This series was inspired by Roger Williams University School of Law's annual Women in Robes event, and was created in alliance with their exciting new project The First Women, which recognizes and honors the first women of the Rhode Island bar.
Like many lawyers of her generation, Lise Gescheidt was inspired to pursue law after watching Perry Mason. From the age of 13, she knew she would follow that path. As an only child, she received the support and encouragement she needed to pursue her goal. Leaving Florida to attend Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, she graduated in 1974 with a major in history and a minor in psychology. Hers was the second co-educational graduating class from that institution. Although she was tempted to put her legal career on hold to "bum around" the Greek Islands, she did not waver from her goal and attended Boston College Law School, graduating in 1977.
While in college, she fell in love with Newport, working as a bartender there during her summer breaks. It should be no surprise that while pursuing her goal of becoming a public defender, she volunteered at the Rhode Island Public Defender's Office. Upon graduation, she became an assistant public defender, working with lawyers like Barbara Hurst and Allegra Munson, both of whom were tough women and great teachers.
During her first six months as an assistant public defender, Attorney Gescheidt worked in the appellate division in an age before computers. While working there, her practice focused on conducting legal research in actual books, drafting briefs, and arguing before the Supreme Court. She also had the opportunity to work on an amicus brief regarding the insanity defense. Women lawyers appearing before the Rhode Island Supreme Court was not unusual in those days, and she generally felt comfortable and accepted in that role. However, once she switched to the trial court, "sexism and the old boy network were rampant."
Some of the instances of sexist behavior could be dismissed as "ignorance," while some perpetrators were...