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Sunday, 14 February 2010

Helena Normanton

Helena Normanton is one of the most important women in history but there is very little on her on the web. Born in 1882, her father was killed when she was only four years old. Her mother, Jane Normanton, moved to Brighton with her two young daughters. She ran a small grocery shop and also turned her family home at 4 Clifton Place into a boarding house.

Normanton was a talented student and in 1896 won a scholarship to York Place Science School in Brighton. She eventually became a pupil teacher but on the death of her mother in 1900 she left school to help run the family boarding house and look after her younger sister.

In 1903 Helena became a student at the Edge Hill Teachers' Training College in Liverpool. After qualifying in 1905 she taught history in Glasgow and London. She was a member of the Women's Freedom League. As well as campaigning for women's suffrage, she wrote several pamphlets on the issue of women's pay. In Sex Differentiation in Salary (1914) she argued for equal pay for equal work. After the First World War she wrote: "During and after the war, many soldiers' wives and widows became the breadwinners for families. Should they be paid according to their sex or their work?"

In 1918 Normanton applied to be admitted to the Middle Temple. When this application was rejected because she was a woman, she took the case to the House of Lords. However, before the case could be heard, Parliament passed the Disqualification (Removal) Bill. Normanton immediately applied again and therefore became the first woman admitted as a student to the bar. After passing her exams she was called to the bar on 17th November 1922, a few months after Ivy Williams, had become the first woman to do so (but she did not practise).

While a student Normanton married Gavin Bowman Clark (1873-1948). As Joanne Workman has pointed out: "Her application to retain her maiden name after her marriage attracted considerable public interest. Helena deplored the loss of a woman's identity on marriage and its disadvantageous legal results. While she believed in the respectability of retaining the title Mrs she also wished to maintain continuity of identity in her professional career." In 1924 she became the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name.

Normanton gained a great deal of fame "from her writing, public speaking, and feminist activities". This led to claims that she was guilty of advertising her services (forbidden by legal etiquette). In April 1923 she requested the bar council to hold a full inquiry into whether she had ever advertised herself. As this did not happen she curtailed her public speaking engagements and stopped writing for newspapers and magazines.

In 1924 Helena Normanton became the first female counsel in a case at the Old Bailey. The following year she became the first woman to conduct a case in the United States, that established American women's right to retain their maiden names.

Helena Normanton campaigned for changes in matrimonial law. At the annual meeting of the National Council of Women in October 1934, her proposals were strongly attacked by the Mothers' Union. In 1938 Normanton was co-founder with Vera Brittain, Edith Summerskill and Helen Nutting of the Married Women's Association. The organisation sought equal relationships between men and women in marriage.

Helena Wojtczak remarked in Notable Sussex Women (2008): "In 1948 she became the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, and the following year became one of the first two women to be appointed King's Counsel. She was an excellent public speaker, wrote articles for various publications and books on a wide variety of subjects, from Shakespeare to buying a house."

Normanton was a pacifist and was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She also played a significant role in the campaign for a university in Brighton. In 1956 she made the first donation to the Sussex University appeal. She wrote at the time: "I make this gift in gratitude for all that Brighton did to educate me when I was left an orphan." This was followed by larger donations and she bequeathed the capital of her trust to the university.

Helena Normanton died on 14th October, 1957, and is buried at St Wulfran's Churchyard in Ovingdean.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wnormanton.htm

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