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