The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Women's History Month "L": Lucretia and Women Lawyers


Lucretia (1664) by Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Lucretia was a legendary figure in the story of the founding of Rome. According to legend, Lucretia was the queen of a city near Rome. Sextus Tarquinus, the son of the king of Rome, entered her home on the hospitality of her husband, but later that night snuck into Lucretia’s room and raped her.  He threatened that if she called for help, he would murder her along with one of her male servants and then arrange their bodies to look as though they were having an affair.

The next day, Lucretia went to her father’s house and explained what had happened.  She made her father and her husband swear to avenge her, and then took a knife and stabbed herself to death.  Her husband and the rest of her family vowed to overthrow the Tarquinii family and get control of Rome for themselves.  They carried out protests and elections to make themselves rulers of Rome, and then drove out the Tarquinii family.  This story was passed along through generations of Romans to explain why Rome no longer operated as a monarchy.

In the centuries since, the story of Lucretia has been used by writers and artists to promote all kinds of ideas.  The early Christian writer St. Augustine used Lucretia’s tale as a way to illustrate how women were not at fault for rapes.  Dante placed her in his version of “limbo” to show that some pre-Christian pagans were noble enough to escape the flames of hell.  The Renaissance painter Botticelli wove elements of Lucretia’s life into a mural showing that the tyranny of ancient Rome was not unlike the oppression he experienced in the Italian city-states.


Until we are all free, we are none of us free. 
~Emma Lazarus, American Poet

Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't have what it takes;" they will say, "Women don't have what it takes." 
~Clare Booth Luce,  American Playwright, Journalist, Ambassador, and U.S. Congresswoman

Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. 
~Rose Luxenberg, Marxist Activist

The power of the harasser, the abuser, the rapist depends above all on the silence of women.
~Ursula LeGuin, American Fantasy and Science Fiction Author


Although lawyers have been around since ancient Greece, it has only been relatively recently that women began practicing law.  The first woman lawyer in North America was Margaret Brent, a British woman who came to the colony of Maryland in 1638.  She was chosen by the state’s governor to be the executor of his will, but his successor denied Brent the opportunity to have a voice in the state assembly.

For more than two hundred years after Brent’s arrival, Americans did not see another woman lawyer.  Then, in 1868, Myra Bradwell began publishing Chicago Legal News, the leading legal newspaper in the western United States.  A year later, Mary E. Magoon started practicing law in Iowa, and Belle A. Mansfield (also from Iowa) became the first woman to pass a state bar examination.  In the same year, Lemma Barkaloo became the nation’s first law student by attending Washington University in St. Louis.

Today, according to the American Bar Association statistics, women make up 31% of America’s lawyers and just 19% of law firm partners, even though their law school enrollment is almost equal to that of men.  Women lawyers also tend to earn only 80% of what male lawyers make.  For more information on women in law, visit the American Bar Association's Women Lawyers page.

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