January 27, 1901 — Sunday Leader
“How Women Lawyers Have Sprung Into Existence within the Last Ten Years”
“When the world at large first heard the term ‘woman lawyer,’ it shuddered. Before the eyes of conservative womanhood there arose the vision of an unsexed and masculine being with blatant voice and ‘sassy’ ways, a woman who could take her place in a courtroom opposite a man lawyer and give him as good billingsgate as he gave her. There was nothing attractive about this creature as her own sex viewed her. She was sure to be old, soured and homely, with slipshod attire, in which the green bag and an enormous pair of spectacles played in important part. Worst of all, nice men would have nothing to do with her. They would stand aloof and look down upon her with the bitterest contempt.
The point of view of the men was somewhat different, but they were equally disgusted. They saw in their mind’s eye a frivolous creature in an extravagant costume tripping into the courtroom and airing her ignorance there. She would make eyes at the judge, at the jury and more than probably at the opposing counsel; but, as for logic or anything of that sort — dear me, who had ever heard of a woman who could argue except in a circle? If the opposing lawyer treated her as he would a man and politely intimated that she was a liar, she would immediately burst into tears or give him to understand that he was speaking to a lady, and she would trouble him to remember it, etc. Altogether men thought this would be the best way to squelch the woman lawyer — treat her like a man, give her a few extra hard raps and then let her go home to have a good cry and give it all up for good and all.
The world received the surprise of its life. The woman lawyer arrived on the scene and she proved to be neither old, homely nor soured. In fact she was quite young. She had a nice, fresh looking face — a face that told of a healthy mind in a healthy body — and she had a pair of very sharp, clear eyes which looked unflinchingly at the world and at everything in it. There was a little determined look about her chin, too, as if she meant business. The world stared at her, but that didn’t annoy her in the least. She was very quiet and did not make any fuss at all. She took an office and hung out her sign, ‘Miss Woman, Attorney and Counselor at Law.’ Then she waited for clients. She didn’t have to wait very long either. First people came out of curiosity and then they staid for better reasons. That was ten years ago, and now there are women lawyers all over the United States, and they don’t show any signs of being crowded out of the business either.
Why in New York city alone there are enough women to form a club. There are 15 members and most of them have more business than they can attend to. There is Miss Edith Griswold, who is acknowledged to be an authority on patent law, trademarks and copyright matters. Miss Rosalie Loew is attorney for the Legal Aid society, which assists the poor who have trouble with their landlords. I may add in passing that last year Miss Loew dealt with 5,692 cases. Miss Fanny Hallock Carpenter has for her law partner her husband, Philip Carpenter. Miss Edith August Reiffert began her law studies while serving as a stenographer for a firm of bankers and is so successful that she has hardly a moment to herself. Miss Helen L. Blondel, whose specialty is real estate law, is one of three New York women who have studied in an office without following a regular university law course. It is only lack of space which prevents my telling of the good work done by the others.
But says the woman who reads this: ‘You haven’t said anything about what one must do to become a lawyer. I’d like to hear a little about that.’
Well, there are two ways. One is to take a three years’ law course at some university. After the student graduates she receives her diploma and the degree of LL. D. Then she must appear before the law commissioners or committee on examinations appointed by the law to pass the regular bar examination. This is extremely rigorous, and when it is passed safely she has yet to appear before a judge of the supreme court to take her oath of office and of allegiance to her state and country and to file her admission under oath with the clerk of the court of appeals. When all this has been complied with, she becomes a regular lawyer, with the right to practice in the courts of the state. The requirements are more or less similar in all the states, but in Illinois, so I understand, the graduate of a regular law school is admitted to the bar without further examination.
The other way of doing it is to enter a lawyer’s office in some useful capacity and study under him. There are several advantages in this. This would be lawyer who has practical experience from almost the very first, and then, too, there is the opportunity of making acquaintances which may bring clients during the period of waiting which inevitably follows admittance to the bar.
‘There is a great future for women lawyers,’ said Miss Griswold as we sat talking over the matter in her office. ‘In the first place, they have convinced men of their business ability and shrewdness, and they are respected by their brother lawyers. Then, too, the woman attorney is thoroughly honest, and the proverbially helpless widows and orphans need not fear to put their interests in her hands. As for this talk about feminine lawyers being new women, it is all nonsense. They have large hearts and strong common sense, and there isn’t a single one among them who wouldn’t marry tomorrow if she found a man worthy of her.
Miss Griswold’s own appearance is anything but mannish. She is a dainty, charming woman, with a soft, low voice and eyes which, though they could be very sharp and compelling on occasion, yet display, as a rule, only the kindliest expression.
‘You ask me if I have suffered from lack of courtesy on the part of the male lawyers.’ She said, ‘No. On the whole I find that I have been treated with the greatest politeness. In law, you know, as in everything else, much depends on the bearing of the woman. Of course now and then rarely I meet a man who acts in a childish manner, who sulks or tries to ignore the woman lawyer with whom he has business relations. We always feel sorry for such a man,’ she added, with her little laugh, ‘because we realize how awfully behind the times he is. He generally realizes it in the end himself, and is usually very much ashamed of the figure he has cut in the eyes of his fellow practitioners.’
Robitaille de la Baume.”