President's Message - FEBRUARY
Anne C. Tremblay
WLALA President 2013-2014
At the close of this first month of 2014 I am thinking about "firsts.” Thanks to recent news stories and several women-focused social media sites (Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls on Facebook and Lean In on Instagram to name two) that I follow, I am thinking specifically about female firsts. In December, Mary Barra became the first woman chief executive officer of a major U.S. auto company. Last month was the birthday of Madam C.J. Walker, a hair care and cosmetics entrepreneur born in 1867 who is credited as the first self-made woman millionaire in the U.S. Next week is the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell who in 1849 was the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree and who also founded a medical school for women. And, this January was the 17th anniversary of the appointment of Madeline Albright as the first female U.S. Secretary of State.
In the legal profession we, of course, have our own firsts. Margaret Brent is recognized as the first woman to make an appearance in a colonial American court and the ABA’s annual achievement award for women lawyers is named for Brent. The highest honor WLALA presents at our annual awards dinner is named for the first women lawyer in the U.S., Myra Bradwell. Those of us who practice criminal law in Los Angeles are quite familiar with Clara Shortridge Foltz. In 1878, Foltz became the first woman admitted to the California Bar and, in 2002, the downtown criminal courts building was renamed in her honor.
In preparing my message for February, the month we celebrate our nation’s African American history, I realized that I may know the names Brent, Bradwell and Foltz but I had no familiarity with the names and stories of the female African American firsts of our profession. Thanks to a few Google searches, I learned that Charlotte Ray became the first African American woman lawyer in the United States. Ray graduated from the law school at Howard University, was admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1872 and then started her own firm. In 1929, Annie Virginia Stephens Coker became the first female African American lawyer here in California. Like so many of our country’s pioneering women lawyers, Annie Coker started the practice of law in the only place that would hire a woman - the government. Coker worked in the California State Office of Legislative Counsel, first as a junior deputy counsel and then rose through the ranks to become head of the indexing section.
I have to wonder if any of these women firsts imagined that their courage and leadership would result in so many women choosing the law as a career and also inspire the creation of WLALA, the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and so many other women’s bar organizations that continue their trailblazing work by providing support, advocating for equality and promoting the full participation of women in the legal profession.
I hope these women firsts would be pleasantly surprised and impressed if they had attended last week's program entitled Starting Your Own Practice. Thanks go to WLALA’s Young Lawyers Section Co-Chairs Julie Stromberg and Christina Lincoln for planning such a successful event. Thank you to our host Loyola Law School, our sponsor Melissa Beck from TSG Reporting, Inc. and all of the terrific panelists. I also hope that these women firsts would be pleased with the breadth of our programming - from continuing education to mentoring circles to happy hours to the golf league. The information and dates for all of the upcoming WLALA events are included in the newsletter below and on our website.
This February, let’s remember and honor our firsts. I know I will be thinking of my fellow government lawyer and namesake, Annie Coker. Here’s to Annie and all the women firsts of every profession. We wouldn’t be here without them.