Female Lawyers Who Broke Barriers

We talk a lot on the Page 2 blog about how the legal industry continues to fail women. And it does! But it’s also important to look back and appreciate how far women have come since they first entered the profession. Here are just a few of the determined women who refused to take no for an answer — and opened doors for the hundreds of thousands of female lawyers practicing today. Join us in taking a moment to reflect on their achievements.

Charlotte E. Ray (1850 – 1911) was the first Black American female lawyer in the United States. She graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872, was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar and was the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Women in other states seeking admission to the bar used her case as a precedent — and succeeded in breaking the gender barrier.

Genevieve Rose Cline (1877-1959) was nominated in 1928 by President Calvin Coolidge to be the first woman federal judge in America. She served on the U.S. Customs Court for twenty-five years. Cline was an early advocate for consumer protection, women’s rights, and the suffrage movement.

Emma Ping Lum (1910-1989) was the first Chinese American female lawyer in the United States and the state of California. Lum was fluent in various Chinese dialects, and she applied those skills while working in San Francisco’s Office of Censorship during World War II.

Sarah Weddington (1945-2021) was only 26 years old when she argued and won in Row v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court — she was the youngest person ever, male or female, to do so.

Virginia Lynn Linder (born 1953) is an American judge from Oregon who served as the 99th justice of the Oregon Supreme Court from January 2007 until January 2016. She was the first woman elected to that court and the first ever openly lesbian member of a state supreme court anywhere in the nation and the first openly LGBT person elected as a non-incumbent to a state supreme court.