By Grace Yurish
In the 133 years since Marilla Ricker won women the right to be admitted to the New Hampshire Bar, many women have followed a career in law, including trailblazers like Agnes Winifred “Winnie” McLaughlin, who became the first female admitted to practice law in the state in 1917. These trailblazers and many others have paved the way for today’s women lawyers. Because of them, the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association (NHWBA) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
The NHWBA is a voluntary professional organization and New Hampshire’s first statewide women’s bar association. From law students to judges, its diverse membership shares a clear mission: to achieve gender equity in the legal profession by promoting women’s advancement and interests through leadership, professional development, and education.
In 1991, a group of women attorneys, including Maureen Raiche Manning, one of the NHWBA’s founders and its first president, established the Hillsborough County Women’s Bar Association (HCWBA). After years of a flourishing association, the members considered the idea of creating a statewide women’s bar association.
On February 10, 1998, following a presentation titled Why Have a Statewide Women’s Bar Association in New Hampshire? by Ellen Kearns from the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, they decided to form what is now known as the NHWBA. They closed the HCWBA and offered its 78 members the option to transfer their membership.
“It probably took the better part of a year to get established,” Raiche Manning says. “There were four or five of us that were meeting every few weeks or so with different tasks, and we would come together in the evenings – usually at someone’s house – to report on what our assignments were and what information we had learned.”
Raiche Manning was on the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Board of Governors at the time, and the founding of NHWBA was met with support from most members, although some were initially skeptical about the need for a women’s bar association. Nevertheless, the association moved forward.
In May 1998, NHWBA was incorporated by Maureen Raiche Manning, Jennifer Parent, Joy Riddell, Julie Introcaso, and Claudia Damon. During their first established year, they welcomed over 200 members and opened their admission to all lawyers – regardless of gender. Their first male member was Raiche Manning’s father, Robert Raiche.
Jennifer Parent, a founding member and the second president of the NHWBA, recalls the excitement in the air during the time of incorporation. The number of women practicing law was growing, and more women were taking roles in political office. The country had its first woman Attorney General, and the first woman Secretary of State, and New Hampshire had its first woman Governor.
“I thought it was an exciting time to be a female and a lawyer in the state of New Hampshire, and to be embarking on this new adventure of starting a statewide women’s bar association. I saw it as a host of opportunities,” Parent says.
In October 1998, the NHWBA held its inaugural Fall Reception at the Centennial Inn in Concord, which attracted over 100 attendees, including attorneys from across the state. The Fall Reception is now held annually. During the event, the Marilla M. Ricker Achievement Award is presented to women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence, paved the way to success for other women lawyers, advanced opportunities for women in the legal profession, and performed exemplary public service on behalf of women. The event also features the presentation of the Winnie McLaughlin Scholarship, an academic financial award given to a rising second-year law student anually in partnership with the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.
In 2001, the NHWBA undertook a project to identify the first 100 women admitted to practice law in the Granite State. A committee of approximately 20 people was formed to uncover this information, and they successfully identified these women with the cooperation of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the New Hampshire Bar Association, revealing that on November 1, 1977, Nancy O. Dodge became the 100th woman admitted to practice in New Hampshire – 60 years after Winnie McLaughlin’s historic achievement in 1917.
“In 1977, when we reached 100 women lawyers, I don’t even think anyone knew that at the time. It wasn’t until we did a project to identify all women who had been sworn into the Bar, looking at every single court record,” says Raiche Manning.
A celebration of New Hampshire’s first 100 women lawyers was subsequently held in May 2002, marking a significant milestone for women in the profession.
The NHWBA also held a Centennial Celebration Gala in 2017 to honor 100 years of women lawyers in the state.
In April 2003, the Work Stress Relief Clinic – now known as the Annual Retreat – was held for the first time. Thisevent brings NHWBA members together for an overnight gathering at a different location each year. The retreat includes multiple programs, CLE sessions, dinner, and an overnight stay. The goal of this gathering is to provide educational programming to promote a better work-life balance and allow members to network with one another in a relaxed setting.
In addition to the Fall Reception and the Annual Retreat, the NHWBA holds many events throughout the year. These include numerous CLEs, networking events, community service initiatives, leadership events, and leisure activities such as yoga sessions or visits to local wineries. Their most notable project is the Women to Women Project, which has earned an award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations. Working together with the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, the NHWBA connects inmates of the New Hampshire State Prison for Women with attorneys, allowing the female inmates to receive limited legal advice and information on various issues to assist in their transition out of prison.
In 2018, when they celebrated their 20th anniversary, the NHWBA launched a SHERO Campaign to honor the women heroes of their members and friends. The full list can be found on their website at nhwba.org/honor-your-shero.
The dedication and hard work of the members continues to drive the achievement of the organization’s mission.
“When you have people who stand behind your mission, it develops this culture,” says NHWBA Immediate Past President Caroline Leonard. “We are all here for the same purpose. We’re taking those forward steps to move the needle and make things a little bit better for the next generation. Even if it wasn’t like that for us, we want to make things better for the next group. I think that the Women’s Bar has that attitude, and its members share that attitude.”
Over the last 25 years, the number of women lawyers practicing in the Granite State has continued to grow. According to a study conducted by the NHBA Gender Equality Committee, women made up 29 percent of the Bar when the NHWBA was incorporated; today, they make up 40 percent. Despite these improvements, there is still room for increased equity in the legal profession. Current NHWBA president Lindsey Courtney shared the organization’s goals for the coming years.
“First, is educating people about the barriers to achieving gender equity in the legal profession,” she says. “Second, we would like to increase transparency in judicial selection. I think women often are not necessarily going to put themselves out there to seek judicial appoi
ntments. We have done events about what that looks like if you want to apply, but there are still some questions about the process. Third, we’d like to highlight the professional accomplishments of our members. Again, I think women are sometimes hesitant to put themselves out there and we’d like to be that platform for them. We’d also like to promote leadership opportunities. There are so many, and leadership has value everywhere. Lastly, we want to ensure that our organization is sustainable, stable, and that we’re forward-thinking and engaged with our members to continue to grow and capture what our membership is looking for.”
As Raiche Manning and Parent look back on the past 25 years, they feel proud to have been part of creating the organization and seeing how far it has come. They also envision what it will be in the future.
“I hope that we continue to thrive with a healthy membership and that new lawyers get involved – that we continue to have programming on work-life balance and helping women become judges,” Raiche Manning says. “I hope that we continue to have a strong and involved Board of Governors and that those women go on to run for political office, they run for positions within the New Hampshire Bar, and they become judges. The Women’s Bar is a place where women grow and develop, and I hope that continues and advances to even more places.”
“I think we’ve made strides, but we still have a lot to do,” Parent says. “I envision that men and women will make those strides to get us there and open the door for opportunity – not just open the door, take the hinges off, and get rid of the door. I would hope that as we look toward the future, the Women’s Bar continues to be there for its members and that it grows with the profession. I expect good things for the Women’s Bar.”
In celebrating its 25th anniversary, the NHWBA stands as a testament to the perseverance and dedication of countless women lawyers who have paved the way for gender equity in the legal profession. Looking ahead, the NHWBA remains committed to its mission of promoting women’s advancement, with a strong vision to create a brighter future for the next generation of women lawyers in New Hampshire.