OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

IVY WILLIAMS (1877–1966)

Lawyer and university teacher, first woman to be called to the Bar of England and Wales

12 King Edward Street, Oxford

Ivy Williams
© The Principal and Fellows of St Anne's College, Oxford

Ivy Williams was born to George St Swithin Williams, solicitor, and his wife Emma (née Ewers) in Newton Abbot. A brother, Winter Williams, had preceded her in 1875. George’s father Adin Williams was a prosperous Oxford mercer and tailor who ran a business in the High. By 1841 the family lived at Church House in the newly developing suburb of Summertown. Emma Ewers had been the family servant.

George and Emma left Oxford for some years but had returned by 1887 to 12 King Edward Street, where George practised as a solicitor and where the family lived.

Ivy was educated with her brother at home. Latin, Greek, Italian, and Russian were among the subjects she studied before acceptance by the Society of Oxford Home-Students to read Jurisprudence. She graduated in 1900, took the BCL in 1902, and an LLD (London) in 1903.

Formal recognition of women’s Oxford degrees came only in 1920 when full membership of Oxford University was conceded after a long campaign. She matriculated with many others on 7 October 1920 and received her BA, MA and BCL all at once on 14 October along with another fifty women, the first to receive Oxford degrees proper. (See also Annie Rogers.)

12 King Edward Street

She had also long demanded that women should be allowed to qualify as barristers. With the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in December 1919, she was admitted to the Inner Temple in January 1921. After receiving a certificate of honour (first class) in her final bar examination in Michaelmas 1921, she was excused from two terms’ dinners and thereby enabled to take the final hurdle early. On 10 May 1922, she became the first woman to be called to the Bar of England and Wales. The presiding officer, Treasurer of the Inner Temple, Henry Dickens, son of the novelist, spoke of a momentous occasion.

 

Left: 12 King Edward Street, where Ivy lived with her parents from 1887 to 1904

Ivy was more interested in the principle involved than actually practising as a barrister. Her preference was a career in academe. As tutor and lecturer at the Society of Oxford Home-Students (1920–1945), she was the first woman to teach Law at Oxford and indeed at any English university. In 1923 Oxford made her Doctor of Civil Law – the first time this degree had been awarded to a woman – in recognition of her published work on The Sources of Law in the Swiss Civil Code. In the same year she endowed two law scholarships worth £3500 each, one for women only, in memory of her brother Winter, also a barrister, who had died young in 1903 (not in the First World War as often wrongly stated). In 1956 when the Society of Oxford Home-Students received collegiate status as St Anne’s College, she was made an honorary fellow.

After the death of her father in 1904 she and her mother moved to Sunnyside, Hollow Way, Cowley. In 1920 she gave Sunnyside to the Radcliffe Infirmary. Her new and final home was at 30 Staverton Road in North Oxford. In later life, her eyesight began to fail. She found learning braille difficult and for the benefit of others produced a braille primer published by the National Institute for the Blind. She taught braille by correspondence almost to the end of her life.

She died in Oxford on 18 February 1966.

Sources:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Hazel Fox
  • Women in Oxford's History Podcast: Ivy Williams by Bridget Wheeler
  • Faculty of Law, University of Oxford: Ivy Williams
  • Inner Temple Library: Ivy Williams
  • Other information from censuses and street directories

The plaque was erected at 12 King Edward Street on 21 September 2020. There was no ceremony owing to pandemic restrictions on gatherings.

Picture awaited

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

IVY WILLIAMS
DCL

1877–1966
First woman to be called to the
English Bar and to teach
Law at Oxford
lived here
1887–1904

Faculty of Law University of Oxford

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

 

Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com