Brit Merrill and Adrienne Nash, J.
Legend has it that in 1977 Pat Christensen, newly admitted to the bar, stood up in Chief Judge Willis Ritter’s court in Federal District Court for the District of Utah to put her appearance on the record. Judge Ritter commanded, “Young lady, women don’t practice in my court!” and instructed the marshals to throw Christensen in the court’s holding cell.
By 1977, women were graduating from law schools by the dozens each year. Yet, by and large, the legal market was unprepared and ill equipped to welcome women into its fold. Facing downright hostility and passive aggressive slights, women lawyers turned to one another for support.
This article provides a historical overview of women in the legal profession nationally and in Utah. With a particular look at the founding and early years of Women Lawyers of Utah, this article includes well-known and less-known vignettes to refresh our collective memory on the struggle for gender equality.
Women’s History: A Primer
1848 marks the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the United States. In July 1848 the first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York. This convention, known as the Seneca Falls Convention, was a gathering “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” During the convention, sixty-eight women and thirty-two men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, that outlined the rights to which American women should be entitled.
The Right to Vote
In 1869, several important “firsts” took place. Wyoming Territory became the first to grant women the right to vote. The legislature professed, “That every woman at the age of twenty-one years, residing in this territory, may, at every election, to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.” Wyoming’s acceptance of women’s suffrage was a surprise to many, especially leading suffragists such as Susan Brownell Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who assumed their eastern and more progressive home states would be more accepting than those states in the west.
In Utah, women won the right to vote twice. The first win occurred in 1870 when Utah Territory became the second territory to grant women the right to vote. This victory came without much protest or civil action from women’s rights activists; however, at this time, women did not have the right to run for office. In 1887, the right to vote was taken away by Congress in an effort to end polygamy. Nevertheless, in 1895, women’s right to vote was reinstated and women were granted the right to hold office as part of the constitution of the new state. Nationally, women won the right to vote in 1920 with the Nineteenth Amendment.
First Female Law School Graduates
In 1869 Ada Harriet Kepley (1847–1925) became the first woman in the United States to graduate from law school. However, at this time Illinois prohibited women from practicing law, medicine, and theology, so Kepley was denied a license to practice law. In 1872 a bill passed prohibiting sex discrimination in learned professions, but by that time Kepley was focused on reform efforts, including women’s suffrage. It was not until 1881 that Kepley applied for and received a license to practice law.
In Utah, Rebecca Garelick (1903–1995) became the first woman graduate of the University of Utah College of Law in 1924 and the ninth woman to earn admission to the Utah Bar. However, women’s admittance to law school progressed slowly. “By the end of the 1920s, just three women had graduated from [law] school” in Utah. College of Law History, S.J. Quinney College of law, https://www.law.utah.edu/admissions/college_information/ college-of-law-history/ (last visited Oct. 2, 2017).
First Women Admitted to the Bar
In 1869 Arabella (Belle Babb) Mansfield (1846–1911) became the first woman admitted to the bar in the United States after a favorable ruling by the Iowa courts. Notably, Mansfield did not attend law school, but rather studied for the bar exam for nearly two years in her brother’s office. Three years later, in 1872, Charlotte E. Ray (1850–1911) became the first African American woman to graduate from law school and be admitted to the bar in the United States. Upon applying to law school, she shortened her name to C. E. Ray in order to conceal the fact that she was a woman because the school discouraged women from applying.
In 1872, Utah became the fourth state to admit women to the bar, preceded only by Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri. Cora Georgiana Snow Carleton (1844–1915) and Phoebe Wilson Couzins (1839–1913) were among the first women admitted to the Utah Bar and were admitted on the same day. “The Salt Lake Daily Tribune wrote of the experience: ‘Miss Snow doubtless will render invaluable service to her sex in the future as counsel in cases where delicacy is a fundamental element of consultation.’” Stacie Stewart & Kristen Olsen, Pioneers Who Paved the Way: A Look at Some of Utah’s First Women Lawyers, 287 BYU L. Sch., 1, 7 (2013). Throughout their careers both women proved to be instrumental in the women’s rights movement. In 1976, over 100 years after the first woman gained admittance to the bar, the 100th woman was admitted in Utah.
First Female Judges
In the early 1870s, Esther Hobart Morris (1814–1902) became the first woman in the United States appointed to a judicial position. She was appointed by Governor John Campbell as Justice of the Peace in Wyoming Territory. Ironically, Morris was appointed to “serve out the term of a man who had resigned in protest after the women’s suffrage amendment passed.” First Woman Justice of the Peace in America, Hist. am. women, http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2014/08/esther-hobart-morris.html (last visited July 19, 2017).
At the federal level...