California Bar Journal
CBJ - March 2012 #01.
California's women lawyers: 134 years and counting
The California LawyerMarch 2012California's women lawyers: 134 years and countingBy Rebecca J. Hooley"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday," Pearl S. Buck once wrote. For this reason, each March as Women's History Month reminds us of those who have made significant gains in the past, and is an appropriate time to reflect upon the history of women in the legal profession.
The first women's rights convention in the United States took place in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. After two days of debate, 68 women and 32 men signed the Declaration of Sentiments, calling for equal treatment of men and women in law, education and employment, as well as women's "sacred right to the elective franchise."
Some 21 years later, after a generation of men had been born and reached voting age, Wyoming passed the first women's suffrage law in the United States. Also in 1869, Arabella Mansfield, unable to vote or to serve on a jury herself, became the first woman lawyer in the United States when she was admitted to practice law in Iowa. In 1870, Wyoming became the first US territory or state to allow women to serve on juries.
In an address given shortly before her 1873 trial for "illegally" voting in the 1872 presidential election, Susan B. Anthony described the outrage she and other women faced in being subjected to the limitations, but not the full protections, of the law:
"[N]ot only are all the pronouns in [the law under which I was indicted] masculine, but everybody knows that that particular section was intended expressly to hinder the rebels from voting. It reads 'If any person shall knowingly vote without his having a lawful right,' andc. Precisely so with all the papers served on me-the U.S. Marshal's warrant, the bail-bond, the petition for habeas corpus, the bill of indictment-not one of them had a feminine pronoun printed in it; but, to make them applicable to me, the Clerk of the Court made a little carat at the left of "he" and placed an "s" over it, thus making she out of he. Then the letters "is" were scratched out, the little carat under and "er" over, to make her out of his, and I insist if government officials may thus manipulate the pronouns to tax, fine, imprison and hang women,...