Making women magistrates : feminism, citizenship and justice in England and Wales 1918-1950
This thesis addresses the subject of women magistrates in England and Wales from their introduction in 1919 and the work subsequently performed by the early women JPs until the late 1940s. Surprisingly, despite the great volume of work on women’s history during the last few decades, historians have not researched this subject in detail. While only a handful of women have become professional judges in this country, many thousands have sat in judgement on their follow citizens as lay justices. This duty is both voluntary and unpaid but it is, along with jury service, a vitally important aspect of citizenship. It is argued herein that this exercise of citizenship through the magistracy was an ongoing concern of feminists and of women’s organisations in the period. Not only did the magistracy change women by making them equal citizens, but also women changed the magistracy, by pioneering modern ideas in the work of the JP and presaging a new, quasi-professional approach. Part One examines the process by which women were brought into the lay magistracy. Chapter One locates the origins of the campaign for the appointment of women as JPs in the women’s suffrage movement and demonstrates that the necessary legislation was largely uncontroversial. Chapter Two analyses the ongoing campaign by women’s organisations and their abilities to bring more women to the magisterial bench. Chapter Three explores the relationship between the emergence of a separate system of criminal justice for juveniles and the creation of women magistrates. Part Two seeks to establish to what extent the ‘woman magistrate’ was a new category. Chapter Four analyses the social backgrounds of the first women appointed as JPs. Chapter Five is concerned with women’s experience of the magistracy, which is examined mostly through their own words. Chapter Six focuses on networks and organisations of women JPs and the campaigns they took part in, and argues that they adopted a distinctly feminist approach to their role. It is concluded that - up to a point - the early women JPs were a new type of magistrate, providing a template for future developments in the lay magistracy after 1950.