Scotland's History: Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd QC

In 1948 Margaret Henderson Kidd celebrated her 25th anniversary as the only woman advocate in Scotland. At the age of 23 she had become the first woman to enter the Faculty of Advocates, the male-dominated Scottish bar, and excelled in her profession. Following the announcement that Margaret was to be appointed Britain’s first female King’s Counsel, The Scotsman celebrated this achievement on 21 December 1948 and praised her abilities:

‘As the only woman in a hitherto masculinely exclusive and exclusively manly fraternity, and a naturally conservative one at that, her presence might have led to a certain amount of perturbation or even resentment…The fact that she is one of the most popular and well-liked members of the Faculty is a tribute to her character and personality.’

 

The announcement of Margaret’s appointment as King’s Counsel, Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail

The announcement of Margaret’s appointment as King’s Counsel
Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 28 December 1948. Image copyright: The British Newspaper Archive.

 

Margaret Henderson Kidd was born in Carriden, near Bo’ness, on 14 March 1900, the eldest of nine children born to Janet Gardner Turnbull, a teacher, and James Kidd, a solicitor and Unionist MP for Linlithgowshire.

Birth entry of Margaret Henderson Kidd

Birth entry of Margaret Henderson Kidd
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Births, 1900, 663/2 32

 

1911 Census recording the Kidd household

1911 Census recording the Kidd household
National Records of Scotland, Census of 1911, 663/2 2/8

 

Margaret was educated at Linlithgow Academy and later studied law at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1922. The following year she was called to the Faculty of Advocates and became the first female with the right to plead in the Court of Session. The event attracted great interest from members of the faculty and the legal profession, as well as the media. The Scotsman newspaper, as was typical of press coverage of women in the news, took special interest in Margaret’s outfit, reporting that she wore a ‘coat frock of black crepe morocain, a soft white collar with a narrow white bow tie, and a straw hat trimmed with velvet.’ Later in the day she donned the wig and gown as she formally entered her new role.

 

A photograph of Margaret in her wig and gown

Margaret in her wig and gown
The Sphere, 13 March 1926. Image copyright: The British Newspaper Archive.

 

In 1930 Margaret married Donald Somerled MacDonald. Donald was a Writer to the Signet and the son of a barrister. The couple had one daughter, Anne, who later married a Cambridge surgeon.

Marriage entry of Margaret Henderson Kidd and Donald Somerled MacDonald

Marriage entry of Margaret Henderson Kidd and Donald Somerled MacDonald
National Records of Scotland, Statutory Register of Marriages, 1930, 663/29
 

During the Second World War Margaret played a prominent part in organising Christmas treats and functions for the wives and dependants of men serving with the 14th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, and particularly the 39th Battery of which her brother Col. J. T. Kidd was then in command.

 

Margaret’s professional life also led her to sit on the committee of Representatives of Poor Persons in Scotland as a referee under the Widows and Orphans and Old Age Contributions Pensions Act, and to undertake the Assistantship in the class of Public Law at Edinburgh University.

 

Margaret was also the first woman in Scotland to occupy the role of Sheriff Principal, first at Dumfries and Galloway in 1960, and in Perth and Angus from 1966 until her retirement in 1975. Furthermore, she held the post of editor of the Court of Session Law Reports of the Scots Law Times from 1942-1976.

 

Margaret Kidd spent much of her life in India Street, Edinburgh. Donald had died in 1957, leaving Margaret a widow for over 30 years until her death on 22 March 1989 in Cambridge. A funeral service was held at the Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh. A eulogy by Lord Hope of Craighead echoed what had been printed about her 41 years earlier by the Scotsman:

 

‘Her success was won by strength of character, courage and integrity and is a mark of her true qualities that, despite what might seem to be the revolutionary nature of her achievements, she always held the affection and respect of others.’

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