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Bar Journal - June 1, 2002

Celebrating NH's First 100 Women Lawyers

By:
Celebrating New Hampshires First 100 Women Lawyers
 

Looking back into history is a way of enhancing our understanding of who we are and where we have come from. Collectively, as women lawyers, our entry into and acceptance within the legal profession has been a fight. Principles of equality and fairness - the foundation of our system of law-prevailed, and barriers began to give way. What motivated our state's early women lawyers to defy social, cultural and familial expectations of their gender? What painful quips and indignities did they keep to themselves, resolving to work even harder to prove the disbelievers wrong?

Clarence Darrow addressed a group of women attorneys in Chicago in 1895 and reflected the prevailing view of the profession toward women lawyers at that time:

You can't be shining lights at the bar because you are too kind. You can never be corporation lawyers because you are not cold-blooded. You have not a high grade of intellect. You can never expect to get the fees men get. I doubt if you [can] ever make a living. Of course you can be divorce lawyers. That is a useful field. And there is another field you can have solely for your own. You can't make a living at it, but it's worthwhile and you'll have no competition. That is the free defense of criminals.

Darrow was mistaken, of course. Women attorneys are shining lights within the profession because they recognize when kindness will accomplish more than cold-bloodedness. Women attorneys expect to be paid the fees men receive, but wide differences in earnings unfortunately persist between male and female attorneys.

The New Hampshire Women's Bar Association recently paid tribute to New Hampshire's first 100 women attorneys with a celebratory dinner on May 2, 2002. These pioneers have shown they can succeed at the highest levels of government, bench and bar. Some serve as presidents of large law firms and bar associations. Their skills and intellectual abilities are widely recognized. They are published, receive awards and are included among the ranks of the best trial lawyers in the country. The First 100 Women Project both documents and celebrates the achievements of these successful women in our state.

ORIGINS OF WOMEN IN NH BAR

The right of women to apply for admission to the bar of the State of New Hampshire was won by Marilla Marks Ricker of Dover, New Hampshire, an attorney already admitted to practice in Washington, D.C. It was Ricker's Petition, 66 N.H. 207 (1890), which allowed women to seek license to practice in New Hampshire. Inexplicably, despite achieving her goal, Ricker never sat for the bar exam or sought admission to practice here.

The first woman admitted to practice law in New Hampshire was Agnes Winifred (Winnie) McLaughlin, who was only 8 years old when the Ricker case was decided. Classmates of the New Hampshire native predicted she would become a lawyer. On June 30, 1917, she did indeed.

It took 60 years before there were 100 women admitted to practice law in this state; the 100th woman, Nancy Dodge, was admitted on November 1, 1977.

The first 100 women took diverse paths in their careers, with some attending law school right out of college, while others turned to the law later in life. Some never attended law school at all. Many of those who attended law school did so at area institutions, including the Portia Law School, the only law school in the country founded exclusively for the education of women. The wife of the attorney who founded the school named it Portia after the heroine in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The school is now known as the New England School of Law.

The 100 women list includes many graduates of Boston University School of Law, Boston College, the University of Maine School of Law, Northeastern, Suffolk Law, and Franklin Pierce Law Center (Pierce Law). Still others attended schools in California, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Washington State, and elsewhere.

DIGGING INTO HISTORY

The focus of the First 100 Women project was to create a history, to document the lives of these first attorneys. The committee that began work on this project included Kay Sternenberg, Jennifer Parent, Maureen Raiche Manning and Joni Esperian, the committee chair. The initial members began to identify others who might be interested in joining the cause. A key addition to the committee was Kristin Thompson, who became the architect of the historical research project. Thompson was then working at the New Hampshire Supreme Court as a law clerk to Senior Associate Justice (ret.) Sherman D. Horton, Jr., and later to Associate Justice James E. Duggan.

Thompson's early inquiries revealed that while the New Hampshire Bar Association identifies the gender of its members, it does not maintain comprehensive records of admittees prior to the unification of the Bar in 1968. Conversely, the Supreme Court records from 1878 to 1977 list the names of all attorneys admitted to practice in a separate administrative docket number on the day they were admitted. The admittees were listed with all other cases that came before the court on any given date. Those who have researched the 100 Women Project recall gently handling the Supreme Court's leather bound docket dating back to the mid-1800s. With each name and date carefully written by fountain pen in beautiful cursive strokes. . .history came alive.

Unfortunately, the dockets, and indeed all the records of the Court in general, do not indicate gender. The researchers then resorted to searching the Court's records for "female sounding" names, and thus developed a preliminary list. Given the vagaries of naming conventions through the decades, however, the task of confirming the gender of all those on the list proved daunting.

