Let us pay trib­ute to the first woman to pros­e­cute in a Scot­tish court

The Herald - - OPINION -

I READ with in­ter­est your ar­ti­cle (“Cel­e­brat­ing the re­mark­able life of the UK’S first woman so­lic­i­tor”, The Her­ald, Jan­uary 8) which sum­marised the achieve­ments of the first woman so­lic­i­tor in the UK, Madge An­der­son, and the plans to hon­our her achieve­ments. While recog­nis­ing the ground-break­ing work of Madge An­der­son, there is an­other group of early “women of the law” whose achieve­ments have been largely for­got­ten.

In 1893 Mary Muir­head Pater­son was ap­pointed one of the first two HM Lady In­spec­tors of Fac­to­ries in the United King­dom; her fel­low Lady In­spec­tor was ap­pointed in Lon­don and Mary Pater­son in Glas­gow. Mary Pater­son was the first woman to pros­e­cute in a Scot­tish Court and she and her suc­ces­sors (by then “women in­spec­tors”) con­tin­ued to blaze the trail for woman pros­e­cu­tors for many years be­fore the first woman procu­ra­tor fis­cal was ap­pointed.

In­deed, one of her suc­ces­sors, Gla­dys Mitchell, was re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing the Sher­iff Court hear­ing of one of the most sig­nif­i­cant de­cided cases in re­la­tion to ma­chin­ery guard­ing safety (Mitchell v the North British Rub­ber Com­pany 1945).

Mary Pater­son was born in Glas­gow on June 23,1864. Her fa­ther was a master shoe­maker and her mother ap­pears to have been quite “well con­nected” as Mary was able to travel to Amer­ica with her un­cle, Dr Henry Muir­head, to pur­sue her in­ter­ests in so­cial wel­fare. Her Glas­gow Her­ald obit­u­ary of June 11,1941 records that Mary was among the first women stu­dents at Queen Mar­garet Col­lege and com­pleted her ed­u­ca­tion there be­fore de­grees were given to women. She was em­ployed as a clerk and pre­cis writer by the Royal Com­mis­sion on Labour and ap­pointed to her post as Lady In­spec­tor on May 8, 1893.

These first ap­point­ments were made in the face of con­sid­er­able op­po­si­tion but they opened up a whole new field of high-level em­ploy­ment to women.

Mary Pater­son was ex­pected to be a peri­patetic worker and the Chief In­spec­tor’s re­port for 1896, for ex­am­ple, records her as trav­el­ling to most towns and cities of any size in Scot­land and the North of Eng­land.

She was in­volved in a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties cov­er­ing, for ex­am­ple, il­le­gal em­ploy­ment, san­i­tary con­di­tions, ven­ti­la­tion, the sup­ply of drink­ing wa­ter, and the safety of lifts and hoists. She was also re­spon­si­ble for im­por­tant in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the health of pot­tery work­ers, both in Scot­land and the Pot­ter­ies, and in Ire­land, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to the Truck Acts, which for­bade the prac­tice of forc­ing work­ers to buy sup­plies from their em­ployer.

Her sta­tus at the time can be judged by her in­clu­sion in the “Who’s Who in Glas­gow in 1909” where her ca­reer is sum­marised; of around 460 en­tries in the di­rec­tory only six are women (three “Ladies”, Miss Cranston, Miss Mir­lees and Miss Pater­son).

In 1912 Mary Pater­son was ap­pointed Na­tional In­sur­ance Com­mis­sioner for Scot­land and dur­ing the First World War, also or­gan­ised the Na­tional Ser­vice move­ment. She was made a CBE in 1920. She was a Jus­tice of the Peace in Ed­in­burgh and a vicechair­woman of the Scot­tish Jus­tices and Mag­is­trates As­so­ci­a­tion.

Her Her­ald obit­u­ary was headed “Dis­tin­guished Scotswoman” and amongst her many achieve­ments it is her role as the first woman to con­duct her own pro­ceed­ings in a Scot­tish Court which, in the con­text of women in the law, de­serves to be re­mem­bered and recog­nised. Ste­wart Camp­bell,

18 Duchess Park,

He­lens­burgh.

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