Alumni news

Honouring Helena Normanton: University’s first supporter named amongst 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex

Helena Normanton QC

To celebrate International Women's Day on 8 March, a new blog series has been launched, highlighting the achievements of pioneering local Sussex women.

The series has been designed to run in tandem with the exhibition 100 First Women Portraits at the Brighton Museum, by acclaimed photographer Anita Corbin. Whilst Corbin’s exhibition honours contemporary women, the blog series champions women from the past who, despite being faced with gender inequality and prejudice, became local ‘firsts’.

Amongst those celebrated in the series is Helena Normanton QC. Helena Normanton QC (1882–1957) was a lady of firsts: the first woman to practise at the Bar in England, the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, the first woman to conduct a trial in America, and the first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name.

She was a pioneer who, despite losing both of her parents at a young age and having to provide for her younger sister, became one of the most radical and forward-thinking lawyers of the 20th century – thanks, in part, to a scholarship she received to what is now Varndean College in Brighton.

In addition to all of these accomplishments, she was also the first person to pledge a gift in her will to the University of Sussex. Leaving the capital of her trust to help found the University, she wrote,

“I make this gift in gratitude for all that Brighton did to educate me when I was left an orphan.”

The Helena Normanton Society at the University of Sussex was founded in 2015 in honour of Ms Normanton’s many contributions. The society recognises the foresight and generosity of our legacy donors, all of whom have pledged to support one of a wide range of activities with a gift in their wills: the creation of scholarships, hardship grants, academic posts, new buildings and research centres.

The Society holds events for our members, where we also have an opportunity to thank those who plan to support Sussex in this way. If you would like to attend the next Helena Normanton Society afternoon event, or if you would simply like more information about the impact of leaving a gift in your will, please email the University’s Legacy Manager, Ben Loxton (, or call for a confidential discussion on +44 (0)1273 872820.

Back to news list

By: Emma Wigmore
Last updated: Tuesday, 3 March 2020


Subscribe to our email newsletter