Stephanie Boyce, the deputy vice-president of the Law Society, wrote in the Press to mark the 100th anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 (Still a long way to go on equality, January 1).

The 1919 Act certainly made it legally possible for women to qualify as barristers or solicitors. For many years, however, few women were in a position to take advantage of the new Act. If they wished to qualify as solicitors the financial obstacles were almost insurmountable.

The first woman to be admitted to membership of the Yorkshire Law Society was Mrs G Moore, in 1947 – and a further seven years were to pass before she was joined by two others. And when I joined the Society in April 1967 there were none.

The reasons for this lack of take-up by women were both financial and social. Qualifying as a solicitor was expensive for most parents and few young women were in a position to finance themselves. Furthermore, there was a general assumption that they would (and should) give up employment on marriage. It was only in 1972 that the Foreign Office ceased to insist that women employees resign on marriage.

Women in the law equally faced obstacles of a social nature and still do. Women barristers, newly qualified under the 1919 Act, found themselves embroiled in a row as to whether they should wear wigs in court – these were claimed to be exclusively items of male attire.

In 1949 the Yorkshire Law Society’s first (and at the time only) woman member, politely enquired of the Hon Secretary if it was in order for her to invite a woman guest to the Society’s annual dinner.

This request was passed to the full committee with the recommendation that it be refused “as a precedent might otherwise be created”.

Social pressures can be just as effective as a deterrent to women as legal restrictions, which is why the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Institute of Legal Executives have joined in urging their members to sign their Women in Law Pledge.

FA Lawton,

Skelton, York