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March 2016 - President's Message
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President's Message - MARCH

Kimberly Arnal
WLALA President 2015-2016

Many of you are familiar with the current state of women in the law.  Women now make up 34% of the attorneys in the United States1  and hold positions at every level of the legal profession.  It is notable that a third of the United States Supreme Court Justices are women and 27% of our state and federal judge are women2.  Here in California, our Chief Justice is a woman; the Presiding Judge of Los Angeles Superior Court, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District and the Federal Public Defender for the Central District all are women.  Clearly, women now hold positions of great power in the legal profession.  But, that has not always been the case.  

In recognition of Women’s History Month, I think it is worth looking to some of the women who shaped our legal history and opened doors for the women who practice law today.  Many WLALA members are familiar with the ABA’s Margaret Brent Award.  The award is named after the first woman lawyer in the United States who emigrated from England to the Colony of Maryland in 1638.  Margaret Brent was involved in more than 100 court cases in Maryland and Virginia.  In 1648, she formally demanded a “vote and voice” in the Maryland Assembly.  Despite acting as the executor of Governor Calvert’s will, the subsequent Governor, Thomas Green, disagreed and denied her request.  It would be over 200 years before a woman would be admitted to the bar in the United States.

In 1869, Arabella Mansfield was admitted to the bar in Iowa3.  She did not attend law school but, instead studied in her brother’s office for two years before taking the bar examination.  That same year Ada H. Kepley became the first woman in the United States to graduate from law school.4  As was made clear by the United State Supreme Court in Bradwell v. The State, 83 U.S. 130 (1872), these initial strides for women in the profession were the exception, not the rule.

In 1872, the United States Supreme Court held that states could statutorily deny women the right to practice law, affirming a decision from the Supreme Court of Illinois that denied Myra Bradwell admission to the state bar.  The state Supreme Court reasoned that because state law invalidated any contract entered into by a married woman without the consent of her husband, women (most of whom would be married) could not adequately represent their clients.  The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, noting that even though some women might not actually be married, such women were the exception.  The U.S. Supreme Court noted:

The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and cannot be based upon exceptional cases.5 

In 1879, Belva Lockwood was admitted to the United State Supreme Court bar, which had previously rejected her 1876 application on the grounds of “custom”.  Lockwood, who held the requisite lower court license from the District of Columbia, obtained Congressional legislation early in 1879 establishing that women who practice law must have access to even the highest court.6  Years later, she would be denied the right to join the Virginia state bar.7  The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision excluding her from the Virginia state bar, relying on the 1873 Bradwell decision.

Forty two years later, in 1914, Georgia Bullock became the first female Superior Court Judge in the state of California.  And, in 1919, Southern California Women Lawyers, the precursor to WLALA, was founded.  

Women lawyers today stand on the shoulders of these women and countless others that fought for women’s rights, the right to have a vote and the right to practice law.  

On March 31, 2016, please join members of WLALA, Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance, Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, California Women Lawyers, and Latina Lawyers Bar Association as we celebrate Women’s History Month at Drago Centro. 


[1] Commission on Women in the Profession, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law, July 2014, American Bar Association (July 2014)

[2] Ibid

[3] Margaret Wood, The Library of Congress, blog, Women in History –

[4] Ibid

[5] Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130, 141-42 (1873).

[6] Jill Norgren, Belva Lockwood, Blazing the Trial for Women in Law, Prologue Magazine, Spring 2005, Vol. 37, No. 1,

[7] In re Lockwood, 154 U.S. 116 (1894)