Ethel Bright Ashford: more and less than a role model

Derry, Caroline (2020). Ethel Bright Ashford: more and less than a role model. Women's History Review, 29(4) pp. 615–635.



There is a tendency to position the first women lawyers as role models for today’s young women. This article argues, through an exploration of the life and career of Ethel Bright Ashford, that these women are better recognised as pioneers or foremothers than promoted as role models. Ashford was one of the first women barristers, a long-serving borough councillor, and tireless activist for civic causes. Nonetheless, aspects of her career and politics pose problems for purely celebratory accounts. Yet there is real value in considering her biography: she offers both an alternative definition of a successful professional life and the reassurance that imperfection is not equivalent to failure. Ashford therefore illustrates the vital importance of a more nuanced and historically situated consideration of the first women lawyers.

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