Ada Sawyer: The Power in the Girl, 0420 RIBJ, RIBJ, 68 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 29

AuthorDenise C. Aiken, Esq. Providence.
PositionVol. 68 5 Pg. 29

Ada Sawyer: The Power in the Girl

Vol. 68 No. 5 Pg. 29

Rhode Island Bar Journal

April, 2020

March, 2020

Denise C. Aiken, Esq. Providence.

We have been reflecting over the past year on the remarkable career of Ada Lewis Sawyer, Rhode Island’s first female attorney, as the 100th anniversary of her admission approaches. In 1920, the year she passed the bar examination, Ms. Sawyer was 27 years old.

I believe her story truly begins many years prior to that date.

In 1909, the year Ada graduated from high school in a class of 40, she was one of four students awarded an honors diploma for “excellency in studies and deportment.” Ada was 17 years old. In 1909 women were still unable to vote nor could they control their property. The Royal Mill, the Jackson Mill, and Quidwick Mill, all in Rhode Island, were still employing children as young as 11 and 12 years old.

In 1909, there were only 1,000 women lawyers in the whole of the United States. (See the article “The Woman’s Rebellion” The Saturday Evening Post, June 1909).

A girl graduating from high school in 1909, even a very bright girl, had few options. Add to that the fact that Ada L. Sawyer was not the child of privilege, but one of four daughters of a modest working man. There was to be no college or “finishing school” for her. How different when compared to the options open to the daughters of my colleagues.

Three days after her graduation from high school she was hired by Percy W. Gardner, with whom she would work until that man’s death in 1955. Today I look at the courage of that 17-year-old girl entering a field not held by her father or other family members. She charted a new course for herself and, ultimately, for all of us women practicing law in Rhode Island.


Volunteers Serving Rhode Islanders’ Legal Needs

The Rhode Island Bar Association applauds the following attorneys for their outstanding pro bono service through the Bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program, Elderly Pro Bono Program, US Armed Forces Pro Bono Project, Foreclosure Prevention Project, and Legal Clinics during December 2019 and January 2020.


Volunteer Lawyer Program

Ryan Avery, Esq., Mirageas & Avery, LLC

Rebecca F. Clarke, Esq., Newport

William J. Delaney, Esq., The Delaney Law Firm, LLC

Peter M. Iascone, Esq., Peter M. Iascone & Associates, LT D .

Andrew Kanter, Esq., Kanter Law Office, LLC

Phillip C. Koutsogiane, Esq...

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