Legal pioneer’s life under spotlight

The life and work of one of Edge Hill University’s most distinguished alumnus and the country’s first female barrister will come under the spotlight at a special guest lecture on Monday 31st January 2011.

Helena Normanton was a passionate believer in social reform, a pioneer in the legal profession and a champion of women’s rights to rival Emmeline Pankhurst. But the Edge Hill graduate’s remarkable work is largely overlooked in women’s history.

Dr Judith Bourne, Senior Lecturer in Law at London Metropolitan University is currently writing her PhD on why Normanton’s achievements have been so overlooked in the past and will be delivering a talk on this topic at a special one-off lecture entitled Helena Normanton: An Undiscovered Heroine.

In her discussion, Judith will explore the life and work of this inspirational but little-known woman who scandalised the legal profession in 1922, first by wanting to be part of it, and then by insisting on practising in her maiden name. As a champion for woman’s rights, she was the first female to bring a prosecution in a murder trial and was a prolific campaigner for equality in marriage, being the first British woman to hold a passport in her maiden name.

“The sad truth is that very little is known about her,” said Judith, who is also a barrister. “I teach a course on women and law, and even I only came across her by accident. The fact that her achievements have been so neglected in the past is a real tragedy as, for me, she is up there with the Pankhursts and Rose Heilbron in terms of her contribution to women’s history.”

Very little is known about Normanton’s life before her legal career. She is known to have been a trainee teacher at Edge Hill, graduating in 1905, but how or why she came to be studying so far from her home town of Brighton is a mystery.

“I’m really looking forward to exploring the Edge Hill connection,” said Judith. “Edge Hill was known to be a hotbed of early feminist thinking and had connections to the Suffragette movement. We don’t know whether she was radical before she went to college or was radicalised by her experiences and the people she met there. It will be interesting to try to find out.”

To book your place at this free event, which starts at 5pm, contact the Corporate Events team by emailing corporateevents@edgehill.ac.uk.