As she delivered the keynote address at the 25th annual Women’s Justice Awards on May 18, Barbara Wallace wondered why it seems appropriate to refer to female judges on television by their first names.
Women were once such a rarity on the bench that no one batted an eye at giving “Judge Judy” a cute name that would never be applied to “Judge Wapner.” Yet over her nearly 50-year career, Wallace has watched what was once heretical become commonplace.
Many women have been “firsts” on the bench and at their firms, she said. More importantly, many more have been seconds and thirds and beyond.
“The real accomplishment is when it’s not extraordinary to have women appointed and elected,” Wallace told the 50 other accomplished female lawyers and judges gathered with her. “All of you have distinguished yourselves on your merit.”
Wallace, a pioneering attorney and former circuit judge, was honored as Missouri Lawyers Media’s 2023 Woman of the Year in a ceremony at the Royal Sonesta Chase Park Plaza St. Louis. The award, launched in 1999 by what would become Missouri Lawyers Media, recognizes women across Missouri who have demonstrated leadership, integrity, service, sacrifice and accomplishment in improving the quality of justice and exemplifying the highest ideals of the legal profession.
Missouri Lawyers Media Publisher Susan Bocamazo highlighted the history of the award as she welcomed the honorees.
“Clearly, a lot has changed in the 25 years since we first began honoring female attorneys,” she said. “And while parity has not been realized in the profession, great strides have been made.”
Wallace played a critical role in making those strides. After earning her law degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1976, she helped found the Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis and later served as its president.
In 1988, Wallace, then in private practice, became the first woman elected as a lawyer member of the 21st Circuit Judicial Commission, where worked to add female judges in St. Louis County. She was herself appointed as to the circuit bench in 1995, where she served until her retirement in 2017. She is now a mediator with Lexitas.
Just don’t call her “Judge Barbara.”