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Who were our sisters in law who paved the way, blazed the trail? What motivated them to take those giant leaps into untested waters? What were the circumstances, and where did they get the courage? Did men help or hinder them? They were women who didn’t take “no” for an answer. They found ways around being denied entrance into law school, being denied a license or not being hired by a firm. They were helped by men along the way; usually husbands, fathers, professors or deans. Here are brief stories of just a few torchbearers of the past: Margaret Brent of Maryland is credited as the first woman lawyer in America. Having been trained in England, she arrived in the Colonies in 1638. She was administrator of Gov. Leonard Calvert’s estate and counsel for the absentee proprietor of Maryland, Lord Baltimore. She was known as “Mistress Brent” or “Gentleman Margaret Brent.” She was an attorney in fact rather than an attorney at law because women could not enter the legal profession as an attorney at law. Frances Cox Henderson was the first woman to practice law in Texas in the mid-1800s. She was married to a lawyer, James Pinckney Henderson, who became governor of Texas. She ran her husband’s law office and handled cases when he and his partners were out of town, although it appears she had not been formally admitted to the bar. Arabella Babb Mansfield became the first woman formally admitted to practice law in the United States when she was admitted to the Iowa Bar in 1869. Having graduated at the top of her class, she was allowed to practice due to a novel application of a law. At that time, the Iowa Code of 1851 limited admission to the practice of law to “any white male person.” A liberal male justice decided that the meaning of “white male person” included women because of another law that stated that masculine words may include females. The women in Texas also faced struggles. Texas was a frontier society, and women were discouraged from becoming attorneys or judges. Hortense Sparks Ward was the first woman admitted to the State Bar of Texas by passing the bar examination in 1910. Ward didn’t attend law school because women were not admitted to Texas law schools until several years later. She took correspondence courses while working as a court reporter. She was married to a lawyer and joined her husband to form Ward & Ward. She did not appear in court for fear it would hurt clients’ chances before all-male juries. In February 1915, Ward was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. She served as chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court — an all-woman panel appointed by the governor to hear a single case involving a fraternal organization (the Woodmen of the World) to which all the members of the Supreme Court held memberships. This special three-woman panel was known as the “Petticoat Supreme Court.” In 1979, Louise Raggio was the first woman to be elected to the board of directors of the State Bar of Texas and, in 1984, the first woman to chair the board of trustees of the Texas Bar Foundation. When she was inducted as a director of the Bar, each director was given a tie tack and cuff links bearing the State Bar seal. Undaunted, Louise wore hers on a chain around her neck. The year 2000 was the “year of the woman” in Texas legal association circles. The Houston Young Lawyers Association, the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, the Houston Bar Association, the Austin Young Lawyers Association, the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas elected female presidents. Also, it’s important to mention Ruby Sondock, the first female lawyer appointed to the full, traditional Texas Supreme Court. Rose Spector was the first woman to be elected to that court. Harriet Miers was the first female president of the State Bar of Texas and now serves as counsel to President George W. Bush. In 1953, Charlye O. Farris was the first African-American woman licensed to practice law in Texas. And in 1955, Edna Cisneros was one of the first Hispanic women to pass the bar exam. On the national and international scene, Christine Lagarde — who is married and the mother of two sons — is the managing partner of the world’s second-largest firm, Baker & McKenzie. When asked about advice to young female lawyers, Lagarde said, “Grit your teeth because it is a matter of resilience, stamina and energy.” STILL PIONEERING? These women who pioneered the way were imaginative, brave and stubborn. They made change possible. Women are now entering law schools in droves. In fact, female law students may now be in the majority nationwide. The major problem for women has been and continues to be balancing home and work, family responsibilities and professional responsibilities. At the American Bar Association midyear meeting in Miami in 1988, Hillary Rodham Clinton, chairwoman of the Commission on Women in the Profession, predicted, “[T]ime alone is unlikely to alter significantly the under-representation of women in law firm partnerships, judicial appointment and tenured faculty positions.” There continue to be issues of pay inequity and hostility to family needs. However, many firms have family-friendly policies with on-site daycare. Men are taking a greater role in raising children. Family leave is growing more popular. Flexible work schedules provide relief. Sarah Weddington spoke recently in Houston about issues concerning women. In that speech she commented that the word she hears repeatedly around the country in her talks with women is “tired.” The problem of “tiredness” brings us back to Lagarde’s comment about what it takes to rise to the top echelons of a law practice: energy. James E. Loehr, author of “Toughness Training for Life and Mental Toughness Training for Sports,” writes: “Energy is everything. It ignites talent and skill.” Loehr talks about the connection of stress and emotion with energy. He gives advice about how to stay in training on a day-to-day basis and offers solutions for health and energy problems. He stresses the importance of the rituals of sleep, exercise, nutrition, family and spiritual aspects in our lives. He discusses performance and challenge and recovery from stress. He shows how all of these rituals provide us with the ability to control our stress and give us the energy to move forward and grow. My favorite example of an energetic woman is Eleanor Roosevelt. She was in her 70s when she became a delegate to the United Nations and the first woman chair of the Human Rights Commission. She received a standing ovation from the U.N. delegates when she presented her commission’s Declaration of Human Rights. Later, when interviewed about her successful projects, she talked about how boring and tedious it was to read every treatise and paper from every country, but she did it not for herself but because she knew that her success or failure would reflect on all women. We are so close in time to our pioneering sisters in law. We must sustain their energy for creativity and perseverance until there are no institutional, legal or cultural barriers to prevent women from attaining their highest aspirations in the field of law. How do we shatter the glass ceiling? We can each in our own individual way continue to break the ceiling, shard by shard. Ellen Elkins Grimes practices family law in Houston and is board-certified by the State Bar of Texas. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, member of the State Bar of Texas Women in the Profession Committee and former director of the State Bar of Texas.

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