A painting including professional women


The Sacred Year 1919: women and the professions

1 May to 8 September 2019 in LSE Library Gallery.

Virginia Woolf famously described 1919 as ‘the sacred year’ because of an Act of Parliament that removed barriers. This Act was the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act which enabled women to enter most professions and professional organisations for the first time. This Act removed barriers but it still did not explicitly give women rights. 

This exhibition marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, displaying material from the Women’s Library collection, to show how this Act was a turning point in widening employment opportunities for women. Women could now practise as barristers and solicitors, but what was it like for those first women students entering the Inns of Court? 

A portrait of Helena Normanton
Helena Normanton, 1922.

The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act contained many loopholes and some professions remained closed to women. The Church and the diplomatic service were two. This exhibition considers various subsequent campaigns to open up these professions to women. It also highlights discrimination faced by professional women even after the Act.

An embroidered banner with Caroline Herschel written on it
Caroline Herschel banner, 1908.

Finally, the video wall tells the story of the London Society of Women’s Service (later renamed the Fawcett Society) which encouraged and supported young professional women. It founded a library, which became the Women’s Library, as a resource for professional women to campaign for better rights in the workplace.

Maude Royden sitting down looking at the camera
Maude Royden at the Guildhouse in 1922.

Gillian Murphy, curator, said:

This exhibition is about what some women did after getting the vote in 1918. The Women's Library holds many great collections relating to women's activism in the interwar period and this exhibition allows us to see, through the archive, both what they did and what they had to cope with.

Opening times and visiting

The Gallery and exhibition are small enough to get around over a lunchtime, so why not make a visit? Tours are also available on request – get in touch to arrange these.

From 1 May to 8 September:

  • Monday to Friday: 9am to 7pm

  • Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 6pm

sacred year exhibition poster


View a list of all upcoming LSE Library events, many of which are related to this exhibition.

Explore these collections

If you are interested in archive material related to this exhibition, have a look at the Women and Work collection highlight page

Find and contact us

LSE Library, 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD

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For further information, contact the team marking your email for the attention of Gillian Murphy.