Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judy Sheindlin, better known as Judge Judy, and Kamala Harris are household names, and there are so many trailblazers in the law field, like Margaret Brent, Arabella Mansfield, Charlotte E. Ray, Clara Foltz, Lyda Conley, Ada Kepley, Myra Bradwell, Belva Lockwood, and Florence E. Allen. There are so many amazing women that it is difficult to decide who to highlight. While many lists will focus on the “first”, we are going to learn about women who were not the first in some respect of their legal career but made a huge impact.
Lutie A. Lytle, Professor
In 1897, Lutie A. Lytle was one of the first African American women to gain a law degree, the third to be licensed to practice law in the United states, and was the first African American to be admitted to the Kansas bar. In an interview in 1897, Lytle stated, “I read the newspaper exchanges a great deal and became impressed with the knowledge of the fact that my own people especially were the victims of legal ignorance. I resolved to fathom its depths and penetrate its mysteries and intricacies in hopes of being a benefit to my people.” In the following year, Lytle joined the Central Tennessee faculty as one of the first woman law instructors in the world, according to newspapers at the time.
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Marie Bottineau Baldwin, Clerk
Marie Bottineau Baldwin, a member of “the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians” was born “on her ancestral homelands on the current North Dakota-Minnesota border.” She was a clerk in her father’s Minneapolis law firm, which “handled cases on behalf of Ojibwe people in Minnesota and North Dakota.” She was later appointed clerk of the Office of Indian Affairs by President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912, she was among the first women of color and of Indigenous peoples to earn a law degree in the United States.
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Azeema Akram, Judge
In 2019, Azeema Akram was among the Third Group of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Attorneys Sworn into United States Supreme Court Bar. She is a member of both the national Deaf & Hard of Hearing Bar Association and the South Asian Bar Association of Chicago. Judge Akram “presides over claims of unlawful discrimination pursuant to the Illinois Human Rights Act” at the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC). She also “regularly presents to attorneys and judges on accommodating people with disabilities in court.”
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Today, law is over 60% male and nearly 80% White, so many women, particularly women of color, couldn’t help but make history simply by existing as lawyers, judges, and other judicial professionals (DataUSA, 2020). Current efforts are being made by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession to “secure full and equal participation of women in the ABA, the profession and the justice system” (ABA). They support women in law through research, the Margaret Brent Award and various initiatives, including The Bias Interrupters Project and Zero Tolerance. Another organization which supports WOC, though not exclusively, is the Minority Corporate Counsel Association which strives to “make the next generation of legal leaders as diverse as the world we live in” (MCCA).
To learn more about Women’s History in law, you can explore HeinOnline’s Civil Rights and Social Justice database, which contains over four-thousand titles. To access HeinOnline remotely, you may contact staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 951-368-0368.