Sisters In Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History

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9780674006942: Sisters In Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History
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More than any other profession women entered in the nineteenth century, law was the most rigidly engendered. Access to courts, bar associations, and law schools was controlled by men, while the very act of gaining admission to practice law demanded that women reinterpret the male-constructed jurisprudence that excluded them. This history of women lawyers--from the 1860s to the 1930s--defines the contours of women's integration into the modern legal profession.

Nineteenth-century women built a women lawyers' movement through which they fought to gain entrance to law schools and bar associations, joined the campaign for women suffrage, and sought to balance marriage and career. By the twentieth century, most institutional barriers crumbled and younger women entered the law confident that equal opportunity had replaced sexual discrimination. Their optimism was misplaced as many women lawyers continued to encounter discrimination, faced limited opportunities for professional advancement, and struggled to balance gender and professional identity.

Based on rich and diverse archival sources, this book is the landmark study of the history of women lawyers in America.

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About the Author:

Virginia G. Drachman is Professor of History at Tufts University. She is the author of Women Lawyers and the Origins of Professional Identity in America and Hospital with a Heart.

Review:

Drachman brings a new and illuminating context to the often dry and literal examination of this area of case law (early cases where the courts resisted women's claims to practice law). In doing so, she adds greatly to the existing analyses by adding the personal dimension to the cases, revealing the lives of the women who brought the cases, the links with the campaigns for legislative changes and places the cases in the context of women's demands for equality in all aspects of public life, particularly the suffrage campaigns. (Clare McGlynn Legal History)

Drachman tracks women from their state-by-state contests for admission to the bar in the 1860s to their qualified integration into the profession in the 1930s. She connects the grudging toleration of female attorneys to the drive for woman suffrage and deftly shows how rationales for accepting women as lawyers were both intertwined with and separated from rationales for accepting women as voters...This scrupulously researched and highly accessible history of women lawyers has much to offer readers...[and] is a highly welcome addition to the literature on women, law, and the professions. (Norma Basch American Historical Review)

In the scholarly, but highly entertaining, new book Sisters in Law, author Virginia G. Drachman tackles the financial aspect [of being a female professional]. 'At every turn' Drachman writes, '19th century women lawyers faced the gnawing problem of how to be at once a lady and a lawyer...Victorian-American society made a clear distinction between business [a man's domain] and charity [a woman's domain].' This mythical distinction...created tension for women lawyers in the 19th century, a strain that is less dominant today, but that may occasionally rise from the muck of the unconscious. (Karen DeCrow Syracuse New Times)

Weaving together materials from letters and manuscripts, studies of the profession, institutional archives, and diction, [Drachman] artfully tells the stories of the second generation of women lawyers...This is a fine study that fills major voids in both the history of the legal profession and the history of women professionals. (Karen DeCrow Journal of American History)

Sisters in Law is an interesting, well-documented account of the struggle of women to gain admission to schools of law and the bar and to obtain recognition as practicing attorneys. Virginia Drachman, associate professor of history at Tufts University, has previously written on the history of women in medicine and has concluded that of the two professions, lawyers had the most difficulties. Because sexual discrimination was rooted throughout the legal system--in the courts, bar associations, law firms, and legislatures--females met innumerable obstacles...Drachman's study is valuable to anyone interested in the law or in women's history...Sisters in Law makes clear the indebtedness of today's women to the pioneers who overcame tremendous challenges to fulfill their ambition and become lawyers. The book should be included in any biography of women's studies. (Memory F. Mitchell North Carolina Historical Review)

[Drachman's] central questions are: to what extent were women lawyers integrated into the legal profession by 1940? What were the barriers to integration? She finds her answers in the individual stories reported in letters and papers and articles...[and] offers rich description...[Her] report on the course of [the BRADWELL case] and of similar cases in Massachusetts in Wisconsin fill out the stories in fascinating detail. The author provides a more thorough examination of the early women's law school experiences in the traditional schools and the short-lived women's schools and classes than can be found in the available texts that focus primarily on the more recent conditions of legal education. What the book offers most strongly...is the sense of the personal struggles of the women who wanted professional work other than traditional school teaching and social welfare...This is a lively book, rooted in wonderful individual cases, and worth your reading time. (Beverly B. Cook Law and Politics Book Review)

Sometimes it may not seem like the law is very enlightened when it comes to women, but life in the Bar has certainly improved in this century. Virginia Drachman explores the history of women lawyers from the 1860s to the 1930s revealing a rigidly engendered profession. These women fought for access to law schools and then for admission to bar associations, but 'never completely overcame the sexual discrimination that was so pervasive in the legal profession.' (Georgia Bar Journal)

This book provides the first scholarly presentation of the history of women's efforts to practice law in the United States. Written by the leading scholar in the history of women lawyers, who is also a significant figure in writings on the history of women doctors, the book is bound to be of considerable interest to historians, lawyers, scholars of social change, and a general reading public interested in shifting gender roles...Drachman's book is a subtle, rich history interweaving stories of individual women with exploration of larger patterns of barriers presented both by the legal profession and by the larger society's expectations of gender and family roles. Following the developments between 1860 and 1930, the book examines a relatively tiny number of women lawyers compared with the current numbers, but as a result, individual stories and experiences can receive careful attention. Sisters in Law is a contribution to the burgeoning fields of women's studies, including women's history. It also will be an important contribution to the sociology of professions and its subfield, the legal profession...Besides simply advancing knowledge on this subject, the book reflects massive archival research and brings individual women's stories and words into a compelling narrative of the larger history. The method combines social and intellectual history. (Martha L. Minow, Harvard Law School)

In accessible prose, Sisters in Law describes the first six or seven decades of women's entry into the legal profession. The admission of women to the bars of the various states, and to law schools, has never before been so deftly documented and distilled. The book is especially helpful in providing multiple biographical sketches of early women lawyers, and in exploring the conflicts women faced between family life and the pursuit of a legal career. (Nancy F. Cott, Yale University)

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