Posts tagged ‘History’

March 27, 2011

A Closer Look at President Carter’s Groundbreaking Judicial Appointments

by Angela N. Johnson

Mary Clark’s article focuses on President Carter’s appointments of women to the federal bench and the impact this made on future judicial appointments. According to Clark, “Carter’s groundbreaking appointment of women judges was motivated by his commitment to women’s equality as a human right and was achieved through substantial reliance on merit selection and affirmative action principles” (Clark, Carter’s Groundbreaking Appointment of Women to the Federal Bench: His Other “Human Rights” Record 2003, 1132). Prior to Carter’s term in office, just eight women had been confirmed to Article III judgeships (Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy each appointed one woman, Johnson appointed three women, Nixon and Ford each appointed one woman).  When Carter took office in 1977, just “one woman served among ninety-seven judges on the federal courts of appeal and five women among nearly 400 district court judges. By the time he left office in 1981, Carter had appointed forty women to Article III courts of general jurisdiction; eleven at the appeals court level and twenty-nine at the district court” Id. at 1133. The contrast of Carter’s appointments is clear when recognizing that 15.8% (or one in six) of Carter’s 259 judicial appointees were female, compared with less than one percent of each of his predecessors’ appointments.

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March 27, 2011

Justice Ginsburg’s Tribute to Judicial “Way Pavers”

by Angela N. Johnson

This article was taken from Ginsburg’s address at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Women Judges in Atlanta, Georgia on October 7, 1995.  In her address, Ginsburg discusses three “way pavers” who made women’s inclusion in the judiciary more than just a rare curiosity.  Judges Florence Ellinwood Allen, Burnita Shelton Matthews, and Shirley Mount Hufstedler – those among the first women to be seated on the federal bench, are discussed.

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March 21, 2011

A Closer Look at Bradwell v. Illinois

by Angela N. Johnson

Gwen Howerr Jordan’s article “Horror of a Woman” is extremley insightful in that it delves deep into the legal reasoning and procedure in the Bradwell v. Illinois case.  Moreover, Jordan’s article reveals an important insight that challenges modern interpretations of Bradwell v. Illinois, suggesting that Justice Bradley’s infamous concurring opinion in which he supports continued separate spheres was perhaps not the dominant ideology of the day (Jordan 2009, 1202).  According to Jordan, the opinion’s endorsement of the separate spheres argument was not as widely and uncritically accepted as Justice Bradley implied at the time of the Bradwell court decision.  Moreover, when looking at the Bradwell case (and the actions of Myra Bradwell, herself), this context allows the modern day reader to view the case as a strategy used to pursue women’s emancipation and equality under the Fourteenth Amendment, including the ability of women to enter the public sphere.  Bradwell used her case to advance women’s rights beyond opening the legal profession to women by arguing the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause should be applied to women and the Privileges and Immunities Clause barred sex-discrimination in employment. Though Bradwell’s fight did not end in a grand victory, “Bradwell was ultimately admitted to both the Illinois and the Supreme Court Bars.  By 1950 every state in the Union admitted women lawyers.  In 1971 the Supreme Court began using the Equal Protection Clause to strike down sex discrimination” (Jordan 2009, 1205). Jordan, by laying the foundation of Bradwell’s commitments and positions within women’s suffrage argues that Bradwell’s fight for a law license was primarily to advance women’s equality and that her own career choice (obtaining the license) was secondary. However, “Bradwell had never fought against marriage or motherhood, but she had always argued that being a wife and mother should not limit a woman’s citizenship status or be a barrier to a woman working in her chosen profession.  Bradwell wanted equal rights, not revolution” (Jordan 2009, 1218).

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March 18, 2011

Legal Pioneers

by Angela N. Johnson

Meg Gorecki’s article, “Legal Pioneers: Four of Illinois First Women Lawyers” explores the work of Myra Bradwell, Alta Hulett, Ada Kepley, and Catherine McCulloch in opening the door to the legal profession to women and serving as role models for today’s lawyers.  Though these ladies happen to be legal pioneers of Illinois, its important to note that these four women are also pioneers on a national scale, too.  Given these women’s efforts in Illinois, it should come as no surprise that a 1901 issue of the Chicago Legal News declared “Illinois has more women lawyers than any state in the world and Chicago has more than any other city in the world” (Gorecki 1990).

 In comparing women’s entry to the legal profession with women’s work as doctors, Gorecki notes, “In 1880 there were only two hundred women lawyers in the entire United States, which was less than the number of women doctors practicing in Boston alone”  (Gorecki 1990). Though this article groups the four women together, they each had individual successes.  “Myra Bradwell was the first woman to apply for a license to practice law. Alta Hulett was the first woman to become a lawyer in Illinois, Ada Kepley was the first woman in the world to receive a law degree, and Catherine McCulloch was the first woman in Illinois to become a justice of the peace”  (Gorecki 1990). 

