Kent social historian researches lives of first women JPs

Dr Logan, of the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, wrote the introduction and did much of the research for the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published to coincide with the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which opened the legal profession to women.

Dr Logan’s introduction points out that the effect of the 1919 Act was felt more quickly on magistrates’ benches than elsewhere in the legal profession. The first appointments were made on the day that the 1919 Act came into force.

Her research found that party politics played an important part in JP selection at the time. Beyond those affiliations, however, lay common threads in the women’s political, philanthropic, and social activities.

Charis Ursula Frankenburg, a JP for Salford from 1938

Dr Logan found that many of the older generation had taken part in the non-militant women’s suffrage movement, and had also undertaken voluntary work during the First World War: in the Red Cross, county agricultural committees and food production initiatives, and aid to Belgian refugees.

Among the women nominated for county benches in particular, Dr Logan identified that involvement in the fledgling Women’s Institute organization (founded in 1915) and work with the Girl Guides was common.

Once on the bench, many of the women were active in the Magistrates’ Association, which, Dr Logan notes, was founded in 1920 as a direct result of the influx of new women JPs. These women ‘brought a new quasi-professionalism to the voluntary work of the magistracy and became involved in national and international discussions on criminal justice policy’.

Perhaps the most significant network identified by Dr Logan among the early women JPs was the National Council of Women (NCW).

She concludes: ‘For decades to come the NCW brought the female magistrates of the country together and campaigned for the causes that mattered most to them, including the treatment of young offenders, the representation of women in the courts, and the rights of victims of crime.’

The biographies are accessible to members of most public libraries in the UK. For Kent County Libraries see.