The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote in this country, was ratified by the states on Aug. 18, 1920.
By then, Lemma Barkaloo and Phoebe Couzins had passed from living into legend. They were the first women in the country to be admitted to a law school. That happened in October 1869 at Washington University School of Law.
Think about that for a minute.
50 years before the 19th Amendment, Lemma and Phoebe were trained to “practice” law when their right to vote for the legislators who created those laws wasn’t guaranteed.
Now fast forward beyond 1920.
It wasn’t until 1981 that Sandra Day O’Connor took her seat at the U.S. Supreme Court. A little more than a decade later, Janet Reno became the first woman to serve as the U.S. Attorney General.
What milestones . . . with such wide gaps between.
Things accelerated in the 1970s. The participation of women in the legal profession took off as universities and schools expanded training and admitted more women. Some reports indicate that prior to 1960, only 3 percent of law students were women. By the mid-1980s, 38 percent were women.
Today, more than half of law school students are women.
But move up the ranks and female representation dwindles.
The attorneys we honor this year in our Women’s Justice Awards are trailblazers. Glass-ceiling breakers.
For 22 years, this recognition program has honored women who have improved Missouri’s legal community. Today, the program is as relevant as it was more than two decades ago because these women are leaders, despite the lack of parity that still remains after so many firsts.
They hold positions of strength. They lead firms. They teach the next generation. They aspire to a new future.
The distinguished members of our 2020 selection committee reviewed scores of nominations that included women from every spectrum of the profession and throughout the state. The panel judged these nominations based on the core principals of leadership, professionalism, accomplishment and passion for making a difference.
And while the current world crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled our announcements of recognition and, in some ways, how we have delivered that celebration of success through print, digital and virtual platforms, this program — and these successful women — continue to positively impact this profession.
It is my honor, my privilege, to present these women to you today with this special Missouri Lawyers Media publication.
We appreciate their contributions, and we marvel at their success. It has come, after all, with a level of gender disparity that makes each of their roads a little more difficult.
Missouri Lawyers Media proudly salutes these remarkable women.
Publisher, Missouri Lawyers Media