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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / Wisconsin women, graduate school, and the professions

Doyle, Ruth B.
Chapter 7: Women and the law school: from a trickle to a flood,   pp. 65-73 ff.

Page 65

7. Women and the Law School
From a Trickle to a Flood
by Ruth B. Doyle
This essay attempts to describe two eras in the history of women and the
law school. One (1868-1968) is a century in which a few women came and
went - some years several, some years none at all. The other (1968-1978)
is a decade which stands out in stark contrast to the first.
Efforts to describe the first hundred years involved seeking out the few
individuals to discover what legal education means or meant to them. For
group the records are very skimpy. During the last nine or ten years, the
ber of women in the law school has grown so that mention of individuals is
but impossible.1
The First Century
For more than a hundred years, there was a trickle of women entering
and leaving the University of Wisconsin law school. In many entering classes
there were one, two or three. In graduating classes there was seldom more
than one. For example, an alumni directory published in 1919 reveals that
between 1875 and 1919, sixteen women were graduated from the University
of Wisconsin law school.2 Some years there were none. Many more entered
than graduated; a good many who graduated never tried to practice.
In 1887, there were two women in the graduating class - Mrs. Kate
Hamilton Pier and her daughter Kate Pier (later Mrs. J. A. McIntosh). In
1891, there were three: Norma Lawrence (later Mrs. A. H. Long of Prairie
Chien) and Pier's two younger daughters, Caroline and Harriet, who became,
respectively, Mrs. J. H. Roemer and Mrs. C. G. Simonds. Together the Piers
made up almost a third of the female graduates in a forty-four-year period.
Wisconsin had one of the earliest law schools in the United States, and
women were never excluded either by law or by rule. For women, however,
admission to the bar was difficult here and impossible in many states, so
there was really no incentive offered to women to go to law school, and few
of them were motivated to challenge the traditional system.
Examples of the traditional view held by the bench and bar - and so-
ciety generally - are the following statements by Chief Justice Ryan speak-
ing for the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in 1875 in the matter of motion to
admit Miss Lavinia Goodell to the bar of this court:
Nature has tempered women as little for judicial conflicts of the courtroom
as for the
physical conflicts of the battlefield. Woman is modeled for gentler and better
It... [the law profession] has essentially and habitually to do with all
that is selfish and
extortionate, knavish and criminal, coarse and brutal, repulsive and obscene
in human
life. It would be revolting to all female sense of innocence and sanctity
of their sex,
shocking to man's reverence for womanhood and faith in woman on which hinge
all the
better affections and humanities of life, that woman should be permitted
to mix profes-
sionally in all the nastiness of the world which finds its way into the courts
justice.... Discussions are habitually necessary which are unfit for female
ears. The
habitual presence of women at these would tend to relax the public sense
of decency
and propriety.3
During the first one hundred years of the UW law school's history, there
was not much change in the status of women as students and as lawyers. The

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