Bar None: 125 Years of Women Lawyers in Illinois

About the Exhibit

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The Idea

The idea for the exhibit began in 1995 at the annual planning meeting of the Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women. The Alliance, one of the largest committees of the Association with over 500 members, addresses issues of significance to women in the profession and the larger community. Inspired by an event of the Allegheny County Bar Association that celebrated the history of women lawyers in Pennsylvania, the Alliance determined to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women in Illinois bar occurring in 1998. The Chicago Public Library joined in partnership with the Alliance, offering the expertise of their Special Collections and Preservation Division staff to assist in the planning and culmination of the exhibit.
From Left to right: Gwen Hoerr McNamee and Honorable Elaine Bucklo, co-chairs of the Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women 125th Anniversary Project

The Research

Spearheaded by the Alliance's 125th Anniversary Project Committee, the research for the exhibit was conducted by Alliance members and other lawyers, law students, and historians throughout the state. The research focused on the first 100 women lawyers, as they comprised the pathbreakers who forged a place for women in the otherwise male profession. Admitted during the years 1873 to 1901, with some practicing law into the 1940s, these women advanced many of the changes that occurred in the legal profession and society during the decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century. Though the lives and work of many of Illinois' first 100 women lawyers had been all but erased from history, the researchers found that information on a significant number of these women does survive, scattered throughout the country in the collections of local historical societies, school and public libraries, court archives and in the attics of a few descendants. Over the three-year research period, the work of the individual researchers was enhanced by contextual insights shared by history professors from the University of Illinois at Chicago and independent scholars from the Chicago Area Women's History Conference as well as members of the Women in History Group of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Items

Through the generosity of many institutions and individuals, the exhibit included over 100 items from over thirty lenders, each telling an important part of the story of the lives and influence of these women. Items included handwritten documents from women lawyers, reported court decisions, published legal articles and law journals, agency reports and political advertisements. Photographs of the women lawyers, men who mentored and supported them, and important relevant buildings and locations were also included. Articles of clothing, including dresses, suits and hats authentic to the time period as well as one complete Victorian outfit (including dress, shawl, hat, shoes, purse and gloves) which had belonged to one of the more prominent early woman lawyers of Illinois further enhanced the exhibit.

The Opening

The Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Public Library jointly hosted a preview reception the night prior to the public opening of the exhibit. The event, attended by over 400 men and women, included a keynote address by the former (and first female) Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable Kim Campbell.

From left to right: The Right Honourable Kim Campbell, CBA President Patricia C. Bobb, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine.
The Book

Simultaneous with the exhibit, the Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women published a book, Bar None: 125 Years of Women Lawyers in Illinois. Organized upon the same outline as the exhibit, the text of the book comprises individual biographical sketches of thirty-six of the first 100 women lawyers in Illinois, as well as additional articles shedding further light on the context of women's early law practice. The book is available for purchase through the CBA Bookstore. Click here for more information.
From left to right: Gwen McNamee, editor of Bar None, Karen Clanton and Patricia McMillen, both contributing authors and copy editors for Bar None, with a bust of Myra Bradwell.


Gwen Hoerr McNamee

Suzanne Peterson & Amy Sass, Hubbard Online
Website Designers

Kathy Greenholdt
Website Coordinator

Website Exhibit Committee: Julie Bauer, Judith Gaskell, Kathy Greenholdt, Maria Harrigan, Denise Jackson, Donna Lach, the Hon. Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Patricia R. McMillen, and Gwen Hoerr McNamee

Honorable Elaine Bucklo and Gwen McNamee
Co-Chairs, 125th Anniversary Project

Patricia R. McMillen
Special Advisor

Elizabeth Turley and Janet Koran 1997-1998
Patricia Costello Slovak and the Honorable Joan Humphrey Lefkow 1998-99
Co-chairs, The Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women

Mary Dempsey
Commissioner, Chicago Public Library

The Alliance for Women thanks the following for their assistance with the exhibit and the book:

ABS Graphics, Charlotte Adelman, Patricia Bakunas, Elyssa Balingit, Mary Ann Bamberger, Julie Bauer, Laurel Bellows, Suzanne Bonds, Shelli Boyer, Margaret Brady, Ralph Brill, Amy Brock, Kristin Brown, Leisa Brunson-Braband, Helen Burke, Edith Canter, Karen Clanton, Fay Clayton, Christine Clark, Maureen Cunningham, Anne O. Decker, Jennifer Fischer, Kristen Fligel, Judith Gaskell, Caroline Goddard, Diane Greenholdt, Wendy Grossman, Helen Gunnarrson, Sophia Hall, Maureen Hanlon, Maria Harrigan, Brian Hays, Susan Horn, Mae Hung, Denise Jackson, Mia Jiganti, Deanna Fortna Jones, Mary Alice Kenny, Marilyn Kuhr, Donna Lach, Kathy H. Lee, Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Michael Levy, LEXIS-NEXIS, Mary von Mandel, Patricia R. McMillen, Julie Melvin, Archie Motley, Terry Murphy, Patricia Nikolitch, Jennifer Nijman, Susan O'Brien, Bridget O'Keefe, Daranee Petsod, Aurelia Pucinski, Gina Raith, Esther Rothstein, Susan Salita, Jemi-Sanger Millen, Lorraine Schmall, Scott Schmidt, Katrin Schultheiss, Rima Lunin Schultz, Gerald Schur, Julie Spanbauer, Elizabeth M. Streit, Rebecca Tannenbaum, Jennifer Widmer, Ann C. Williams, and the University of Illinois at Chicago Women in History Group.

Lenders to the Exhibit:

American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, Bently Historical Library University of Michigan, William Broom and the Mable M. Broom Collection, Calumet Career Preparation Academy, The Chicago Bar Association, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Tribune, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Cook County Law Library, Effingham Historical Society, Gaslight Collection of Dan and Nancy Mattausch, Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, Illinois State Historical Library, Illinois State Archives, John Marshall Law School Library, Keith Letsche, Lombard Historical Society, National Association of Women Lawyers, Northwestern University School of Law, Sarah Rehtmeyer, Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, Caroline Sexauer, Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, State Historical Society of Iowa, Swindler's Ridge Museum Benton Wisconsin, University of Illinois at Chicago The University Library Department of Special Collections, University of Illinois Law Library, Western Illinois University Library, Wilmette Historical Museum, and Women's Bar Association of Illinois

Chicago Public Library Exhibit Staff:

Markus Dohner, Exhibition Designer
Elizabeth M. Holland, Museum Specialist
J. Ingrid Lesley, Chief, Special Collections and Preservation Division
Marta O'Neill, Preservation Librarian
Andrea P. Telli, Senior Archival Specialist

Photo Spotlight

Header Photo:
Portrait of Mrs. James B. (Myra Colby)Bradwell. Leonard Wells Volk, sculptor. 1894.
Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society

Introduction | About the Exhibit | Additional Info

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