Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers
Lives in the Law
In Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers, award-winning legal historian Jill Norgren curates the oral histories of one hundred extraordinary American women lawyers who changed the profession of law. Many of these stories are being told for the first time. As adults these women were on the front lines fighting for access to law schools and good legal careers. They challenged established rules and broke the law’s glass ceiling.Norgren uses these interviews to describe the profound changes that began in the late 1960s, interweaving social and legal history with the women’s individual experiences.
In 1950, when many of the subjects of this book were children, the terms of engagement were clear: only a few women would be admitted each year to American law schools and after graduation their professional opportunities would never equal those open to similarly qualified men. Harvard Law School did not even begin to admit women until 1950. At many law schools, well into the 1970s, men told female students that they were taking a place that might be better used by a male student who would have a career, not babies.
In 2005 the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession initiated a national oral history project named the Women Trailblazers in the Law initiative: One hundred outstanding senior women lawyers were asked to give their personal and professional histories in interviews conducted by younger colleagues. The interviews, made available to the author, permit these women to be written into history in their words, words that evoke pain as well as celebration, humor, and somber reflection. These are women attorneys who, in courtrooms, classrooms, government agencies, and NGOs have rattled the world with insistent and successful demands to reshape their profession and their society. They are women who brought nothing short of a revolution to the profession of law.
"This remarkable volume collects the life and career stories of more than a hundred female lawyers, all part of the so-called 'second wave'of the movement, that is the period after women gained suffrage and other full citizenship rights. These are women who have written important scholarship, served as Deans of major institutions, risen to the highest ranks of law practice while also devising new forms of public service---their stories mark a true revolution in the profession. The production of the book itself is as remarkable as the content …a vast collaborative effort of oral history taking and writing, now organized with an historian’s fine hand. It will be useful for years to all scholars of the legal profession as a model and an inspiration."
—Barbara Babcock, Crown Professor Emerita, Stanford Law School, author of Fish Raincoats, A Woman Lawyer's Life
"The words of the women lawyers here tell an inspiring yet sobering story of the path women lawyers blazed in the 20th century. They all, even the most successful and influential, faced the roadblocks of gender discrimination as they made their way through law school and up the professional ladder, and as they confronted the enduring challenge of balancing their personal and professional lives. Their stories are both a window into the past and a beacon for the future, revealing just how far women lawyers have advanced as well as what lies ahead in the 21st century."
—Virginia G. Drachman, author of Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History
"Jill Norgren has written a compelling portrait of women on the front lines of the ongoing struggle for gender equality in the legal profession. Her book eloquently describes a central feature of the civil rights revolution that continues today, and reminds us not to take for granted the hard-won victories of those whose stories she tells."
—John Shattuck, author of Freedom on Fire: Human Rights Wars and America's Response
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