The Legal Community Celebrates Women in the Law

The new year is well underway, and we are closing in on March. March is officially Women’s History Month, and we’ve decided to take a look at women in the law to commemorate it. What better way to celebrate than to look back on the history of women in the law. We’ll also take a look at one of the most influential women ever to enter the practice of law – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In 1978, the City of Santa Rosa, California decided to celebrate what they called “Women’s History Week.” The celebration kicked off on March 8th and would continue for merely a week. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a formal proclamation, naming March 8th as the start of Women’s History Week. It wasn’t until seven years later that Congress would pass Public Law 100-9 confirming that March would officially be recognized as “Women’s History Month.” Of course, we should celebrate women’s achievements all year long. However, as part of the tradition of “Women’s History Month,” we want to honor what American women have done for the field of law.

Brief History of Women in the Law in the United States

Today, approximately 38% of all lawyers in the United States are women. Women make up an almost equal proportion of students enrolled in American law schools every year. However, women were not always allowed to practice law in this country. In 1873, the United States Supreme Court denied women the right to practice law. The court stated that a woman’s place was in the home, tending to domestic matters. The court felt that the practice of law should be reserved for men. Women in the law is a recent development.

Things would stay that way in this country for quite some time. It was not uncommon to see a law school graduating class without a single woman on stage. Many law schools did not even accept women in the law until the middle of the 20th century. Harvard, in fact, did not accept their first female student until 1950! And, just thirty years ago, only 11% of law school faculty were women. As with many other fields, women have broken through many barriers in the legal profession. Today, there are thousands of successful female lawyers, professors and judges. It is hard to imagine what the U.S. justices back in 1873 would think about some of these changes. In particular, they could only imagine learning that one of the most beloved United States Supreme Court Justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg – would, in fact, be a woman in the law!

Tribute to the Late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or R.B.G. as she is known to her fans, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. She received her B.A. from Cornell University and would go on to be accepted by Harvard Law School. She ultimately completed her L.L.B. from Columbia Law School in 1959. Not surprisingly, she finished at the top of her graduating class.

Ginsburg was denied the first judicial clerkship she applied for with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals the year she graduated. She would go on to become a law professor at Rutgers Law School in 1963 and would remain in that position until 1972. One year later, she became general counsel for the A.C.L.U. and remained in that job until 1980. From 1979 until 1989, she was on the Executive Committee for the American Bar Association and was appointed to the bench for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. in 1980. R.B.G. remains one of the most historically significant women in the law to date.

In 1993, Ginsburg was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton. She would remain a supreme court justice until her death on September 18th of last year.

100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

Just thirteen years before the birth of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution would bestow upon women the right to vote. It is hard to believe that it has only been 100 years since this Amendment was passed. Women, and men, had fought for women’s right to vote in this country for a long time. Long after women were able to work, go to school and own property, they were finally granted this basic, fundamental right. Last year, the U.S. celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote. The tremendous turnout at the most recent presidential election shows that this right has certainly been utilized by millions of American women.

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