Rhode Island Women Lawyers: Past, Present, & Future, 0420 RIBJ, RIBJ, 68 RI Bar J., No. 5, Pg. 21

AuthorCassandra L. Feeney, Esq. Adler, Cohen, Harvey, Wakeman & Guekguezian, LLP, Providence Etie-Lee Schaub, Esq. Providence City Solicitor’s Office
PositionVol. 68 5 Pg. 21

Rhode Island Women Lawyers: Past, Present, & Future

Vol. 68 No. 5 Pg. 21

Rhode Island Bar Journal

April, 2020

March, 2020

Cassandra L. Feeney, Esq. Adler, Cohen, Harvey, Wakeman & Guekguezian, LLP, Providence

Etie-Lee Schaub, Esq. Providence City Solicitor’s Office

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.

During the civil rights movement of the late 1950s, scenes of dogs attacking unprotected people trying to get their fair share of the American dream struck Judge Mary M. Lisi as “wrong and unjust” and “a perversion of our democratic society.” In the 1960s, she watched young men forced to go to war in Vietnam and the bitter divisions that rocked our country over our involvement in that war. Despite the strong impressions made by these events, she did not yet think about becoming a lawyer.

Instead, she studied to become a teacher at college–one of the three “traditional” career options most women followed (the others included becoming a nurse or secretary, but she “didn’t do blood” and “couldn’t type”). As she strived toward achieving her goal of becoming an educator, the 1970s brought the Watergate scandal. She observed a president violate his oath of office while the people around him perpetrated crimes. Judge Lisi thought to herself, “I want to do more with my life and my education.” Against the backdrop of Watergate, and with encouragement and inspiration from the progress of the women’s movement, she decided to go to law school.

After law school, she became an assistant public defender. She immediately applied to work as a trial lawyer in the Juvenile Division of the RI Public Defender’s Office because she wanted to help children turn their lives around. For Judge Lisi, it was a great learning experience. Then Public Defender, William Reilly initially said he would ease her in during a transitionary period, which, by her account, “lasted about 20 minutes.”

When she started in practice in 1977, there were only a handful of women at the Public Defender’s Office, including Barbara Hurst in the Appellate Division and Allegra Munson in the Superior Court. There were only two female judges in Rhode Island at that time, Justice Corinne Grande and Justice Florence Murray...

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