Legal world marks gains of women

Mem­o­ries of wait­ing on side­lines show them how far they’ve come.

Star Tribune - - Front Page - By RANDY FURST randy.furst@star­tri­bune.com

Irene Scott re­mem­bers ask­ing why most law firms in Min­nesota would not in­ter­view fe­male lawyers in the 1950s, much less hire them.

A se­nior part­ner in one firm gave a mem­o­rable an­swer: Train­ing a woman to be a lawyer was like teach­ing a dog to walk on his hind legs, he told Scott, a 1950 Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Law School grad.

“You could do it, but why bother?” he said.

Scott, 89, laughs about it now. He later apol­o­gized.

Scott went on to be­come an at­tor­ney at an­other firm, Leonard Street, “where they treated me like a fel­low lawyer” and even­tu­ally made her a part­ner.

The legal pro­fes­sion has un­der­gone

“The re­vi­sor … said [he hired a man to do the draft­ing] be­cause women do bor­ing work so well. And it was in­deed bor­ing … and I didn’t do it so well.”

Re­tired state Supreme Court Jus­tice Esther Toml­janovich

a trans­for­ma­tion in the past 65 years, and the ad­vances of fe­male lawyers will be cel­e­brated in the lobby of the U.S. Court­house in Min­neapo­lis at 4:30 p.m. on Mon­day. Pi­o­neers will be hon­ored, and an ex­hibit will be on dis­play for two weeks, high­light­ing the his­tory of women in Min­nesota law — and some of the bar­ri­ers women faced.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the event say de­spite the break­throughs, there is still a glass ceil­ing.

“There are very, very few women who make part­ner or get to the up­per ech­e­lons” of the ma­jor law firms, said Rachna Sul­li­van, a part­ner at Fredrik­son & By­ron . The num­ber of women at th­ese lev­els is “dis­mal,” said Rachel Zim­mer­man , pres­i­dent of the Min­nesota chap­ter of the Fed­eral Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, a part­ner at Mer­chant & Gould and co-chair of event.

The pi­o­neers will have some sto­ries to tell.

Esther Toml­janovich re­mem­bers go­ing to work in the re­vi­sor’s of­fice at the Min­nesota Leg­is­la­ture in the early 1950s. “I wasn’t go­ing to get a job at a law firm,” she said.

“The re­vi­sor hired a man to do the draft­ing, and I was hired to do the in­dex­ing and edit­ing of Min­nesota Statutes and Min­nesota ses­sion laws. He said that was be­cause women do bor­ing work so well. And it was in­deed bor­ing work, and I didn’t do it so well.”

Still, Toml­janovich be­came head of the re­vi­sor’s of­fice. Gov. Rudy Per­pich later ap­pointed her a judge in Wash­ing­ton County Dis­trict Court in 1978 and to the state Supreme Court in his sec­ond term in 1990. She re­tired in 1998. Some of the firsts

Martha An­gle Dorsett be­came the first lawyer in Min­nesota his­tory, but not with­out a fight.

She and her hus­band, Charles Dorsett , grad­u­ated to­gether in 1876 from Drake Law School in Iowa, says Re­becca Bry­den of Min­neapo­lis, Dorsett’s great­grand­daugh­ter.

“They moved to Min­neapo­lis and ap­plied in the fall of 1877 to be ad­mit­ted to the bar. He was granted a law li­cense in Jan­uary,” says Bry­den, who has re­searched what hap­pened. “She was not.”

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal ac­counts, Hen­nepin County Judge Austin H. Young de­nied her ap­pli­ca­tion, say­ing the “part as­signed to women by na­ture is, as a rule in­con­sis­tent” with “life­long ap­pli­ca­tion” needed to prac­tice the law. He nonethe­less told a news­pa­per re­porter that “the lady passed the best ex­am­i­na­tion of any ap­pli­cant for ad­mis­sion that has been pre­sented for a long time.”

Bry­den said that Dorsett and her hus­band spent the year lob­by­ing the Leg­is­la­ture, which voted to re­move the word “male” from the at­tor­ney qual­i­fi­ca­tion statute. She was ad­mit­ted to the bar in 1878.

The first black fe­male at­tor­ney in Min­nesota was Lena Olive Smith, who re­ceived a de­gree from North­west­ern Col­lege, one of five law schools that be­came the Wil­liam Mitchell Col­lege of Law.

