Raising the Bar: America Celebrates 150 Years of Women Lawyers 1869-2019

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We are delighted to bring you this publication, which commemorates 150 years since women were admitted to practice law in the United States. In the years following Arabella Mansfield’s 1869 admission to the Iowa Bar, women lawyers often labored alone. Many women lawyers were unable to practice law due to societal barriers. When they did find law-related positions, often in the firms of their fathers or husbands, they were relegated to support tasks. Those who opened their own practices frequently struggled to find paying clients. Almost without exception, they had to explain to a curious public – and, sometimes, to their own family and friends – why a woman would want to enter the legal profession and how she could possibly be an effective advocate. Women lawyers were largely, in the words of attorney and author Karen Berger Morello, members of “The Invisible Bar.”


With the advent of women’s bar associations, women lawyers were able to find other like-minded colleagues. They realized that even if they were the only woman in their practice setting, they weren’t alone. They collaborated on projects emphasizing civic engagement and the welfare of women and children. They discussed issues at first thought to be unique to women in the legal profession: things like balancing family and career, achieving pay equity, and overcoming obstacles to attaining leadership positions.

Since 1981, the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations has served as a clearinghouse of information in support of women’s bar groups by sharing best practices, emphasizing innovative program ideas, and identifying issues and trends of special interest to women lawyers. One important task of any organization is to acknowledge the hard work of those who have laid the groundwork for current successes and future advancement. We hope that the stories highlighted in these pages will lead to a greater appreciation of those who came before us and serve as an inspiration to continue to work toward equality for all in the legal profession and society at large.