Women in Law: Then and Now

Author: Kelley Harman

Guest Editor: Grace Shuman

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March 2, 2022 3:53pm

 

As the legal profession has evolved, women’s roles in the legal system have grown significantly.  Many inspiring women have gone to law school and successfully cemented their place in various careers throughout the legal field.  Over the last few hundred years, female attorneys have changed the world, and they will continue to do so.

In 1869, Arabella Mansfield was admitted to law school and became the first female lawyer in Iowa.  Since her groundbreaking entry into the profession, women have integrated themselves into the field of law at an ever-growing pace.[i]  While  Ms. Mansfield did not practice law after graduation,  she went on to teach fundamental, foundational courses to other aspiring students in Political Science, English, and History at Simpson College in Iowa.   Mansfield knew at the time that her position was unique – a woman with a J.D. – and also understood the societal realities at the time, that practicing lawyers were men. This self-awareness and the strong desire to help pave the way for the next generation of female lawyers lead her to her teaching position. She knew that understanding politics, policy, writing, and the historical context for cases wass valuable for all lawyers in their legal practice.  In her teaching role, she was able to provide a broader insight to her students with her fresh perspective as a woman with a legal education.[ii]

Ms. Mansfield was certainly not the only  inspiring woman in law, as we have seen other incredible women gain traction in this field since her historic admittance to the bar:

Belva Ann Lockwood became the first woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court in 1880 after being denied bar admittance to the Supreme Court four years prior for being a woman.[iii]

In 1923, Florence King argued before the Supreme Court.  She won, making history as the first woman to win a Supreme Court case.[iv]

Lucile Lomen served as the first female law clerk in the Supreme Court in 1944.[v]

In 1991, the first female Attorney General, Janet Reno, was appointed.[vi]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg made history upon her appointment as a Supreme Court Justice.  Ms. Ginsburg authored rulings for a number of landmark cases over a 27-year period.  In United States v. Virginia, she advanced women’s rights in education, stating:

“Neither federal nor state government acts compatibly with equal protection when a law or official policy denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature—equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.”[vii]

In 2020, after many years of service, Justice Ginsburg passed away and was replaced by another female justice.[viii]

Arabella Mansfield was a catalyst for incredible change – change she could never have predicted.[ix]  In addition to the achievements of the women mentioned above, the United States currently has a female Vice President, 11 Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions are held by women, and 3 women occupy seats on the Supreme Court.

The triumphs and victories of women in law in the United States is encouraging.  Governmental entities and law firms have been working to elevate and celebrate the achievements of women attorneys and this is certainly the case at Tyson & Mendes. For the past 20 years, the firm has strived to elevate and support women and it has contributed to the firm’s success.  Women attorneys at Tyson & Mendes have been shattering the glass ceiling since the firm was first founded, even being voted “Women of Influence” by legal publications.[x]  Approximately 50% of the firm’s attorneys are female, obliterating the national average of 36%.[xi]  The female attorneys work with their male counterparts to achieve success and champion women’s issues.

 

 

 


[i] The History of Women in Law, Attorney at Law Magazine, (Nov. 30, 2011), https://attorneyatlawmagazine.com/the-history-of-women-in-law.

[ii] Arabella Mansfield, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arabella-Mansfield.

[iii] America’s First Women in Law, Aon Attorneys Advantage, https://www.attorneys-advantage.com/Risk-Management/Americas-First-Women-in-Law.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] U.S. v. Virginia (1996) 518 U.S. 515, 515–516 [116 S.Ct. 2264, 2267, 135 L.Ed.2d 735].

[viii] America’s First Women in Law.

[ix] Current Numbers, Center for American Women and Politics, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/facts/current-numbers.

[x] Cayce Lynch and Kristi Blackwell Selected for Women of Influence in Law for 2021 by SDBJ, San Diego Business Journal, (June 28, 2021), https://www.tysonmendes.com/cayce-lynch-and-kristi-blackwell-selected-for-women-of-influence-in-law-for-2021-by-sdbj/.

[xi] Why Tyson & Mendes is a Top Law Firm for Female Attorneys, Tyson & Mendes (Sept. 26, 2019), https://www.tysonmendes.com/why-tyson-mendes-is-a-top-law-firm-for-female-attorneys/.

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