Ten milestone moments when women were equally recorded in history


06 March 2020
British aeroplane worker near Birmingham welding frame lugs for aircraft, 1914
To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, Ancestry present ten moments where women’s records were first recorded equally in history, starting from the most recent to events from more than 150 years ago.

Ancestry® has explored the archives to discover remarkable tales of pioneering women, which are shared below.

1 Mothers’ names were first added to British marriage certificates in 2018

Despite being amongst the most powerful women in recent British history, former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was not on her son, Mark Thatcher’s marriage certificate to Diana Burgdorf in 1987 nor was the Queen on the marriage certificate between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005. In fact, it took for the passing of the Registration of Marriage Bill by the House of Lords in 2018 to have both the mother and father registered on their child’s marriage certificate.

2 Women could first apply for all roles in the British military in 2018

Despite military trailblazers such as Flora Sandes (pictured below) who was the first and only British female soldier to officially serve in WWI, women were first able to apply for Royal Marines and all other frontline military roles in 2018.

3 A mother’s occupation was first added to her baby’s birth certificate in 1984

Whilst being the nation’s sweetheart of the arts, Dame Judi Dench’s occupation was not listed on her daughter Tara’s (Finty Williams) birth certificate in 1972. Similarly, if we look at Margaret Thatcher’s twin certificates, Mark and Carol from 1953, despite being a qualified Barrister at the time, Thatcher’s maiden name was only featured. It was only in 1984 that a mother’s occupation was added to her baby’s birth certificate in the UK.  

4 In 1943, Edith Kent became the first woman to receive equal pay 

Edith Kent took a job as an electric welder in Plymouth during WWII. Despite being the first woman to be employed at the dockyard in 1941, it was only after having her first child that she returned to work and received a pay-rise, putting her on a wage higher than the average male manual worker.

5 In 1924, Helena Normanton was the first woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name 

Whilst, Helena Normanton (below) was also the first practising female barrister in England, she was the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name. This was namely for professional reasons and wanting continuity within her line of work.

Elliott & Fry copyright, Helena Normanton

6 From 1919, women were able to be recognised as barristers, solicitors, jurors in the workplace

The first women to pass their Law Society examinations were Maud Crofts, Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup and Mary Sykes in 1922. Maud Crofts, a prominent suffragette was the first of the group to qualify as a solicitor - her daughter and her granddaughter also followed her into the legal profession, qualifying as the first three-generational family of women solicitors.

7 Women aged over 30 were first able to vote in 1918, however they weren’t the first women to ‘vote’ in Britain 

The passing of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act (1918) act allowed women over 30 to be granted the vote. This was then followed by the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act in 1928 that extended the vote to all women over the age of 21.

However, Lilly Maxwell was the first woman to vote in 1867 when she was accidently included on the electoral roll in Manchester. Her vote was eventually repealed but she was still technically the first woman to feature on an electoral roll full of men. 

8 Women could be first licensed as doctors in 1876

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (below) was the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain. Her campaigning contributed to the 1876 Enabling Act that enabled the licensing of both male and female doctors.

Wellcome images copyright

9 In 1869, women were able to take their first university exams

Just nine women sat down to take their university exams in 1869. Known as the London nine, Marian Belcher, Louise Hume von Glehn Creighton, Sarah Jane Moody, Eliza Orme, Kate Spiller, Mary Anna Baker-Watson, Isabella de Lancy West, Susannah Wood and Hendilah Lawrence were also the first female students to be admitted to a university in Britain – the University of London. These pioneers of education subsequently went on to become teachers, writers, lawyers and suffragettes.

10 Women were able to file for divorce in 1857 

Caroline Norton was the first woman in Britain to ask her husband for a divorce. Her campaign lead to the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act allowing ordinary people to divorce. Prior to that it was largely only allowed for men to do so. 

Ancestry's top tips for tracing your female ancestors

  • Look at alternative records – although birth, marriage and death records may be the first port of call when identifying an ancestor, sometimes these documents can be harder to trace as you go up your family tree. It is worth checking for clues in other records such as census records, land records, probates and wills as often, they can reveal more intricate details such as maiden names. 
  • Expand your search – pay attention to other members of the family as sometimes other children or relatives in the same family can illuminate patterns in naming, birth places or living setups that may help you identify the details you’re missing. 
  • Cross reference with local archives – whilst, historically women may not have been recorded with their maiden names in official documents, often local records may add this detail. For example, women were often members of religious or community groups where they may have registered under their maiden name. Additionally, by checking local archives for extracts of diaries or journals kept by women, this may add colour to their stories too.

Explore your female ancestors on Ancestry's website.