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WLD Invites IndyBar Members to Explore Women’s Legal History

By Germaine Winnick Willett, Ice Miller LLP

Did you know that a number of Indiana women played important roles in the national fight for women’s suffrage? Women like Mary Frame Thomas, who gave a stirring address for women’s rights before Indiana’s legislature in 1859, the first woman to ever speak before the elected body. Or abolitionist Amanda Way, who stated her case for women’s right to vote to the state legislature in 1871 and who worked tirelessly to organize suffrage activists. Another crusader for women’s rights was journalist, lawyer, and temperance activist Helen Gougar, who sued the Tippecanoe county election board for refusing to permit her to vote. She appealed her case to the Indiana Supreme Court, where she became the first woman to argue before the state’s highest court. These and many other women worked tirelessly on both the local and national stage to persuade hearts and minds that women should not be denied the right to vote.

It took decades, but finally, in 1919, the U.S. Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, granting all women the right to vote, and sent the amendment to the states for ratification. Indiana ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the 26th state to do so.

Long before suffrage was won, women and men lobbied for and achieved important changes in Indiana’s divorce and property laws for the benefit of women. Admission to practice law proved a tougher battle. Though some counties decided to admit women to the practice of law (the first was Vigo County when it admitted Elizabeth Jane Eaglesfield in 1875), most other counties denied applications to practice made by women. Not until 1893 did Antoinette Dakin Leach convince the Indiana Supreme Court that women could not be deprived of the right to practice law based solely on their gender.

These courageous figures in Indiana history, once examined, serve as important role models for today’s lawyers. It is with this backdrop in mind that IndyBar’s Women and Law Division (WLD) is poised to present a half-day seminar titled “Women’s Legal History–Major Movements and Local Impact.” The seminar will take place on October 23, 2012 from 1:30 to 5:15 p.m. and will provide attendees 3.5 hours of general continuing legal education credit.

The first session will feature Eric Hamilton and Jennifer Kalvaitis, graduate students in history at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who have been studying the suffrage movement in Indiana. The 2011 Antoinette Dakin Leach Award winner, the Honorable Margret Robb, will join them to discuss her own research into the legal battles over the right of Indiana women to practice law, and Justice Leonard Hackney’s historic decision, In re Leach.

In the second session, Professor Jennifer Drobac from the I.U. Robert H. McKinney School of Law and Nora Macey of Macey Swanson & Allman will describe the key legislative changes in the decades following the suffrage victory that were necessary to open the doors for women to advance in the professional realm. Additionally, Jill Chambers from the Indiana Women’s History Association and lawyer Jan Ellis will describe the local activism for gender equality in which they took part some twenty years ago.

Few doubt that female professionals continue to face unique challenges and encounter barriers that slow or stymie their professional advancement. In the final session, the Honorable Nancy Vaidik and Kathleen Delaney of Delaney & Delaney will lead a discussion on why, in the twenty-first century, a gender gap still exists with respect to leadership in law. The discussion will include explanation of the phenomena of implicit bias and stereotype threat, as well as strategies that organizations and women themselves can employ to reduce or eliminate their impact on women’s professional performance and achievement.

WLD’s Women’s Legal History seminar will take place at the Columbia Club. All attendees are invited to a reception following the seminar. In a fitting tribute to the past and in celebration of the many victories won by our foremothers, WLD will host its annual Antoinette Dakin Leach Award dinner immediately following the reception (also at the Columbia Club). This year, WLD will present the ADL Award to Kathleen Lucas, a partner at Bose McKinney & Evans. Those interested in attending the seminar, the award dinner, or both, can view full details and register online here.

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