The committee consulted with senior members of the Bar, who were able to confirm or rule out many of the names on the list. Committee members fanned out to courts across the state to review photographs that captured local and statewide bar meetings to verify gender. The committee checked photographs from the Bar Foundation, Bar Association and Trial Lawyers directories from past years, and the Proceedings of the Bar, the precursor to New Hampshire Bar Journal. Research even led them to older photographs located in the basement of the Bar Association building and the attic of the Supreme Court.

Next, committee members pored over the Supreme Court card file containing general information about all the members of the bar, active and inactive, retired and deceased, to glean non-photographic information that would help identify gender. From those lists, researchers were able to confirm the sex of some attorneys based on their attendance at single-sex colleges or preparatory schools, the use of a "Jr." after their names, or name changes attributable to marriage. In the case of one honoree, it took a Manchester phone directory from 1926 to confirm that two names belonged to the same individual who had gotten married.

A NH Bar News article featuring the confirmed list of the first 100 women resulted in many phone calls from those who had information to offer about deceased attorneys. The original petitions for admission to the bar associated with each name on the list were also unearthed and provided valuable information. Copies of Proceedings of the Bar were researched for articles featuring the attorneys. The Supreme Court's records were also reviewed for case citations attributable to the first 100 women.

COLLECTING THE STORIES

Once current addresses were obtained for surviving members on the list, letters were sent out congratulating the honorees. Each woman was asked to send updated information, as well as personal observations and insights. The original NHWBA committee was expanded and proceeded to compile and edit the women's responses, along with biographical information on each honoree. The original files on each attorney, including all the information that was gathered, have been preserved with the ultimate goal of having the archives available to the public for future research purposes.

The biographies, the amazing stories of courage and perseverance, are the focus of a commemorative booklet produced by the Women's Bar Association. The biographical sketches of the first two women admitted to practice law in the state of New Hampshire accompany this article.

NH'S PACE OF PROGRESS

In researching the first 100 women admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, it was interesting to see how we compare to other states in terms of the progress of women in the bar. NHWBA President Jennifer Parent gathered figures from individual states' Web sites and the ABA Commission on the Status of Women.

In 1638, Margaret Brent arrived in America and became the first woman lawyer in the colonies. Despite Brent's early start, however, Arabella Mansfield, the first licensed woman lawyer, was not admitted to the Iowa Bar until 1869. Ten years later, in 1879, Belva Ann Lockwood became the first woman admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.

By contrast, Marilla M. Ricker did not obtain the right for women to practice law in New Hampshire until 1890. It was not until 27 years later, in 1917, when Agnes Winifred McLaughlin became the first woman admitted to practice law in New Hampshire. In 1977, New Hampshire admitted its 100th women.

Compare that progress to that of Florida, which admitted its first woman lawyer in 1898 and had admitted 100 women to the bar by 1933. Wisconsin admitted its first woman in 1879 and had 100 female bar members by 1926. New Hampshire was not alone in the late admittance of females to the bar, though. In Vermont, the 100th woman was not admitted until 1978, and in Nevada until 1979.

Although New Hampshire has not been the most progressive state in this regard, we have made great strides to move forward. Law schools have more women than ever graduating and entering the legal work force.

The backgrounds of New Hampshire's first 100 women show where we have come from and the exciting places we can go. We thank all those pioneers who have come before us and we support and encourage those who will come after.

The New Hampshire Women's Bar Association also thanks all who helped make this project possible. Lastly, we encourage people to keep sharing the interesting stories and facts they know about the first 100 women. This is a living history that we hope others will be learning from for years to come.

This article was edited by Joceline Champagne, program director of the NH Women's Bar Association, who drew from the introductory information and mini-biographies contained in the program booklet published by the First 100 Women Committee. The booklet, with profiles of all 100 women plus photographs and additional historical material, is available from the NH Women's Bar Association. Visit its web site at www.nhwba.org for more information about the program and the organization.

AGNES WINIFRED (WINNIE) MCLAUGHLIN, 1STFEMALE ADMITTEE

Agnes Winifred (Winnie) McLaughlin was born in Groveton, New Hampshire, on April 15, 1882. One of seven children, she was raised in Lancaster and graduated from the Lancaster Academy in 1901. Her father died when she was a baby, so during the summer months of school she helped the family financially by working as a waitress at the old Waumbek Hotel in Jefferson. While in school, she distinguished herself in debate and public speaking, prompting her classmates to predict she would become a lawyer.

After graduation, attorney McLaughlin attended Burdette Business College in Boston for secretarial training, after which she was employed for several years by attorney Fred C. Cleveland in Coos County. During this time, she took depositions in French and English for attorney George F. Morris, who was so impressed at her abilities that he recommended her as official court stenographer for Berlin Municipal Court.

