Women always seemed to have trouble finding a path in careers driven by men. Even today, when women’s rights have been recognized and the ladies are no longer as repressed, only around 37% of the lawyers are women. Still, this does not mean that women did not try – and some of them even succeeded in creating a path for females today.
1. Lyda Burton Conley
At the beginning of the 20th century, Lyda Burton Conley became the first American female lawyer of Native American origin. Lyda was self-taught, and her motivation for becoming a lawyer was pure. She wanted to protect the burial site of her tribe from changing owners. The land, found at the Huron Park Indian Cemetery, was to be sold so that new properties could be built there.
Originally, she lost the case, after which the Supreme Court of the United States no longer wanted to re-open it. However, Lyda managed to raise a lot of public support, her efforts being recognized statewide. She eventually won the battle for the Huron Place Cemetery in 1912, after the House of Representatives Indian Affairs banned graveyard desecration.
2. Constance Baker Motley
When she first started as a lawyer, Constance Baker Motley did not have a fancy office or a big name. She just had a small cubical at a law firm in Manhattan, where you needed to have a nice “silver tongue” if you wanted to be successful. That being said, while many lawyers in the early 40s were more conservative, she was not afraid to speak her voice – especially when it came to her rights.
As a result, Motley became the first black female lawyer to take racism to court. Her first appearance in the courtroom was in the state of Mississippi, known to be one of the most racially oppressed states. She spoke out against white supremacist Theodore Bilbo, Mississippi U.S. Senator, advocating against the violent repression of black voters.
She argued for the rights of the people, and how those responsible for the injuries would have to pay. For instance, every Gulfport personal injury attorney knows of her influence, as it is part of the curriculum in many schools and universities in the state.
3. Lemma Barkaloo
Lemma Barkaloo was known as the first woman to try to get into the Columbia University Law School, dreaming of being a lawyer. Her application in 1868 was rejected, and so was the application of other women. She began advocating for women’s rights, claiming that no female should have to degrade herself simply by practicing law.
Eventually, Barkaloo was accepted at the Washington University of St. Louis, where she began to study law. However, she did not stay low, as the constant harassment from her male colleagues caused her to leave the school.
After self-education, Barkaloo eventually passed her bar exam in Missouri. Still, in 1870, typhoid fever took her life. So, she was no longer able to fulfill her dream of becoming a famous female lawyer.
4. Genevieve Rose Cline
Genevieve Rose Cline became America’s first woman federal judge. President Calvin Coolidge nominated her to the Customs Court of the United States in 1928, where she would serve for the next 25 years of her life.
Cline got her degree in 1921 from Baldwin-Wallace College, after which she went into private practice. During that time, women would have difficulty finding work in a law firm, which made private practice a more sensible choice. Her legal prowess was unmatched, and she would advocate for women’s rights, consumer protection, and the suffrage movement.
5. Margaret Brent
Margaret Brent was the first woman lawyer during colonial American times. That’s when Lord Calvert, the Maryland colony governor, appointed her as estate executor – a type of lawyer that the wealthy looked for during that time.
She took on more than 100 cases in both Virginia and Maryland, creating a strong name for herself starting from 1638. There were no records that America had any other female lawyers until the 1800s, making Brent all the more impressive as a character.
6. Sarah Weddington
There were very few lawyers that could match Sarah Weddington’s debut, where she all but blew away the Supreme Court with her professionalism. At the start of her career, Weddington became very interested in a case, which she decided to undertake pro bono. She was also only 26 at that time, so she became the youngest woman (and person) to argue in a Supreme Court case – and win.
The Bottom Line
Women did not have it easy in the past, but it only took a few daring females to open up a path. These women knew their rights, practiced them – and eventually became symbols of American justice.