Blue Plaque for Ivy Williams goes up on King Edward Street

  • Ivy Williams receiving her degree from Oxford University
    Ivy Williams finally receiving her degree from Oxford
  • Ivy Williams Blue Plaque
    The Blue Plaque Commemorating Ivy Williams
24 September, 2020

Ivy Williams (1877 – 1966), the first woman to be called to the English Bar, has been commemorated with a blue plaque on one of Oriel’s buildings, 12 King Edward Street.

Born in Devon in 1877, Ivy lived with her family over her father’s office premises at 12 King Edward Street between 1887 and 1904. She was taught at home and studied Jurisprudence at the Society of Oxford Home Students (which later became St Anne’s College). She was only the third woman in history to do so.

Although she graduated in 1900, women weren’t granted the right to equal degrees at Oxford until 1920. Following that decision, Ivy finally received her BA, MA, BCL on 14th October 1920.

Women were first admitted to the Inns of Court in 1920, following the passing of the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919, and Ivy joined the Inner Temple on 26th January that year. She received a certificate of honour (first class) in her final bar exams, achieving the second-highest marks out of 123 candidates, and was the first woman to be called to the English bar, on 10th May 1922, but did not practise as a barrister. This followed a very long campaign (from 1904 – 1922) on her part for women to be admitted. The Law Journal described her call to the bar as ‘one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession’.

In 1923, she became the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford for her published work The Sources of Law in the Swiss Civil Code.

From 1920 to 1945 Ivy was tutor and lecturer in law to the Society of Oxford Home Students. She was elected an Honorary Fellow of St Anne's College in 1956. In later life, as her eyesight failed, she taught herself to read braille and produced a primer which was published for the National Institute for the Blind in 1948 and went into more than one edition. Ivy died in Oxford on 18th February 1966, aged 88, but left behind a rich legacy.

Ivy’s only brother Winter Williams studied Law at Corpus Christi College and became a barrister, but died in World War One. Ivy endowed two law scholarships at Oxford in his name, one of which was for women only.

Annie Rogers, recognised as the founder of St Anne's College, has also been honoured with a blue plaque at 35 St Giles this week. She was a great promoter of women's education and a ceaseless campaigner for women’s full membership of Oxford University. These two plaques have been erected as part of the centenary celebrations of women being admitted as full members of the University.

The Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board stated: "The Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board was founded in 1999 to celebrate people of truly outstanding contribution and legacy in the history of the city and the county. Proposals are welcomed to nominate people from all fields of endeavour and all sections of society. We have been delighted to honour an increasing number of women in recent years. There are important basic criteria which constrain the awards: the recipients must have lived in the building where the plaque is installed for at least five years (ideally longer) and to have been dead for twenty years or after death to have passed the centenary of birth."

Oriel's Provost, Lord Mendoza, said: "Oriel College is delighted that the life and work of Ivy Williams has been recognised by the Blue Plaque Committee. Ivy Williams’ outstanding educational, campaigning and leading achievements were outstanding. The College is proud that this tribute to her has found a home on one of our buildings."