Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Rebels at the Bar by Jill Norgren

Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers
Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers 

Jill Norgren recounts the life stories of a small group of nineteenth century women who were among the first female attorneys in the United States. Beginning in the late 1860s, these determined rebels pursued the radical ambition of entering the then all-male profession of law. They were motivated by a love of learning. They believed in fair play and equal opportunity. They desired recognition as professionals and the ability to earn a good living. 

Through a biographical approach, Norgren presents the common struggles of eight women first to train and to qualify as attorneys, then to practice their hard-won professional privilege. Their story is one of nerve, frustration, and courage. This first generation practiced civil and criminal law, solo and in partnership. The women wrote extensively and lobbied on the major issues of the day, but the professional opportunities open to them had limits. They never had the opportunity to wear the black robes of a judge. They were refused entry into the lucrative practices of corporate and railroad law. Although male lawyers filled legislatures and the Foreign Service, presidents refused to appoint these early women lawyers to diplomatic offices and the public refused to elect them to legislatures.

The struggle of women to practice law in the US from the 1860s onwards told through the eyes of eight women. These trailblazers of the early days of the 1860s to 1880s, were from different walks of life (that was both white and Christian).

The only criticism is that the stories become slightly repetitive - it would possibly have made for a better single story with the eight women featured as examples.

Further reading:
First 100 Years: Women in Law Timeline
US Supreme Court: History of Oral Advocacy

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