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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.
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
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
[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
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
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
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
"A Sphere with an Infinite and Indeterminable Radius"
"I Was. the Only Woman in a Large School of Men"
"Sweeter Manners, Purer Laws"
"I Think I Haven't Neglected My Husband"
"Some of Our Best Students Have Been Women"
"Primarily for Women"
"Woman's Position in the Profession"
'The Golden Age of Opportunity for Women"
"Girl Lawyer Has Small Chance for Success"
Appendix 1: Tables
Appendix 2: Sources and Methods