Monica Geikie Cobb

Derry, Caroline (2024). Monica Geikie Cobb. In: Auchmuty, Rosemary; Rackley, Erika and Takayanagi, Mari eds. Women’s Legal Landmarks in the Interwar Years: Not for the Want of Trying. London: Hart Publishing (In Press).

Abstract

Women had been excluded from the legal professions of the United Kingdom for centuries. They had spent decades campaigning for admission on a number of fronts: gaining law degrees, working in quasi-legal roles, making applications to the professional bodies and bringing cases before the courts. They finally won their fight for admission to the legal professions in 1919. However, while the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act received royal assent on 23 December that year, the qualification process required several more years’ effort. For women hoping to enter the Bar of England and Wales, they had several sets of examinations to pass and also had to keep dining terms (that is, attend dinners) in one of the four Inns of Court. In November 1922, the first cohort of women would-be practitioners completed the qualification process and were Called to the Bar. The final stage was to be instructed in a case, but this was by no means automatic as barristers are self-employed with no guarantee of work. Nonetheless, only two weeks later, Monica Geikie Cobb became the first woman to hold a brief in court.
Cobb’s successful prosecution of an Assize Court bigamy case was thus a milestone moment for women lawyers in England and Wales. Her success, and the generally congratulatory (if patronising) tone of press coverage, was a vital step in the acceptance of women barristers. It did also mark the start of a new struggle for professional recognition, in which women continued to face informal barriers long after their formal exclusion ended, but Cobb would continue to be among the pioneers who proved that women could make a successful career at the Bar.

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