Vol. 25 No. 7 (July 2015) pp. 102-103
FINDING JUSTICE: A HISTORY OF WOMEN LAWYERS IN MARYLAND SINCE 1642 by Lynne A. Battaglia (ed.). Staunton, Virginia: George F. Thompson Publishing. 2015. 352pp. Cloth $58.50. ISBN: 978-1938086298.
Reviewed by Mark Kessler, Department of Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies, Texas Woman’s University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This engaging volume was produced as part of the Finding Justice Project, a collaborative effort among a small group of judges, lawyers, and legal academics to recover and illuminate neglected histories of women in law in Maryland. Sponsored by the Maryland Women’s Bar Association Foundation, the project sought to identify and learn about the work and lives of as many women lawyers as possible practicing in Maryland since 1642. For this purpose, a research team collected information from many sources, including records of the names along with signatures of all who received bar admission, court records describing the cases in which women lawyers participated, birth and death certificates and census records of their families, and newspaper reports regarding the professional and personal lives of some women lawyers in the state. One product of these efforts is a list of nearly 25,000 women admitted to the Maryland bar through 2014, a list reproduced in an appendix organized by year of admission that is printed on nearly 100 pages (pp. 173-268).
We learn in the Preface that the Project initially hired an author to write a book based on the data collected. After the author withdrew, The Honorable Lynne A. Battaglia, the editor of this volume and a central advocate for the Project, developed a new plan to produce an edited collection to include several chapters written by a variety of women practitioners with different themes related to women in law, with emphasis on particular women in law, and with a focus on various historical moments. Although the chapters are generally brief in a book that includes only 167 pages of text prior to appendices, together they present a coherent and interesting portrait of the many challenges and opportunities experienced by diverse women interested in legal careers in Maryland over time. The chapters are well organized and conceived, and the details provided regarding legal careers in Maryland are often quite fascinating.
The volume begins with a useful introduction by The Honorable Julie R. Rubin. Seven chapters and four appendices follow this. Three of the chapters are written by judges (Andrea M. Leahy, Diane O. Leasure, Lynne A. Battaglia), another by a lawyer (Michelle R. Mitchell), while two others are written by legal academics (Phoebe A. Haddon, Jane C. Murphy). Chapters 1 through 3 examine aspects of the earliest history of women lawyers in Maryland, from colonial times to 1920. A fourth chapter provides a portrait of women lawyers in Maryland from 1920-1940. The roles and contributions of African American women lawyers from 1946-1974 are assessed through a focus on the lives and works of four women lawyers. This chapter is especially significant for its consideration of the intersecting roles of race and gender on legal practices and careers. A sixth chapter examines the sources and significance of mentoring for women lawyers in Maryland. A final chapter reproduces excerpts from oral histories with 48 women lawyers in Maryland conducted in 2012-2013. [*102]
The book is beautifully written and produced throughout. It includes many fascinating photos and reproductions of significant documents, newspaper articles, artifacts, and people that help further illuminate the stories told by the authors. The stories within the separate chapters are consistently well documented and used to emphasize more general patterns and practices. We learn in this volume about the lives and works of many important women lawyers from Maryland, such as Margaret Brent, for whom a major achievement award from the American Bar Association is named, Etta Maddox, an important advocate for women’s rights and suffrage, Elaine Carsley Davis and Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first two African American women to earn law degrees in Maryland. In addition, in the final chapter we read the words of contemporary women lawyers that are organized to illustrate four themes—perseverance and altruism, the importance of their families for career encouragement, the ways in which each overcame challenges to become attorneys, and the significance to them in their professional development of mentoring and networking.
Taken together the stories told in this book show clearly the many and varied obstacles—social, economic, legal, and racial for women of color—to building a successful career in the law. Maryland’s historical track record regarding political and legal inclusion, we learn in this volume, was atrocious. Maryland was among the few states that did not ratify the 15th Amendment when it became law in 1870. And it failed to ratify the 19th Amendment until 1941 (p. 79). Despite this history, the stories provide hope and inspiration by describing how obstacles, even in an unaccepting, exclusionary political environment, may be overcome, at least to some extent. Moreover, the stories of women lawyers in Maryland illuminate how diverse women worked to not only gain admission to legal practice, but also in some cases to do transformative legal work for their clients and in the cause of women’s and civil rights.
FINDING JUSTICE adds important and interesting details from one state to what we know about racial and gender barriers in place historically for those seeking a legal career. The selections could have done more to situate these details in other scholarly works on the history of the legal profession and the intersecting roles of race, gender, and other categories of difference in that history. Although brief connections are occasionally made to several relevant scholarly works, none of the selections or the introduction to the book discusses existing scholarship in any detail or the potential contribution of the Finding Justice Project to this scholarship.
This may be too much to ask, though, of a work produced from a project designed mostly by \practitioners to recover a neglected history. The Finding Justice Project, according to its mission statement reproduced in the foreword (p. 7) to this volume, sought to learn more about the historical roles of women lawyers in Maryland and to “showcase these women’s achievements, lives and goals in an historical context,” and to illustrate how “individual women in their professional and personal lives contributed to…societal change.” The aspiration to produce a book to celebrate the works and lives of diverse women lawyers in Maryland and to show how such works and lives may be transformative is more than met in this fascinating volume.
© Copyright 2015 by the author, Mark Kessler.