Leslie Howsam

Published On


Page Range

pp. 9–20


  • English

Print Length

12 pages

1. An Unthinkable Job for a Woman

This chapter sets the context for Eliza Orme’s ambitions, in England from the 1860s to the 1890s, given that the extraordinary achievement of earning a degree in law was, as it happened, the easy part. She came of age into a burgeoning women’s suffrage movement whose leaders were committed to securing the electoral vote for women as well as access to a wide range of jobs and occupations; they also set their sights on the profession of medicine, but not that of law. The legal professions, encompassing both barristers and solicitors, were so totally closed to women that even the most ambitious suffragist and other feminist politicians did not consider them as institutions open to challenge. This meant that, whatever her contemporaries saw when they looked at Orme, they did not see her as we do today. When Leslie Howsam first encountered Orme in the 1980s, as a postgraduate student of British history in a Canadian university, she could discover very little information about this elusive figure. She had access to libraries and archives at home and in London, but there was no internet searching or digitized newspapers. Almost forty years later, newly available sources have made it possible to speculate that Eliza Orme’s ambition might have transcended even the practice of law, and reached as far as aiming for a seat in Parliament.


Leslie Howsam

Emerita Distinguished University Professor at University of Windsor
Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Digital Humanities at Toronto Metropolitan University

Leslie Howsam is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Emerita Distinguished University Professor at the University of Windsor (as well as Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Digital Humanities at Toronto Metropolitan University). Her most recent book is the Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book (2015); her best-known book is Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture (2006). For further information please see