WBA History

Past Leaders of the WBA and WBA Foundation
WBA Past Presidents
WBA Foundation Past Presidents



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History of the WBA

From 1917-1927
From 1927-1937
From 1937-1947
From 1947-1957
From 1957-1967
From 1967-1977


From 1917-1927
1. In 1917, the WBA supported a Joint Resolution of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives which gave District of Columbia residents the right to vote.
2. In 1918, a WBA Committee worked to legitimize children born out of wedlock, a project described in the Annual report as " the righting of a giant wrong which the world has already tolerated longer than it should."
3. In 1918, the WBA pledged its cooperation to further a National Association of Women Lawyers, an organization advancing the interests of women lawyers and especially breaking down the barriers which barred women access to judicial positions.
4. In 1918, WBA member Kathryn Sellers was the first woman appointed to the bench under federal authority when she joined the District of Columbia Juvenile Court.
5. In the wake of the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, the WBA turned its attention towards government positions which were denied to women.
6. In 1921, WBA member, and later President Pearl McCall became an Assistant District Attorney, and President Harding appointed WBA member Mary O'Toole to the District of Columbia Municipal Court.
7. In 1922, the WBA passed a resolution which recommended the appointment of women to legal positions in the departments of government.
8. In 1921, President Mussey reported on her lobbying efforts in support of a Bill which allowed American women who married foreign citizens to retain their citizenship. the Bill passed in 1922.
9. In 1925, the WBA endorsed the Capper Bill which provided for compulsory jury service for women in the District of Columbia.
10. In 1926, the WBA endorsed the original Keeler-Capper Bills H.R. 346 and S. 1430 which provided for compulsory school attendance for children in the District of Columbia; the WBA also endorsed legislation that would make an allowance for conservation o f the family to the father, mother or guardian although the present bill granted such allowance only to the mother. In 1926, the WBA proposed legislation abolishing Section 1155 of the DC Code prohibiting married women from acting as a surety or guarantor.


From 1927-1937
1. In 1927, the WBA elected two delegates to attend the ABA's Meeting.
2. In 1928, the WBA submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee a resolution endorsing Genevieve Kline of Cleveland, Ohio, for appointment to the Customs Court. Kline's nomination was opposed by some attorneys of the Court. The WBA's resolution stressed Kline's ability as a lawyer and her experience in Customs.
3. In 1929, the WBA appointed a committee which recommended to the President of the United States that a woman be appointed as a delegate to represent the U.S. at the Conference of the League of Nations at The Hague; In 1930, President Hoover named Ruth S hirley as a member of the delegation and Emma Wold as technical advisor to the delegation.
4. In 1930, the WBA endorsed legislation which would revise the laws of descent and distribution, eliminating the preference for males over females; The legislation was introduced into Congress in 1931.
5. In 1931, the WBA urged the President of the United States to appoint a woman to fill a vacancy on the D.C. Board of Bar Examiners.
6. In 1931, the WBA, together with other bar associations, studied legislation to regulate the sale of securities and real estate mortgages in D.C.
7. On March 29, 1934, the WBA held a special meeting in response to published statements made by Leslie C. Garnett, then District Attorney. Mr. Garnett attacked the ability of women in the legal profession, and stated ". . .there is no place for them in this office (the District Attorneys's office). . ." ; On April 4, the WBA submitted a resolution to the President requesting that Mr. Garnett be relieved of his duties as District Attorney.
8. In 1936, the WBA's Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar recommended to the D.C. Supreme Court that the educational standards for admission to the Bar be raised, which would require applicants to present certificates showing completion of a four year high school course, two years of college, and three years of law work, or four years of part-time law work meeting the requirements of the ABA.
9. In 1936, the WBA adopted the "Friend of the Court Plan" which recommended that the Department of Domestic Relations be established by the Supreme Court to handle all cases involving alimony and maintenance, custody and the collection thereof. 10. The WBA endorsed the Adoption Bill in 1937, which was passed by Congress in 1938.


