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“My ‘Partner’ in Law and Life”: Marriage in the Lives of Women Lawyers in Late 19th and Early 20th-Century America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 December 2018

Abstract

This essay examines the ways in which women lawyers of two generation–the pioneer generation of the 1880s and the “new woman” generation of the 1910s–confronted the dilemma of marriage and career. Members of the Equity Club in the 1880s revealed three distinct sets of attitudes toward balancing marriage and career: the separatist approach that a professional woman must remain single; the Victorian attitude that a married woman must sacrifice her career; and the integrated approach that a woman could have both marriage and career. Women lawyers surveyed by the Bureau of Vocational Information in 1920 revealed that the “new woman” generation of women lawyers lived in an era of transition. While they shared the same separatist, Victorian, and integrated views toward marriage and law practice as did women lawyers in the 1880s, they also embraced the new values of the early 20th century which shaped both the contours of the legal profession and the parameters of women's lives. Set within the context of the new values of the era, the separatist, Victorian, and integrated approaches to resolving the dilemma of marriage and career, which were originally formulated by women lawyers in the late 19th century, assumed new meanings for women lawyers in the early 20th century.

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Article Commentary
Copyright
Copyright © American Bar Foundation, 1989 

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References

1 Lelia J. Robinson to the Equity Club, May 22, 1889, Boston, Box 17, folder 406, Lelia Robinson Papers, Dillon Collection, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass. (hereinafter referred to as “Schlesinger Library”).Google Scholar

2 Bureau of Vocational Information questionnaire on women lawyers, in Beatrice Doerschuk, Women in the Law: An Analysis of Training, Practice and Salaried Positions, Bureau of Vocational Information, Bull. No. Three, at 134 (New York, 1920).Google Scholar

3 Ronald Chester, Unequal Access: Women Lawyers in a Changing America 8 (South Hadley, Mass., 1985).Google Scholar

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5 On the new legal history, see Botein, Stephen, “Professional History Reconsidered,” 21 Am. J. Legal Hist. 125–56 (1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 The other leading study of the history of the legal profession in modern America also essentially omits women. Lawrence M. Friedman, A History of American Law (2d ed. New York, 1986) (“Friedman, History”). There is a brief discussion of women's access to legal education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Robert Stevens, Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850's to the 1980's at 82–84 (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1983) (“Stevens, Law School”).Google Scholar

7 Women made up less than 3% of the lawyers in the legal profession through the first half of the 20th century. In contrast, they were 4.7% in 1970, 9.2% in 1976, and 12.0% in 1980. See Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Women in Law 4 (New York, 1981) (“Epstein, Women in Law”).Google Scholar

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9 In the past decade historians have generated a considerable body of literature on the history of women doctors in America including Mary Roth Walsh, “Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply”: Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession, 1835–1969 (New Haven, Conn., 1977) (“Walsh, ‘Doctors Wanted’”); Virginia G. Drachman, Hospital with a Heart: Women Doctors and the Paradox of Separatism at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, 1862–1969 (Ithaca, N. Y., 1984) (“Drachman, Hospital with a Heart”); Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York, 1985) (“Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science”); and Gloria Melnik Moldow, Women Doctors in Gilded-Age Washington: Race, Gender and Professionalization (Champaign, III., 1987) (“Moldow, Women Doctors”).Google Scholar

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