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Napo former President named women of the day

Lily (@TheAttagirls), honours Gertrude Tuckwell, former Napo president and the first woman magistrate in London.

Each day of the year, Lily (@TheAttagirls), a former prison governor, posts a Woman of the Day on X/Twitter to honour a woman who was born or died or achieved something remarkable on that date on history and who deserves to have her voice heard once more. 

Today Lily honours Gertrude Tuckwell, former Napo president and the first woman magistrate in London.

Woman of the Day teacher and social reformer Gertrude Tuckwell born OTD 1861 in Oxford, the first woman magistrate in London, a founder member of the Magistrates’ Association in 1920 and president of the National Association of Probation Officers. Deeds Not Words really should have been her motto.

Gertrude became interested in women’s rights while acting as secretary to her aunt, the suffragist Emilia Dilke. She became involved in the Women’s Trade Union League in 1892 and succeeded her aunt as president of the National Federation of Women Workers in 1908, using this as a platform to campaign for women factory inspectors, for a minimum wage and for better protection for women from industrial injuries including lead poisoning and phossy jaw.

Phossy jaw was a terrible necrosis caused to the faces and jawbones of women workers handling white phosphorus, used to make matches, and green phosphorus which was applied to clock numerals and clock hands to make them luminous. Lead poisoning was used in pottery glazes and caused deaths. Eventually, better – although not perfect – protections were introduced in an early form of health and safety legislation.

On Christmas Eve 1919, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act became law thus removing the women-only bar to the professions. On the same day, the Lord Chancellor announced the the appointment of the first seven women as justices of the peace. Gertrude was one of the seven and she wasted no time in kicking open the door for other women.

She had already been collecting newspaper cuttings on the subject for a long time and with the other six, drew up a list of 172 women suitable for appointment as magistrates right across the UK. When Gertrude first joined the Bench, she ‘felt deeply [her] own ignorance’ and had to keep a large volume of Stone’s Manual for Justices to hand. Determined that the 172 new women would have a better start, she mentored many of them, chairing special meetings to help them adapt to their role.

Dedicated to modernising the magistracy, she co-founded the Magistrates Association in 1921.

Around 1928, Gertrude was made president of the National Association of Probation Officers and was later its chair. She networked ruthlessly, wrote many letters and campaigned relentlessly against child labour. She was especially concerned about the treatment of working-class children in the courts and saw the answer as probation, not corporal punishment. She advocated for dedicated juvenile courts and specially selected magistrates.

Gertrude was made a Companion of Honour for her role in transforming the criminal justice system, especially for children. She died in 1951, aged 90.

“Among the social questions with which the nation has to deal, there is none, it seems to me, so important as children”.

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