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March 18, 2011

Burnita Shelton Matthews: Pioneer, Lawyer, Feminist, Judge

by Angela N. Johnson

Christine Wade’s biography of Burnita Shelton Matthews provides valuable insight into the life of a pioneer, lawyer, feminist, and the first woman judge of the Federal District Court Bench. Burnita fought for suffrage, jury service, and women’s equality. She was born in Mississippi on December 28, 1894. Burnita’s father, Burnell Shelton served as Clerk of the Chancery Court and Tax Collector for Copiah County, Mississippi. Burnita often accompanied her father to his office in the courthouse and became comfortable in that environment from an early age. Her mother died when Burnita was just 16, leaving Burnita to care for her four brothers and father. She married Percy Matthews in 1917, the same year Burnita started law school at what is now George Washington University. Percy was a lawyer serving as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Army and supported Burnita’s decision to go to law school. Burnita’s father, despite sending two of his sons to law school, refused to finance her legal education. Thus, Burnita took a job as a clerk in Veteran’s Administration – where she worked all day and attended night classes. During this time, Burnita spent many Sundays picketing the White House for woman suffrage (she was a member of the National Women’s Party). This was a risk in light of her ambitions to become a lawyer. Realizing an arrest record would keep her from practicing law, she would not speak during her protests (it was against the law to speak without a permit). Nevertheless, Burnita passed the District of Columbia Bar in 1920. However, the DC Bar Association returned her application and check for dues (as was the typical practice for women applying for membership despite being licensed to practice law).

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March 18, 2011

Why Care About the History of Women in the Legal Profession?

by Angela N. Johnson

Mary Clark’s article, “Why Care About the History of Women in the Legal Profession?” considers what theoretical frameworks are useful for evaluating the sigificance of women’s service in the Supreme Court bar and how the history of women in the Supreme Court bar and in the larger profession fit into the broader history of women (Clark Spring 2006).

Following years of active lobbying by Belva Lockwood, congress in 1879 amended the rules of the Supreme Court bar to allow admission of women. Until the turn of the twentieth century, most women of the bar were suffragists – though they were not involved in cases regarding women’s rights (Clark Spring 2006, 59). Most cases heard by women related to contract or property disputes and such women were either in solo practices or practiced with their husbands. Women of the bar in the 1900’s to 1920’s served as government attorneys atlocal, state and national levels. From 1921 to 1929, Mabel Walker Willebrandt of the Justice Deparmtent participated in twenty-two cases on the merits and argued ten of them. Then, not until the 1960’s and 1970’s were women regularly present in the court. This time period brought Constance Baker Motley of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. Ginsburg briefed and argued the leading women’s rights cases of the 70’s as Director of the Women’s Rights Project. “In contract with historical patterns, a growing number of women advocates have argued feminist causes before the Court, pressing for expanded recognition of sexual harassment, family leave rights, and gay rights. Overall, women have comprised eight percent of Supreme Court Advocates” (Clark Spring 2006, 60-61).

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March 14, 2011

A Timeline of Women’s History in the Legal Profession

by Angela N. Johnson

I am excited to announce the completion of my timeline of women in the legal profession, which spans 372 years, beginning in 1638.  I have integrated the timeline into this blog and it can be viewed, here. However, the timeline is over 15 pages long and the formatting on the blog makes this less reader-friendly.  Viewing it as a PDF is a much more useful way to make use of this piece and the PDF can be viewed (and even searched through), here, using Google Docs (its available to the public – no login required).

View the Timeline.
February 2, 2011

Timeline of Bar Admission

by Angela N. Johnson

When did your state permit women to practice law?



District of Columbia-1872









North Carolina-1878

United States Federal Court System-1875







New York-1886




New Hampshire-1890



South Dakota-1893



New Jersey-1895

West Virginia-1896







North Dakota-1905









New Mexico-1917

South Carolina-1918

Rhode Island-1920


Alaska – 1950

December 31, 2010

Progress (sort of)

by Angela N. Johnson

The ABA’s Commission on Women in the Legal Profession frequently reassess women’s progress in the legal profession.  The 2006 report compares statistics from 1994 to 2002 and includes highlights of the Commission’s 2003 Hearings. 

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December 29, 2010

Women Lawyers Discuss Their Role in 1987

by Angela N. Johnson

ABA Journal May 1987

I enjoyed this 1987 edition of the ABA Journal which included articles on “senior lawyers shaking their heads about those young lawyers” and “how computers made us better lawyers – what the new technology can do for you.”  Most useful was the article, “Superwoman is Alive and Well” in which Yates and Benson Goldberg interview five women who discuss the joys and jolts of practicing law.  This article is useful despite being rather dated because it is written at a turning point in the legal profession when women are becoming widely accepted but harassment, discrimination, and inequality are still commonly feared.

Diane Geraghty, an associate professor of law at Loyola University feels fortunate to have graduated law school in the ‘70’s.  Geraghty states, “If you talk to people who graduated 10 years before we did, they knew what real discrimination was” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  She thanks the civil rights movement and a critical mass of women who pushed to open up the profession to include women.  Miriam Miquelon a business litigator, “It’s changed, but in the beginning you had to make sure you didn’t come off as a hysterical female and that you could be as businesslike as everyone else.  And once you were recognized as competent, the client could get past the sexuality issue, and accept you as his counsel” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  For Patricia Bobb, a graduate of Notre Dame Law School and a former Cook County prosecuting attorney, she decided “Early on that I would develop a tough exterior and a good sense of humor” (Yates and Goldberg 18).  She recalls working with “probably the most macho group of men in the world – not just the state’s attorneys but the cops” and how her humor fit nicely with her personality in such a way she never had problems with harassment.  However, Candace Fabri, who worked for the U.S. Attorney’s office, found greater resistance.  “For my first month on the job, there was a parade of agents from my office to my supervisor’s office: ‘Can’t we have a man prosecutor?’ . . . Over the years I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the agents come to prefer women prosecutors.  They would come to me when I was a supervisor and say ‘We find that the women take these cases so much more seriously.  They’re willing to work much harder and longer and they don’t pooh-pooh a case as not being significant’” (Yates and Goldberg 18).

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