12/23 – The Sex Disqualification Act of 1919

London in 1919. (Flickr)

On this day in 1919, the British parliament signed into law the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The Act lifted all restrictions on women taking part in “public functions” such as voting, serving in public office and on juries, and working as lawyers. Additionally, the Act required that women no longer be barred from entry into universities on the basis of their sex. Coming after many decades of pressure from suffragettes and other women’s activist groups, the Act was a massive victory in the history of women’s rights in Britain; the Act was also seen as a model for similar legislation around the world.

Since the Act only specifically addressed the issues of university admission, the courts, and the Civil Service, it was “splendidly general” and was one of the most open-to-interpretation (and, as a consequence, useful) bits of legislature regarding the legal status of women. A week after the Act came into effect, Ada Summers – England’s first Justice of the Peace (JP) – was sworn in. Summers went on to serve as a city councillor, then mayor of Stalybridge and opened up a women’s employment centre called the “Ladies Work Society” in her hometown.

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