Women in Law

Since 1995, U.S. Presidents have proclaimed March as “Women’s History Month.”  These proclamations are officially reported in the Compilation of Presidential Documents published by the Office of the Federal Register and later included in the Code of Federal Regulations.  President Obama’s 2012 Women’s History Month Proclamation is available here.

In honor of this celebration, below are some female “firsts” in the American legal profession.  Please see also our earlier post noting some of the African American women who were attorney pioneers.

  • Myra Colby Bradwell: First woman to seek admission to the bar after passing the bar exam, but denied admission because she was a married woman (1869)
  • Arabella Mansfield: First woman to be formally admitted to practice law (1869)
  • Ellen Spencer Mussey: First woman law school dean (1898, Washington College of Law)
  • Lemma Barkaloo: First woman to try a case in court (1870)
  • Ada H. Kepley: First woman to graduate law school (1870, Union College of Law, now Northwestern University School of Law)
  • Alice Rufie Blake Jordan: First woman to receive a degree from Yale Law School (1886) (She was admitted by applying using her initials—women were not officially enrolled until 1919)
  • Florence E. Allen: First woman elected judge (1920), to sit on a state supreme court (Ohio, 1922), and to be appointed an Article III judge (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1934)
  • Sandra Day O’Connor: First woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court (1981)
  • Janet Reno: First woman U.S. Attorney General (1993)
  • Elena Kagan: First woman dean of Harvard Law School (2003) and first women to officially serve as U.S. Solicitor General (2009)