Helena Florence Normanton

Helena was a feminist but is best known for her campaign for women to be allowed entry into the legal profession. She was the first woman to be admitted as a student to the Bar at her second attempt in 1919.

Helena was a pioneer, ‘forgotten’ by traditional history, who broke a glass ceiling by opening the legal profession to women. But her career was marked by a constant struggle with misogyny, prejudice and discrimination.

Her father was a pianoforte-maker and her mother, Jane, a milliner and they married in 1881. Helena had a younger sister, Ethel. Helena was just four when her father died leaving Jane as a single mother, a position that carried great social stigma. Helena spent her early years moving to different locations such as Woolwich, Ramsgate and Brighton before her mother died when she was a teenager. Helena initially became a teacher, one of the few professions open to women.

Helena was a feminist but is best known for her campaign for women to be allowed entry into the legal profession. She was the first woman to be admitted as a student to the Bar at her second attempt in 1919. Although she was not the first woman to become a barrister or to hold a brief, Helena was the first to be briefed in the High Court of Justice and Old Bailey, and one of the two first female King’s Counsel in England and Wales.

She was a member of the Women’s Freedom League becoming editor of its newspaper called The Vote. After 1918, Helena was concerned about how women used their vote and became first secretary of the National Women Citizens Association. She was one of the first members of the 1921 Six Point Group which promoted strict equality and co-founder of the Union of Women Voters in 1926. She retained her maiden name on marriage in 1922 and fought to keep it on her passport in 1924.

Helena has an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/39091

She lived for many years in Brighton and gave money to the foundation of Sussex University. In 2017, Sussex University created an international postdoctoral fellowship in her name. http://www.sussex.ac.uk/staff/research/sussexresearch/helenanormantonfellowships

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