After several years with the court, McLaughlin became secretary to Jesse F. Libby, a prominent trial lawyer, and through him made connections with nearly all bar members in northern New Hampshire. Also at this time, however, McLaughlin suffered a significant loss, the death of her fiancé. Although it took her some time to recover from this emotional blow, she did so and was persuaded to study law by Ovide Coulombe, a newly admitted lawyer himself.

To fund her studies at the University of Maine School of Law, McLaughlin opened and worked at an office doing collections and public stenography. She graduated in 1917 and took the bar exam in Concord. On June 30, 1917, Ms. McLaughlin became the first women admitted to practice law in the state of New Hampshire.

During a business trip to New York during World War I, attorney McLaughlin was offered and accepted a position at the law firm of Frank Laughran on Broadway in New York City. Later, she joined the Equitable Life Insurance Company's newly formed Estate Planning division, where she remained until her retirement 25 years later. Upon retirement, she returned to New Hampshire and purchased a farm in Shelburne where she lived with her family. She relocated to Gorham, New Hampshire, 10 years later and resided there until her death on October 29, 1964.

In a January 1965 Bar Journal article by E.J. Reichert, McLauglin was called "always a lawyer at heart." She did not continue practicing law after her retirement, but was said to have maintained a keen interest in the law for many years. Her fellow members of the Coos County Bar Association said that she always enjoyed arguing fine points of law from the state Supreme Court's decisions. The Lancaster Academy class prophet who predicted that Winnie McLaughlin would be a lawyer was clairvoyant to say the least! Attorney McLaughlin paved the way for the many women lawyers who would follow her, as she embraced the profession that she so loved.

JENNIE BLANCHE NEWHALL, 2ND FEMALE ADMITTEE

Jennie Blanche Newhall was born in Concord, New Hampshire, on June 8, 1874. Called a "Concord woman" by Jeremy R. Waldron, who wrote a biography about Newhall in a 1964 edition of New Hampshire Bar Journal, Newhall attended elementary school in Concord and also graduated from Concord High School. In fact, except for a brief period during World War I, she lived and worked in Concord her entire life. Newhall's first job was as a clerk in one of the state's largest law firms. It appears that her work at the firm fueled her interest in the law, because she soon began preparing for bar admission.

Newhall completed correspondence courses at Hamilton Law College, and studied under some New Hampshire attorneys, demonstrating great determination and perseverance as she pursued her studies. At the onset of World War I, her studies were almost complete; however, her legal aspirations were put on hold when she traveled to Washington, D.C., to aid with the war effort. When she returned from Washington, Newhall took a secretarial position at the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office and during this time completed her legal studies.

She petitioned for admission to the bar on December 2, 1919. In 1920, she successfully passed the exam and earned her place in history as the second woman admitted to practice in New Hampshire.

Newhall continued to work at the Attorney General's Office as a law clerk, the first woman to hold such a position in this state. She served as law clerk for more than 25 years, during which time she argued many cases before the New Hampshire Supreme Court and developed a reputation as an expert in New Hampshire corporation law. She worked at the Attorney General's Office until her death at the age of 68. It is said that her work was the principal interest in her life and that she loved it dearly.

Attorney Newhall was an active member of the National Association of Women Lawyers and served as vice president of the organization. She was also a charter member of the Concord Business and Professional Women's Club. Perhaps one of her most notable contributions to the status of women in New Hampshire was her crusade to enable women to hold office. In 1927, Newhall applied to the governor and council to become a justice of the peace. The matter was referred to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The Court ruled that there was no constitutional bar to appointing a woman to the office, but that legislation must first be passed to allow it. Attorney Newhall took the initiative, drafted the appropriate legislation, and lobbied heavily for its passage. Her diligence paid off when the bill was passed in 1929. Attorney Newhall was appointed by the governor and executive council as the first woman justice of the peace on February 27, 1929.

With that crusade complete, Newhall began work on a revision of an important text in court procedure, Justice and Sheriff. The new edition was published in 1931.

Attorney Newhall passed away in Concord on March 4, 1943. In explaining her reasons for entering the law profession, she revealed her altruistic intentions: "I studied law to be of help to others more than to secure material gain to myself." Active in the Hathaway Outing Club, the Daughters of the Founders of Patriots of America, and the Unitarian Church of Concord, her selfless attitude and passion to help others were reflected in her personal life, as well. She is an example for us all.