“She was a com­mu­nity lawyer help­ing peo­ple with real es­tate trans­ac­tions and di­vorces and crim­i­nal de­fense and gen­eral prac­tice,” says Ann Juer­gens, a pro­fes­sor at Wil­liam Mitchell, who has writ­ten about Smith’s life.

But she was a civil rights ac­tivist from her early teens. She cam­paigned to de­seg­re­gate the Pan­tages Theatre and other public ac­com­mo­da­tions, forc­ing a lo­cal bar to serve blacks and make the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota ad­mit a black woman to its nurs­ing school. She was pres­i­dent of the Min­neapo­lis branch of the NAACP and a pro­po­nent of mass protest.

“In the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, she was the most im­pact­ful woman lawyer in the state,” Juer­gens said.

Smith will be re­mem­bered at an­other pro­gram in the court­house lobby hon­or­ing mi­nor­ity judges in Min­nesota on Thurs­day at 4:30 p.m.

A key ad­vo­cate be­hind both pro­grams is U.S. Chief Judge Michael Davis , who re­calls that when he en­tered the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Law School in 1969, the law was “a white, male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion” and it was dif­fi­cult for “women and peo­ple of color to fit in.” Pro­grams can con­tinue to foster more di­ver­sity, he said. “There’s noth­ing wrong with look­ing at what we’re do­ing right and what we are do­ing wrong.” Old war sto­ries

Com­plaints about the “glass ceil­ing” are not as dra­matic as some of the star­tling sto­ries some judges re­counted last week.

There was the time that Peter Popovich , who later be­came state Supreme Court chief jus­tice, told Toml­janovich he led a group of prom­i­nent lawyers to dis­suade Gov. Karl Rolvaag from ap­point­ing Mary Louise Klas , a lawyer in his of­fice, to a mu­nic­i­pal court post in the early 1960s. Her hus­band, Dan Klas , was an at­tor­ney.

The lawyers told Rolvaag “it would not be wise be­cause Dan might have a hard time cop­ing with a wife who was so pro­fes­sion­ally suc­cess­ful,” Toml­janovich says.

“It blew me away,” says Klas, now 84, who cried when she heard it. Klas was fi­nally ap­pointed a state dis­trict judge in 1986. Her hus­band said that no one ever asked him his opin­ion. “I would have been on the bandwagon for my wife, of course,” he said. He thinks it was an old boys’ club at work. They didn’t want to open the judge­ships to women.”

That was re­flected at the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Law School, where the num­ber of fe­male law stu­dents surged in the 1970s, yet “there was one woman’s bath­room,” said U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ann Mont­gomery .

“In my era, the op­por­tu­ni­ties were clearly in the public sec­tor,” says Mont­gomery. The pri­vate sec­tor law firms were very slow to hire women.”

Eighth U.S. Cir­cuit Court Judge Diana Mur­phy re­calls at­tend­ing law school and want­ing to be a trial lawyer at Lindquist & Ven­num . She called Ed Glen­non, a lead trial lawyer, and asked whether it was true that he would not al­low a woman to work as a trial lawyer.

Mur­phy said Glen­non said it was true. He did not think ju­ries would ac­cept women.

Says Mur­phy, “I was shocked lis­ten­ing to this.”

But he told her to go to work there and “we will see if you can make it.” He let her be­come a trial lawyer; two years later she was ap­pointed a mu­nic­i­pal court judge in Min­neapo­lis.

Eleanor Nolan was briefly a spe­cial mu­nic­i­pal judge in 1940, but Betty Wash­burn is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the state’s first fe­male judge, named a mu­nic­i­pal judge in 1950 by Gov. Luther Young­dahl.

In 1969, there was one fe­male judge, com­pris­ing 0.5 per­cent of all state judges. To­day there are 123, or 39 per­cent. “We have made great strides in the state ju­di­ciary,” says Min­nesota Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Lorie Sk­jer­ven Gildea .

A to­tal of 38 of Gov. Mark Dayton’s 79 dis­trict court judge ap­point­ments, 48.1 per­cent, have been women.

At the gen­eral dis­trict court level, three of the state’s seven ac­tive judges are women: Mont­gomery, Joan Erick­sen and Su­san Nel­son. If Pres­i­dent Obama nom­i­nates Wil­helmina Wright, as rec­om­mended by U.S. Sens, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and she is con­firmed by the Se­nate, the ma­jor­ity of fed­eral dis­trict judges in the state will be women.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

EL­IZ­A­BETH FLORES • eflo­res@star­tri­bune.com

Sub­mit­ted photo

Lena Olive Smith was one of the first black women to prac­tice law in the United States.

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