WELCOME to a new column which is going to focus on the history of Glasgow, the episodes and people who have made this great city what it is today.

Soon I intend to write a series which will be, quite simply, the most ambitious examination of the history of the city ever undertaken by a Scottish newspaper.

First of all, however, I want to write a historical wrong by featuring some stories about the famous women of Glasgow.

History is often seen to be male-dominated, largely because Scottish history in particular is beset by battles and conflicts in which women were often not involved.

Glasgow Times:

I am starting today with a true pioneer who notched up a series of firsts in her chosen profession, a profession which denied her the opportunity to practise her excellence until she came along.

Madge Easton Anderson graduated from Glasgow University 100 years ago this month with a Bachelor of Laws degree. Some women had graduated from the Faculty of Law at Edinburgh University previously but had been barred from practising law in those misogynist times.

Anderson was the first woman to graduate in law at Glasgow and the University has marked the occasion by starting a project and setting up a research team from its School of Law to discover more about this fascinating Glaswegian heroine.

The University stated: “By marking the centenary of her law graduation as part of a wider project to mark 100 years of women in law the research team hope to honour her achievements and encourage Ms Anderson’s living relatives to get in touch.

“A small team of University law staff and students have been working with Alison Lindsay from the National Records of Scotland to delve into the archives and follow leads to try to piece together more about the life of Ms Anderson – with some success.”

Glasgow Times:

The team found a rare photograph of Anderson and a photo of her gravestone which reads – “A brilliant Glasgow University student and first woman solicitor in Scotland.”

For having graduated BL – she already had an MA – Anderson went on to challenge the rules that said she could not practise as a lawyer. In 1920, she gained her LL.B degree which would ordinarily have meant she could practise as a lawyer, but only if “she” was a “he”.

Born at 75 Kent Road in Glasgow on April 24, 1896, to a surgical instrument maker, Robert Easton Anderson, and his wife Anne Catherine Chisholm, whose family were in the bookselling trade, Madge Easton Anderson was educated at Hutcheson’s Grammar School before studying at Glasgow University and graduating with an MA on June 26, 1916.

Even though she knew that opportunities were limited for women in the law given the ban on them practising the profession, Anderson signed up to work as an apprentice law agent with the famous firm of Maclay, Murray and Spens which is now known as Denton’s after the two firms merged in 2017. The enlightened John Alexander Spens himself championed her cause.

He and Anderson clearly foresaw that the role of women in society was changing drastically – the suffragettes had made female voting rights inevitable and the work done by women in factories and elsewhere while men went off to war showed that female emancipation in many areas of society was overdue.

Not in the law, and not at first. The greatest achievement of Madge Anderson was to take on the vested interests in the legal profession and beat them in the courts. She gained her LLB on April 20, 1920, four months after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which was the UK Government’s acceptance of the wartime changes on female status.

The Act read: “A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise).”

At that time the legal profession in Scotland was regulated by the Scottish Law Agents Society and due to its archaic rules, Anderson was barred from practising as a solicitor. Assisted by Spens and other lawyers, she took her case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and won it on appeal, the court criticising the English terminology used in the Act.

It was a stunning success for Anderson who in the space of a few weeks had overturned the “men only” face of Scots law that had lasted for centuries.

It took several months for her appointment to be confirmed at a Glasgow law firm John Steuart and Gillies, during which time she pioneered what we would now call a community law centre in Anderston in the city. Indeed she would carry on this service for a decade.

Not only was she the first female solicitor in the UK, by 1927 she was the first woman to establish her own law practice, setting up in Giffnock. Her “firsts” were not over – by 1937 she had qualified to practise law in England, becoming the first “dual qualified” woman solicitor.

She moved to London and set up in business with two English women solicitors Edith Annie Berthen and Beatrice Honour Davy, achieving another first – theirs was the first multi-partner practice anywhere in Britain run exclusively by women.

The mysterious part of her life came after she left the law in the late 1940s.  The research team have shed some light on what happened to Anderson, who bought a house in Dunkeld in 1949 and turned it into a hotel.

Seonaid Stevenson, research assistant, solicitor and Glasgow University law graduate, described her discoveries: “Recently, we interviewed Ms Anderson’s former neighbour to ask about her memories of this remarkable lady. Ms Anderson, who appeared to leave legal practice behind when she left London in 1949 to run a guest house in rural Perthshire, seemingly never spoke a word of her career and her many ‘firsts’ in the legal profession.

“She was described as kind, extremely independent, and always wearing a brown felt hat and tweed suit.”

Madge Easton Anderson died in Perth Royal Infirmary on August 9, 1982.

If you have any knowledge about her, please e-mail letters@eveningtimes.co.uk and it will be passed on to the research team. Use the same address for any comments or suggestions you would like passed on.