Law's Leading Ladies Throughout History

law's leading ladies

A History of Women in the Legal Profession

Women's History Month, which takes place in March, is a time to spotlight the many accomplishments and contributions to society made by women throughout history. This female-focused month was created around International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8 every year, which was initially called International Working Women's Day.

To honor that original day, we wanted to highlight the first women in our workplace—or more broadly, the legal profession. Professions requiring extensive education, such as medicine and the law, were some of the hardest fields for women to initially break into.

The brave individuals on our list of Law's Leading Ladies Throughout History paved the way for all women working in the field of law today.

Arabella Mansfield

Arabella Mansfield

Arabella Mansfield, also known as Belle Babb Mansfield, was the first licensed female attorney in the United States. Since law schools did not accept women, Mansfield studied law while working at her brother's legal practice. At that time, the state bar exam was only offered to males over the age of 21, but she challenged the law and passed the exam with high scores. She was admitted to the Iowa State Bar in 1869. Mansfield did not end up practicing law, but instead chose to dedicate her life to college teaching and activist work—specifically the Women's Suffrage Movement. A commemorative statue of her now stands on the campus of her alma mater, Iowa Wesleyan College

Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Couzins

Phoebe Couzins

Lemma Barkeloo (Photo Unavailable) and Phoebe Couzins were the first female students to attend law school in the United States. They attended Washington University Law School in St. Louis. When they began their formal legal education at the University in 1869, it was still unheard of for law schools to accept women. Lemma Barkeloo went on to become the first licensed female attorney in the state of Missouri, as well as the first woman in the United States to try a case in a court.

Charlotte E. Ray

Charlotte E. Ray

Charlotte E. Ray, the first African American female attorney in the United States, was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1872. She had few issues attaining her bar membership because she applied for admission under the name C. E. Ray, and the admissions committee thought she was male.

Myra Bradwell

Myra Bradwell

After completing her legal studies and passing the Illinois Bar Examination, the Illinois Supreme Court denied Myra Bradwell's admission to the state bar in 1872 because as a married woman, she could not enter into any legal contracts without her husband. She then filed a petition to the United States Supreme Court to appeal the decision—but they upheld the original denial of her application. She went on to influence public opinion about women's right to practice law as editor and business manager of The Chicago Legal News, the most widely circulated legal newspaper in the US at that time. Years later in 1890, the Illinois Supreme Court acted on its own accord and approved her original application to the state bar association. In 1892, she received her license to practice before the United States Supreme Court.

Women in the Law Today

Today, over 47% of all law school graduates in the United States are women. However, women still have more to accomplish in the legal profession, as only 24% of all practicing attorneys in the US are female. Women studying law, and those currently employed in the legal field are helping to further the ambitions of these amazing leading legal ladies of the past. They knew the way to ultimately further women's position in society was not by hiring a male attorney to challenge the laws upholding gender inequality on their behalf, but by pursuing careers in the legal field so that they could challenge the discriminatory laws themselves.

Our Firm's Power Women

In addition to many female associate attorneys at our firm, we're proud to count two power women of Pittsburgh's legal community among the partners here at Edgar Snyder & Associates—Attorney Cynthia Danel and Attorney Christine Zaremski-Young.

Attorney Cynthia Danel was the first attorney Edgar ever hired and has been dominating the legal field ever since. The Best Lawyers in America® selected Attorney Danel as their 2012 "Pittsburgh Personal Injury Litigation Lawyer of the Year." She was recently included on the list of Top 100 Attorneys in Pennsylvania, as well as the Top 50 Women Attorneys in Pennsylvania. She was also named one of the Top 50 Attorneys in Pittsburgh. Attorney Christine Zaremski-Young recently became one of the youngest partners at Edgar Snyder & Associates. She was named one of Pennsylvania Rising Stars®, an honor awarded to the best up-and-coming attorneys.

Sources: “Women Lawyer ‘Firsts.’” National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations. March 9, 2015.
“Women Lawyers and State Bar Admission.” Law Library of Congress. March 9, 2015.
Tokarz, Karen. “Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Couzins: Among the Nation's First Women Lawyers and Law School Graduates, 6 Wash. U. J. L. & Pol’y 181.” 2001.
“A Current Glance at Women in the Law.” Commission on Women in the Legal Profession. July 2014.