FIRST 100 WOMEN OF THE BAR

 

Name

Admission Date

1. Agnes Winifred McLaughlin June 30, 1917
2. Jennie Blanche Newhall June 30, 1920
3. Margaret Sheehan Blodgett July 16, 1926
4. Helen George July 15, 1927
5. Sara T. Knox July 24, 1928
6. Esther Gottesfeld Lublin October 2, 1928
7. Miriam G. Rosenblum December 4, 1928
8. Pauline Swain Merrill July 31, 1929
9. Harriet E. Mansfield July 10, 1930
10. Paula Ladday April 5, 1932
11. Florence T. Cavanaugh July 20, 1932
12. Nina N. Frankman July 13, 1933
13. Marguerita M. Hurley November 7, 1933
14. Evelyn C. Earley July 16, 1935
15. Emily Marx April 7, 1936
16. Beatrice F. Little July 14, 1936
17. Beryle M. Aldrich July 13, 1937
18. Mary Alice Fountain July 13, 1937
19. Celia D. R. Novins October 5, 1937
20. Evangeline V. Tallman July 7, 1938
21. Doris Louise Bennett July 7, 1938
22. Mary E. Perkins July 11, 1939
23. Pauline B. Barnard July 11, 1939
24. Mabelle Fellows Murphy October 3, 1939
25. Leila L. Maynard June 26, 1944
26. Ida V.C. Milligan April 5, 1949
27. Ruth I. Moses April 5, 1949
28. Margaret Quill Flynn June 3, 1952
29. Lucille Kozlowski September 3, 1958
30. Irma A. Matthews October 7, 1958
31. Catharine B. Sage October 7, 1958
32. Anne M. Howorth August 18, 1960
33. Rachel Hallett Johnson August 18, 1960
34. Caroline R. Grey September 4, 1963
35. Constance M. Mehegan August 27, 1964
36. Winnifred M. Moran August 27, 1964
37. Constance J. Betley August 27, 1965
38. Helen White August 25, 1966
39. Judith Dunlop Ransmeier September 12, 1969
40. Mary Susan Stein Leahy September 18, 1970
41. Laura Jane Kahn ltd practice:
admitted:
September 6, 1972
April 2, 1974
42. Martha Margaret Davis October 27, 1972
43. Eleanor S. Krasnow October 27, 1972
44. Susan Lee Brown Monson October 27, 1972
45. Julia N. Nelson September 5, 1973
46. Dorothy R. Sullivan October 2, 1973
47. Jean K. Burling November 2, 1973
48. Donna W. Economou November 2, 1973
49. Alexandra T. Breed October 31, 1974
50. Linda Stewart Dalianis October 31, 1974
51. Claudia Cords Damon October 31, 1974
52. Georgia C. Griffin October 31, 1974
53. Barbara Sard October 31, 1974
54. Bruce Earman Viles October 31, 1974
55. Joyce Ann Wilder October 31, 1974
56. Joan L. Carroll June 3, 1975
57. Anne Swift Almy October 24, 1975
58. Sharon Ann Coughlin October 24, 1975
59. Anne M. Goggin October 24, 1975
60. J. Campbell Harvey October 24, 1975
61. Judith Miller Kasper October 24, 1975
62. Patricia McKee October 24, 1975
63. Ellen J. Musinsky October 24, 1975
64. Brenda T. Piampiano October 24, 1975
65. Janina Stodolski October 24, 1975
66. Elizabeth B. Sullivan October 24, 1975
67. Priscilla B. Fox ltd. practice: January 6, 1976
68. Micki B. Stiller ltd. practice: April 5, 1976
69. Mae C. Bradshaw October 21, 1976
70. Anne Cagwin Hagstrom October 21, 1976
71. Deborah J. Cooper October 21, 1976
72. Lynne M. Dennis October 21, 1976
73. Nancy E. Ebb October 21, 1976
74. Abigail Elias October 21, 1976
75. Alice S. Love October 21, 1976
76. Stephanie T. Nute October 21, 1976
77. Elaine R. Warshell October 21, 1976
78. Catherine Ravinski April 5, 1977
79. Carolyn W. Baldwin October 28, 1977
80. Dorothy Bickford-Desmond October 28, 1977
81. Charlotte Crane October 28, 1977
82. Pamela D. Kelly October 28, 1977
83. Janine Gawryl October 28, 1977
84. Cathy J. Green October 28, 1977
85. Jody D. Handy October 28, 1977
86. Dona L. Heller October 28, 1977
87. Carolyn H. Henneman October 28, 1977
88. Constance G. Jackson October 28, 1977
89. Barbara R. Keshen October 28, 1977
90. Karin Kramer October 28, 1977
91. Jane R. Lawrence October 28, 1977
92. Ellen L. Arnold October 28, 1977
93. Lizbeth Lyons October 28, 1977
94. Elizabeth Marean Mueller October 28, 1977
95. Marilyn Billings McNamara October 28, 1977
96. Margaret B. Morin October 28, 1977
97. Nancy V. Sisemoore October 28, 1977
98. Susan Vercillo Duprey October 28, 1977
99. Lanea A. Witkus October 28, 1977
100. Nancy O. Dodge November 1, 1977

 

 

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