Women holding public office before 1900

In the reign of William III Mary Lady Broughton took over from her late husband Edward as Keeper of the Gatehouse Prison, Westminster. In August 1670 she was fined 100 marks for 'divers misdemeanours' including 'wittingly and wilfully' allowing Thomas Ridley, who was in her custody on the charge of stealing a silver cup worth 25 shillings, to escape.

A woman was appointed Governess of the House of Correction at Chelmsford (Morning Chronicle 30 Oct 1819)

In the Mirror of Justices (published in 1642, translated into English in 1768) a woman is said to have been a Justice of the Peace (Morning Chronicle 30 Oct 1819)

The celebrated Anne Countess of Pembroke, Dorset, and Montgomery, held the hereditary office of Sheriff at Westmorland and exercised it in person at the Assizes at Appleby, and sat on the Bench with the Judges' (Morning Chronicle 30 Oct 1819).

Since the 1300s juries of matrons, chosen from the women watching a court case, were empannelled to ascertain whether a female criminal 'pleading her belly' (i.e. claiming pregnancy) in order to avoid being hanged, really was 'quick with child' - i.e. at least about four months pregnant.

Daily Post 12 Dec 1720

Sarah Wooster, Overseer at Aylesbury, Bristol Mercury 4 April 1868

A female surveyor of roads in Westmoreland, 1872

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All pages © Helena Wojtczak 2009. Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed. Email me