Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, KC/QC, Scotland's first woman advocate, was born on the 14th of March, 1900.
There's nothing like a dame. Margaret Henderson Kidd wasn't born a Dame, but she was certainly unique and yes, she did it her way, which led to her becoming a Dame in 1975. Margaret Henderson Kidd was a KC and a QC and during an eminent legal career, she racked up a number of pioneering ‘female firsts’ in what was then an entirely male dominated environment. Margaret became the first feminine member of the Scottish Bar in 1923, and uniquely, until 1948, she was its only female advocate. Margaret was also the first female lawyer to plead before the House of Lords and before a Select Committee of the House of Commons. In addition and significantly, Margaret became
the first woman to become a King's Counsel in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, she was the first woman to officially occupy the post of Sheriff Principal for Dumfries and Galloway.
Margaret Kidd wasn't one to argue with; she's the one who did the arguing, because that's what lawyers do. Apart from her pioneering in the legal profession, Kidd is said to have been radical in her criticisms of legal and political institutions, which can't have been a bad thing. Dame Kidd was well respected by her peers, including a peer of the realm, Lord Hope of Craighead, who once wrote, “Her success was won by strength of character, courage and integrity.” The first and last of those attributes are essential for any lawyer, but the middle trait was the one Margaret needed to succeed in her chosen, male dominated profession. With typical understatement, Dame Kidd's own view of her success was that she, “had a lot of luck to be in the right place at the right time.”
Margaret Henderson Kidd was born on the 14th of March, 1900, at Grange Park, Carriden, near Bo'ness in Linlithgowshire. Maggie was the eldest of the nine children of her teacher mother and solicitor father who was also the Unionist MP for Linlithgowshire. Margaret was educated at Linlithgow Academy before she went on to study law at the University of Edinburgh, from where she graduated with an MA and an LLB in 1922. According to her biographer, Isobel Anne Poole, Margaret's early legal training was with Mitchell and Baxter, writers to the signet, in Edinburgh. Incidentally, a young Robert Louis Stevenson had been one of her predecessors there. Poole states that Margaret had hoped to pursue a diplomatic career, but that, despite the passing of the Sex Disqualification Act of 1919, that course was not considered possible.
Margaret Kidd ended up going to the bar at her father's suggestion. He told her to go to the bar “and have fun.” Maybe he meant the King's Arms! In any event, Margaret was called to the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Bar, in July, 1923. Interestingly, and again according to Poole, in 1923, the ladies' robing-room in Parliament House was situated off a lower corridor, opposite the condemned cell. Not the greatest of locations, you'll admit, but there it remained until well after the Second World War and, in fact, it had no running hot water until after the end of that war.
In 1928, five years after embarking on a law career, Margaret Kidd had a go at politics when, on the death of her father, she contested his parliamentary seat in a by-election. She stood as a Unionist like her father, but was defeated by Labour's Manny Shinwell. She made no further attempt to enter Parliament, but then, she had plenty of other things to do. Two years after that, on the 22nd of March, 1930, she married Donald Somerled MacDonald to become Margaret Henderson MacDonald-Kidd. They lived in India Street, in Scotland's fine capital city, Edinburgh.
In terms of her career as an advocate, by 1948, Margaret was standing junior counsel for the Post Office and for the Ministry of Works. In addition to her advocacy, Margaret MacDonald-Kidd was Editor of the Court of Session law reports of the Scots Law Times, a post she held from 1942 until 1976. Poole relates that, during her time in that role and on several occasions, Margaret even went so far as to write her reporters' reports for them. It seems that she was a bit of a perfectionist. Margaret was also keeper of the Advocates' Library, an honorary post of the Faculty of Advocates, a position she held from 1956 to 1969.
On the 20th of December, 1948, Margaret Henderson MacDonald-Kidd was appointed Britain's first woman KC – a historical achievement not to be underestimated. Later, in 1960, Margaret Kidd became Scotland's first lady Sheriff Principal when she was appointed, part time, to Dumfries and Galloway. A Sheriff Principal had both a criminal and a civil jurisdiction, in addition to very wide administrative duties and Margaret was so good at that job they gave her another. In 1966, she also became Sheriff Principal of Perth and Angus, a position Kidd held until her retirement in 1975.
As if all that wasn't enough, Margaret Kidd found time to be an assistant lecturer in public law at Edinburgh University and she was also, back in 1934 a founder member of the Stair Society. The Stair Society, founded to encourage the study and advance the knowledge of the history of Scots Law, was named after Scotland's greatest jurist, James Dalrymple, 1st Viscount Stair, whose 'Institutions of the Law of Scotland', first published in 1681, was the foundation of modern Scots law. Apart from her legal work, Kidd became a vice-president of the Federation of University Women and of the Electrical Association for Women and was involved with a number of charities. Kidd also acted as chairwoman of the Queen's Nursing Institute in Scotland and for Blind Welfare. In addition, in 1950, Kidd served as a member of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming.
In 1975, Margaret Henderson MacDonald-Kidd was given the honorary title of Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire. Having made her mark, Dame Margaret was recognised by the University of Dundee in 1982, from where she received an honorary LLD. Her own University of Edinburgh bestowed the same honour two years later, in 1984. You'd think her own university would have been first off the mark on that one. Perhaps it was embarrassed at not being first, but we'll never know.
Dame Margaret Henderson MacDonald-Kidd died in Cambridge, on the 22nd of March, 1989 and her funeral service was held at the Canongate Kirk, in Edinburgh.