Marjorie Powell

First woman to be admitted to Lincoln’s Inn


On 16 January 1920 Marjorie Powell was the first woman to be admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, under a month after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 receiving Royal Assent.

Marjorie Powell was born on 5 October 1893, in Marchamley in rural Shropshire a few miles from Market Drayton to Thomas (1866-1927) and Sarah Powell (1867-1941). Her father was a tenant farmer on the Hawkestone Estate and in 1926 he went on to purchase the freehold of his farm and a number of sub-let properties totalling over 500 acres, much of which is still in the family today. She had one brother, John Dare Powell (1891-1983) who farmed the family holding until his retirement in the 1960s. Powell attended the independent Orme Girl’s School in Newcastle-under-Lyme going on to Newham College, Cambridge in 1912 where she gained first-class honours in the Economics tripos. She went on to a teaching position and lectured in Economics at Queen’s University, Belfast between 1916-1918, clearly an interesting time to be in Ireland. In 1918 Powell returned to England and a post as an assistant lecturer in Political Economy at Victoria University, Manchester, now the University of Manchester.

Powell was never called to the Bar to practice law as she continued her academic life teaching and writing on Economics. In 1921 the now Mrs Robinson (Powell having married notable physicist and fellow Manchester lecturer, Harold Robinson (1889-1955), in 1920) took a post at the two women’s colleges, Newnham and Girton, in Cambridge. She wrote a book in the Cambridge Economics Series, entitled Public Finance, published by the Cambridge University Press in 1922, with a foreword by John Maynard Keynes. Mrs Robinson was the Director of Newnham College Cambridge during the years 1933-1938 but had re-located to London in 1930 when her husband was appointed to London University as a lecturer. In addition to her continued involvement with Cambridge, Mrs Robinson lectured at Birkbeck College, London from 1930-1936, the institution holding lectures largely in the evening to allow access by working and mature students.

The Robinsons had two children, Anne (b 1922) and Andrew (b 1924). The Royal Society’s Biographical Memoirs of Harold Robinson note that Marjorie

… was a small woman: it was reported that their baby carriage had to have the handle bar adjusted for height … she was bright, alert, sparkling and vivacious, while Robinson, though full of a dry humour, was deliberate and composed. They fully understood each other’s temperament and made a charming pair ... Each took a loving, amused, almost tolerant delight in the other’s difference. Until her death in 1939 they lived in warm understanding, affection and harmony, with much gaiety mingled with gravity when necessary … [the manner of her death] was a heart-breaking blow for Robinson for he was a man of deep feeling and tenderness and between them was a profound love. The wound left abiding scars.

E N da C Andrade, pub. 1957

Marjorie Powell Robinson died all too prematurely on 6 December 1939 in Cambridge, at the age of 46 with causes of death listed as heart disease, cancer and peritonitis. Professor Robinson went on to enjoy a second, also reportedly happy, partnership with the left wing political activist, Madeleine Symons (1895-1957) whom he married in December 1940.

Carrie de Silva LIB (Hons) MA

Principal Lecturer -Law and Taxation, Harper Adams University