkable story of a remarkable woman. It is right to celebrate the role of pioneering women like Madge Easton Anderson at the university.”

The First 100 Years is a video history project supported by the Law Society and the Bar Council that charts women in law since 1919.

Project founder Dana Denis-Smith said: “It’s important that women lawyers in the future can reference back to a hall of fame of women in law.”