Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers

Updated: May 9, 2018


Enlightening and fascinating, this book should be considered essential reading for women attorneys, and any women considering the field of law.


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SUMMARY The Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers tells the thought-provoking stories of several generations of women lawyers who, with their insistence on equal treatment, helped to create a new dynamic in the field of law. After World War II, changes in U.S. public policy along with the second women’s movement altered longstanding resistance to female participation in the law profession. This book captures the experiences of 100 women lawyers who challenged the rules and fought for access to law schools and meaningful legal careers. It draws on a unique set of oral histories gathered by the American Bar Association’s, Women Trailblazer Project. One hundred outstanding senior women lawyers were asked to recount their personal and professional histories in interviews. The women chosen were selected on the basis of their accomplishments in the post World War II period. The woman who were interviewed have had careers at private law firm’s; government agencies; state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States; Congress; law schools; and public interest legal organizations. The oldest interviewee was born in 1916, the youngest in 1951, with the majority born in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Stories from Trailblazing Women aptly describes the societal values in the decade after WWII, and the astounding lengths men would go, to keep women out of the legal profession. The stories are sometimes painful, sometimes funny, but very inspirational. They highlight what women did, and what they had to do, in order to become lawyers. And when they entered the profession, the Trailblazers succeeded with brilliance.


"Neither law firm‘s nor most government institutions hired female attorneys. The thinking at law schools, therefore, was simple: why train women as lawyers if nobody will hire them? Why use a precious place for a woman that could be given to a man?”
“Harvard Law School did not even open its law school to women until 1950. By 1961 the number of women admitted at Harvard had worked its way up to twenty in a class that also included 540 men.“

REVIEW Norgren had a daunting job in front of her when she was handed the oral interviews from these 100 women, with each interviewee transcript numbering hundreds of pages long. She has done a superb job at capsulizing an immense amount of information and organizing it in a coherent manner. She begins her recounting of these stories by starting with the childhood influences that supported or discouraged the aspirations of these women and the motivations that drew them to the law profession. Stories about the difficulties in gaining admission to and treatment at law schools were followed by the women’s experiences as they began or attempted to begin their job search. Norgren then explores the work experiences of these trailblazing women and she highlights specific stories of women in private practice, public interest, government and the judiciary.


The stories were amazing and moving. The resilience and fortitude exhibited by these women is inspiring. Norgren is a consummate storyteller and the book was immensely satisfying. She skillfully showcased a multitude of astounding women and the battles that had to be fought in an effort to secure their dreams. This book should be essential reading for all women attorneys, and women considering the field of law, so they understand the challenges that have preceded them.


Jill Norgren is a Professor Emerita of government and legal studies at John Jay College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, where she taught government, law and society, and women’s studies for thirty years. This is the third book she has written about women lawyers in the U.S. Thanks to NetGalley and New York University Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Publication Date May 22, 2018.

“I sent you a letter asking you to join the chief executives organization, but we didn’t realize you were a woman. And we don’t have any women—and we have to withdraw that offer…… But we understand that your assistant is a man and he can join."

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