The mission of the National Association of Women Lawyers is to provide leadership, a collective voice, and essential resources to advance women in the legal profession and advocate for the equality of women under the law. Since 1899, NAWL has been empowering women in the legal profession, cultivating a diverse membership dedicated to equality, mutual support, and collective success.
Veritext Celebrates International Women’s Day!
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a day that raises awareness and celebrates women’s achievements. Let us take this time to acknowledge and applaud the hard work and excellence of women, especially those who work in the legal profession: attorneys, paralegals, court reporters, and legal videographers. Although males used to dominate the reporting profession, according to NCRA statistics, today 88% of court reporters are female. The American Bar Association reported in 2020 that 37% of attorneys are female with expectations that this number will continue to grow.
On March 8th, and every day, let us all cheer on and congratulate exceptional women as they continue to inspire, trailblaze and reach their professional goals.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we have highlighted seven different women who have revolutionized the legal profession:
First Woman to Work for Congress as a Stenographer
While studying hydropathy in 1868, Isabel Barrows took an interest in shorthand while her husband worked as a stenographer for the Secretary of State, William H Seward. When her husband fell ill, Hayes filled in for him and became the first woman to officially work for the State Department. To continue in a series of “firsts,” Hayes went on to study ophthalmology at the University of Vienna – the first woman to enroll at the institution, then on to open the first female-owned ophthalmology private practices in Washington D.C., and finally, one of the first female professors at Howard University’s School of Medicine. Throughout this time, Hayes continued her work as a stenographer for various congressional committees and conferences, including the National Conference of Charities and Correction and the National Prison Association, where she also became deeply involved in the prison reform movement.
First Licensed Female Attorney in the US
Arabella Mansfield, also known as Belle Babb Mansfield, was the first licensed female attorney in the United States. Mansfield graduated from Iowa Wesleyan University in 1866 and taught Political Science, English and History at Simpson College. In 1868, encouraged by her husband, Mansfield took the bar exam and passed with high scores despite an Iowa law prohibiting women to practice law. After Mansfield fiercely challenged the law, the court ruled that women may not be denied the right to practice and admitted her to the Iowa State Bar in 1869. Despite the newly overturned law, Mansfield chose to dedicate her life to college teaching and activist work—specifically, the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Female Stenographer for the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial
Vivien Spitz was the first female Official Reporter of Debates in the United States Senate and a court reporter at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. In 1946 Spitz, a court reporter from Illinois, was recruited to report verbatim proceedings at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. In 1948, after returning to the US following the trials, Spitz suffered from PTSD as a result of the horrifying testimonies from witnesses and victims of the Holocaust. She courageously persisted and went on to serve as an official shorthand reporter in the Denver District Court, then as the first female Official Reporter of Debates in the US Senate, and finally as an Official Reporter of Debates in the US House of Representatives – a job she held for ten years, under four presidents. In her retirement, Spitz received several humanitarian awards for sharing her experiences from Nuremberg with students and adults interested in medical ethics and human rights. In 2005, she published the book, Doctors from Hell, The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans.
Charlotte E. Ray
First African American Female Attorney in the US
The daughter of an important figure in the abolitionist movement and newspaper editor, Charlotte E. Ray was encouraged from an early age to go to college. In 1872, she became the first woman to graduate from the Howard University School of Law. That same year she was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, becoming the first African-American woman lawyer in the United States. While details of her specific area of practice are debated, there is evidence that she was the first woman to argue a case in the District of Columbia Supreme Court. An example of her writing still exists from Gadley v. Gadley, a domestic abuse case from 1875. Despite her legal knowledge and corporate law expertise, and efforts to advertise her services in Frederick Douglass’ weekly newspaper, racial and gender biases kept her from a prosperous legal career. She later became a teacher in the Brooklyn school system.
A Suffragette who Passed the “Woman Lawyer’s Bill” in California
Clara Shortridge Foltz is most notable for becoming the first female lawyer on the West Coast. In 1877, a single mother of five children, Foltz supported her young family by giving public lectures on the Women’s Suffrage Movement. It was during this time that she began studying law in the office of a local judge. After being denied the opportunity to take the California bar exam Foltz authored the “Woman Lawyer Bill, which replaced the term “white male” with “person” permitted to practice law. In 1878, on her own education and merit, she passed the bar exam and became the first woman admitted to the California bar and thus the first female lawyer on the West Coast. Foltz tried cases in court before women were allowed to serve on juries and was a leader in the women’s voting rights movement. While she struggled for sufficient income for decades, Foltz had many more “firsts” throughout her life: she was the first woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections, the first female Notary Public, the first female clerk for the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, the first woman to run for Governor of California, and the first female deputy district attorney in the United States.
Sandra Day O’Connor
First Female Justice of the US Supreme Court
Born on a cattle ranch in El Paso, TX, Sandra Day O’Connor graduated magna cum laude with a BA in economics from Stanford University at the age of 20 and received her law degree two years later. Early on in her career, despite her academic achievements, O’Connor found it difficult to find a paying job as an attorney due to gender biases. Not one to be discouraged, she offered to work for no pay and worked her way to become a deputy district attorney in San Mateo, CA and then a civil attorney for the army in Germany. Upon her return to the US she became an assistant attorney general for Arizona in 1965 and was elected to the Arizona Senate in 1969. There she became the first woman in the United States to become majority leader. In 1975 she was elected a Superior Court Judge in Maricopa county and then to the Arizona Court of Appeals in Phoenix. In 1981 O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. She was confirmed unanimously by the Senate and sworn in as the very first female justice, shattering the highest glass ceiling in the American legal system. During her tenure on the Court, O’Connor became known as a “swing vote” on many prominent cases, including Casey v. Planned Parenthood and Bush v. Gore.
Influential Female Attorney for Women’s Rights
A well-known champion for women’s rights, Gloria Allred began her career as a high school teacher in Philadelphia, PA. While working on her graduate degree at New York University Allred became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. She moved to Los Angeles, CA in 1966 and worked for the Los Angeles Teachers Association. After her own personal experience with assault, Allred began to pursue a law degree and committed her life to helping victims. In 1975 she was admitted to the State Bar of California and began a four decades long influential legal career. She has represented a wide variety of civil rights suits involving women’s’ rights, wrongful termination and employment discrimination, and was the first lawyer to challenge same-sex marriage laws in California. A master of the press conference, Allred is known for bringing cases against high-profile men and celebrities and managing the narrative that surrounds them for her clients.
Veritext is also incredibly proud to support several women’s associations and philanthropic activites throughout North America, including: