There is no question that the field of law has been male-dominated for centuries. In fact, it was not until 1870 that the first woman, Ada Kepley, graduated from law school. Even after her graduation, she was denied the opportunity to practice law as it was illegal at the time for a woman to do so. It took a change in the law before she was granted a license in 1881. Since that time, there have been many female lawyers who have blazed a trail in the legal field.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Ruth Bader Ginsberg earned her law degree from Columbia before taking positions as a law professor at Rutgers University and Columbia Law School. She was fought for gender equality, co-founding the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. In 1980, she became a U.S. Court of Appeals Court judge in the District of Columbia and became a United States Supreme Court Justice in 1993, serving until she passed away in 2020. She is remembered for her decisions related to women’s rights and the barriers she broke in her field.
Sandra Day O’Conner
After earning her law degree from Stanford in 1952, Sandra Day O’Conner was an attorney in Arizona and served two terms in the United States Senate. Eventually, she was appointed as a judge with the Arizona Court of Appeals. Two years later, she became the first female Supreme Court Justice, appointed by President Ronald Reagan. In her 24 years on the bench, she established herself as one of the most influential voices, retiring in 2006.
A champion for women’s rights, Gloria Allred is one of the most influential legal minds today. She has represented a wide range of clients over her 40 years in practice. She has represented women who have been the victims of sexual harassment, wrongful termination, employment discrimination, and more. She has successfully litigated cases for women against such high-profile celebrities as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Herman Cain, Anthony Weiner, and more.
Janet Reno, the first female United States Attorney General, earned her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1963, one of only a handful of women in the class. She began her career at a small law firm in Miami as larger firms refused to hire her before moving into private practice. She began working for the Dade County State Attorney’s Office in the 1970s where she completely revamped the juvenile department. Protecting children was the main focus of her career, often connecting crime to social conditions like poverty and poor education. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton as Attorney General, holding the position longer than any other Attorney General in the 20th century. She died of complications of Parkinson’s disease in 2016.
Kamala Harris earned her law degree from the University of California Hastings School of Law. She eventually became Deputy District Attorney for California and the District Attorney for San Francisco as well as Attorney General for California, the first woman of color to hold those positions. In 2020, she became the Vice President of the United States, becoming the first woman, the first person of color, and the first South Asian American woman to hold that office.
These women are just a few of those who have blazed a trail of success in the legal field, opening doors for many who followed in their footsteps.