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Gray’s Inn is now the professional home to over 4,000 women students, pupils, barristers, and judges; they make up 40% of our membership. 

However, the opening of the legal profession to women was a long process, as the Inns of Court were historically only open to membership by men. The first woman to attempt to join Gray’s Inn was Bertha Cave in 1903. Her application was rejected in 1904 because she was a woman, along with the application of Agnes Metcalfe. 

However, by 1919, women had been able to study law at university (on an equal footing to men) for over forty years, and a change was needed. However, the Inns of Court were reluctant to offer equal opportunities to women before a change in legislation. In 1919, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, allowing women to enter the legal profession. Following its enactment, women could become students of the Inns of Court with the express purpose of being called to the Bar, and could take examinations to qualify as solicitors. 

On January 27, 1920, Mary Selina Share Jones was the first woman to be admitted to Gray’s Inn and on June 13, 1923, Edith Hesling became the first woman to be Called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. 

Since then, there have been a series of women trailblazers, called by Gray’s Inn, who go on to break new ground in the legal profession. Frances Claudia Wright became the first Sierra Leonean woman to be called to the Bar in 1941. Rose Heilbron became the first female judge to sit in the Old Bailey. Lady Hale became the youngest person to be appointed to the Law Commission and the first woman to serve as President and Justice of the Supreme Court. 

Find out more

Edith Hesling

Find out more about the first woman to be declared an utter barrister by the Inn

Bertha Cave

Bertha Cave was at the centre of the debate concerning whether or not there should be women lawyers, read more

Gray's Inn Archives

Archive and historical information about the Inn, its buildings and its members

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