By Tom Jarvis

On July 2, 1873, New Hampshire became the first state to establish a “modern state bar association” with incorporation – by a special act of the New Hampshire legislature – as the Bar Association of the State of New Hampshire (BASNH), making it the oldest statewide bar association in the United States.

The purposes for the association were copied almost word for word from those of the New York City Municipal Bar Association. There was considerable selectivity in who was asked to join, inviting just 218 of a possible 320 attorneys and judges in the state. Only 40 elected to join during its first year.1

That same year, Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in as US President for a second term; Congress enacted the Comstock Law, making it illegal to send any obscene, lewd, or lascivious items through the mail; and the New York stock market crashed, triggering the Panic of 1873, which was the start of what was known as the Long Depression.

Interestingly, it was also the year that Levi Strauss and Company received their patent to use copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants, which allowed them to start manufacturing their first line of blue jeans using fabric from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The world was a different place back then. A century and a half later, the Bar is much larger – with 8,678 members – and goes by a different name.

Looking Back

The Association’s first president was Ira Perley, who had served as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court (NHSC) – then called the Superior Court of Judicature – from 1855 to 1859 and again from 1864 to 1869. He died in 1874, less than one year into his Bar presidency.

In 1967, the BASNH successfully petitioned the state legislature to amend the acts of incorporation to change the organization’s name to the New Hampshire Bar Association. A year later, a majority of members voted in favor of unification and filed a petition of unification with the NHSC. On December 31, 1968, the Court ruled that it had jurisdiction to decide on the NHBA’s request and ordered unification for a three-year trial period.

In 1972 – the same year the New Hampshire Public Defender was established – the NHSC ordered that Bar unification be “continued without limitations.”

“Over the years, the Bar has seen many changes, particularly in size, gender, and becoming mandatory for members,” NHBA President Paul Chant says. “50 years ago, only two women were admitted to the New Hampshire Bar. We now have 3,432. This is perhaps the biggest change over my 37 years as a lawyer.”

Most of the increase in the number of women in the Bar has occurred within the past 30 to 40 years. Before that, the growth was logarithmic.

For example, even though Agnes Winifred McLaughlin was the first woman admitted to the New Hampshire Bar in 1917, it wasn’t until 1977 (a full 60 years later), that the 100th woman lawyer, Nancy O. Dodge, was admitted.

In 1979, the New Hampshire Bar Foundation raised $275,000 to purchase and renovate the first Bar Center, which opened the following year on 18 Centre Street in Concord.

In 1988, the New Hampshire Bar Journal published the first gender survey of the NHBA’s membership and planted the seeds for what would become the NHBA Gender Equality Committee in 1994.

In 1998, the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association (NHWBA) was formed by Maureen Raiche Manning, Jennifer Parent, Joy Riddell, Julie Introcaso, and Claudia Damon.

When asked about the differences in the Bar today as opposed to when she was admitted, Raiche Manning, the first president of the NHWBA, says it is larger and more diverse.

“I feel lucky that I was in the Bar at the time that I started because it was smaller and you knew more people,” Raiche Manning says. “I served on the Bar Association Board of Governors early in my career and got to know people statewide. When it was smaller, it was easier to get to know people, and getting to know people meant you could build a network of mentors and resources. As we get bigger – which is just the natural order of things – it’s a little less personal.”

Jennifer Parent, who was the second president of the NHWBA, also served as the seventh woman president of the NHBA.

“I am honored to be the only person who has served as president of both the NHBA (2011-2012) and the NHWBA (2000-2002),” Parent says. “At the time, New Hampshire was well ahead of other states in having a number of women who had served as a bar leader for a state bar association. Following my tenure as president, New Hampshire has consistently voted in women lawyers to lead our bar association.”

There are many other important milestones in the history of the NHBA, including the first African American judge (Ivorey Cobb in 1964), the first female New Hampshire Superior Court Judge  (Linda Dalianis in 1980), and the first NHSC Justice (Linda Dalianis in 2000), as well as the establishment of many wonderful and groundbreaking programs and committees, but there are too many to list in just one article. After all, it is 150 years of history.

Looking Ahead

“The Bar Association has never been stronger,” NHBA Executive Director George Moore says. “It hosts dozens of member services, innovative CLEs, and soon a members-only area dedicated to working, relaxing, and catching up in a warm, friendly environment. We are dedicated to following closely our members’ needs and adjusting our benefits and programs to be responsive to the ever-changing environment of practicing law.”

Jennifer Parent says as a Uniform Bar Examination state, and given the global world we live in today, she expects that membership will increase in the next five to ten years.

“Along with this, and given the DEI initiatives and efforts by the Bench and Bar to date, I also expect an increase in the diversity within our state’s legal profession overall,” she says. “I anticipate that the Bar will continue its commitment to provide steadfast and strong service to the public, the members, and the justice system as we move into the next decade.”

One major consideration when looking ahead at the practice of law is the introduction of artificial intelligence over the last few years.

  1. Jonathan Ross, who cofounded the national Bar Leaders for Preservation of Legal Services to the Poor in 1985, says the future of the Bar will depend in large measure on leadership.

“[It will depend on] who has the time, energy, and foresight to think about what’s coming down,” Ross says. “It also depends on the continued involvement of good lawyers in this process. Artificial intelligence is a new thing, but it’s no different than computer research in terms of how you manage that. And I expect the Bar will deal with that as it has already begun to do in recent Bar News articles.”

Paul Chant, who just became the NHBA’s 124th president at the 2023 Annual Meeting, says he sees new challenges for Bar members in the future.

“Far in the past were the days where communications were done in writing and took days or longer to occur between counsel,” Chant says. “Now, we are expected to immediately respond to client and opposition counsel requests. In the recent past, lawyers had access to information and case law better than members of the public. Now, chatbots and artificial intelligence programs claim they can provide instant, accurate information to lawyers and to the public. We are also post-COVID, which brought with it so many changes. So, where are we going? No one really knows.”

Chant continues: “Lawyers who are good listeners and good problem solvers will always have a place. It won’t be just book knowledge and internet help, it will be their knowledge, their experience, their understanding of dynamics and leverage, and their ability to communicate that will keep the profession of law in good stead.”

William Chapman, who filed Petition of Chapman in 1986, wherein the NHSC laid out a set of guidelines for permissible NHBA legislative activity, says he is reluctant to make predictions about the future of the Bar.

“I guess the only thing I could safely say is that I believe the Bar is going to continue,” he says. “If for no other reason than like all other professions, there needs to be a regulatory body to make sure that lawyers conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of professional conduct and other civic norms that shape the way we interact with one another, represent our clients, and appear in court.”

Raiche Manning says she hopes that more people become involved as time goes on.

“It’s that involvement that made my ability to practice law and represent my clients better,” she says. “It just seems like people have become less and less involved. And we know that from the numbers. Fewer people are doing things, attending events, and participating in discussions. I think we are not well served by that. This is a way to reach people to convince them that their involvement will help them, their clients, their business, and the community at large.”

Much of the NHBA’s early history can be found in a 1973 article by Richard F. Upton called “Centennial History of the New Hampshire Bar Association,” which appeared in volume 15:35 of the New Hampshire Bar Journal.

An illustrated 150-year timeline of the New Hampshire Bar Association can be found on the following two pages (20-21) of this issue. Some NHBA milestones were omitted for space.


  1. “Centennial History of the New Hampshire Bar Association,” New Hampshire Bar Journal, Vol. 15:35 (1973) Richard F. Upton, p. 49-51.