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Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women

by Judith Bourne, Foreword by Mary Jane Mossman


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In this first full-length account of Helena Normanton’s life and career, Judith Bourne tells of her fight to join the Bar of England and Wales and open it up to women.

Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women describes how her ambition was forged as a child after seeing her mother patronised by a solicitor. It tells how the press were quick to pigeon-hole and harass her, leading to disciplinary proceedings for ‘self-advertising’. Enmeshed in a world of men, Helena Normanton faced a constant struggle to establish herself against a backdrop of prejudice, misogyny and discrimination. The book describes how solicitors, fearful of the unknown, were reluctant to instruct her, leaving her to take on poor person’s cases, dock briefs and those few cases ‘deemed suitable for a woman’.

But Helena Normanton was a force to be reckoned with. She was not just the first woman to be admitted to an Inn of Court, hold briefs in the High Court and Old Bailey, and (as one of two women) be made a King’s Counsel, but a prolific author, leading feminist and speaker who entranced audiences at home and abroad. Along with the controversies that eternally surrounded her and her own foibles, this is all contained in this captivating book.

Following publication of this book, Helena Normanton was honoured with a Blue Plaque in October 2021.


‘[ An ] excellent biography of Helena Normanton, brilliantly researched by Judith Bourne … a captivating book for all aspiring barristers to read’– Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers.

‘Bourne has succeeded in rendering Normanton as a human being, a woman with grit and aspiration, whose experiences were as often disappointing as celebratory in the context of her time and place’– Professor Mary Jane Mossman (from the Foreword)


Judith Bourne is an academic at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham and Co-Director of the Centre for Law and Culture. She founded and chairs the ‘First Women Lawyers in Great Britain and the Empire Symposia’. With a doctorate from King’s College, London, Judith formerly practised as a barrister. Her research focuses on Feminist Perspectives on Law, Land Law and Equity and Trusts Law.

Professor Mary Jane Mossman has taught at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, in Ontario since 1977 and was Director of the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies 2002–2010. She was also a faculty member at the University of New South Wales and a Visiting Professor at numerous other university law schools. Her research focuses on property law, family law, access to justice and issues of gender and the legal profession. Among her recent books is The First Women Lawyers: A Comparative Study of Gender, Law and the Legal Professions (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2006).


As referred to in the book’s Selected Bibliography, a fuller list of secondary sources is available to download here:

Secondary Sources for Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women

Additional information

Weight376 g
Dimensions234 × 156 × 15 mm

Foreword author

Mary Jane Mossman


Waterside Press




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Place of origin

United Kingdom

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