From 1937-1947
1. In 1937, the WBA endorsed the Juvenile Court Bill, which later passed in 1938.
2. In 1938, WBA members lobbied in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment and equalization of inheritance laws.
3. In 1938-39, five WBA members rented space in the Southern Building in DC. The five worked individually or in groups of two, and even in groups of four and five in times of crisis.
4. In 1941, the WBA membership lobbied male lawyers to support a proposed amendment to the Bar Association of the District of Columbia's By-Laws permitting the admission of women. The amendment passed.
5. In 1942, the WBA's War Work Committee worked with the American Red Cross, donated blood, gave to bond drives and collected books for the Victory Book Campaign. One WBA member helped to develop a legal assistance program for service personnel.
6. In 1943, the WBA was the first organization to purchase a war bond ($1,500.00).
7. In 1945, the WBA sponsored scholarships for women students to the Washington College of law (American University) and the National College of Law (now, The George Washington University School of Law), and for paralegal studies.
8. In 1945, the WBA's Annual Meeting was attended by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, and Justices Rutledge and Burton. This was the first time a Chief Justice attended a local bar function.
9. In 1946, the WBA supported a plebiscite on suffrage for DC residents, and President Sara Mero Williams spoke on the radio in its favor.
10. In 1946, WBA member Lieutenant Colonel Mary Agnes Brown received a Legion of Merit Citation. Colonel Brown made a distinct contribution to the successful operation of the Women's Army Corps in the Southwest Pacific area.


From 1947-1957
1. In 1949, President Truman appointed WBA member Burnita Shelton Matthews to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Ms. Matthews was the first woman in the country to serve as a federal district judge.
2. In 1949, then First Lady Bess Truman attended a reception hosted by the WBA honoring women members of Congress.
3. In 1950, the WBA placed a gold plated case containing the WBA letter head and greetings in the cornerstone of the new United States Courthouse. The WBA also negotiated with the Chief Judge of the Court to obtain a space for women in the new building.
4. In 1954, the WBA launched a program in three public schools in the District of Columbia to foster good citizenship by giving certificates to high schools seniors who received straight A's in citizenship. To date, the WBA still gives the Citizenship Awa rds.
5. In 1954, the WBA held its first reception in honor of new citizens at the United States Courthouse after the monthly naturalization ceremony. To date, the WBA still hosts such receptions.
6. In 1955, the Sertoma Club presented its American Way Award to the WBA for its "friendship and service to new citizens."
7. In 1956, the WBA was an early supporter of the District of Columbia Legal Aid Bureau. That same year, the Director of the Bureau wrote that the WBA "was one of the first associations that recognized the usefulness of legal aid services and backed it up with funds form its own treasury."
8. In 1957, the WBA voted to support the establishment of a marital affairs counsel and a family division in the Municipal Court.
9. In 1957, the WBA commented on the District of Columbia's adoption law and legislation to reform the administration of estates.
10. In 1957, the WBA prepared a report which helped abolish dower and courtesy in the District of Columbia. The law abolishing dower and courtesy contained a provision form that report.


From 1957-1967
1. In 1959, the WBA raised $2,600 to support the Canine Corps which allowed two members of the DC police to travel to Scotland Yard for training to establish a Canine Corps. The first of six police dogs went on the street in April 1960. This initial effor t led, by 1967, to 100 man dog teams in service in DC. Lieutenant Wright, Officer in charge of training the Canine Corps, stated that there was a clear decrease in the crime rate in areas patrolled by the Canine Corps.
2. In 1962, the WBA endorsed Senate Bill No. 3501, entitled the "Fair Employment Practice Act" which would prohibit discrimination in employment in DC because of race, religion, color, nationality or ancestry. The WBA endorsed the Bill, but recommended to Senator Bible, sponsor of the Bill and the Judiciary Committee chair that there be included the word "sex".
3. In 1963, the WBA approved a special committee which would investigate judicial and quasi-judicial post in DC with a view toward making them known to interested members who might with the endorsement of the WBA.
4. In 1963, the WBA objected to S. 853 pertaining to Section 99 of the DC Business Corporation Act which would expand the number of variety of transactions which a foreign corporation may engage in without being subject to process in DC. This would result in unfairness to domestic corporations and a loss of income to DC.
5. In 1964, the WBA endorsed H.R. 6165, later enacted into law, which eliminates Section 165 of the revised statutes allowing the head of any executive department in the government to specify only men in selecting persons to serve under the Civil Serve pr ogram.
6. In 1965, the WBA presented a bronze bust of Belva A. Lockwood to the United States Courthouse. On March 3, 1879, Ms. Lockwood was the first women admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.
7. In 1965, WBA members testified in support of two bills, which were later enacted into law. The first, a bill to bring DC's divorce laws more closely in line with Maryland and Virginia cutting down residency and voluntary separation requirements, and th e second, a bill which affirmed that there should be no discrimination as to sex in Federal Agencies' hiring practices.
8. In 1966, the WBA sponsored a USO supper for the servicemen returning from Vietnam.
9. In 1966, the WBA organized a conference of women's organizations regarding the status of women in DC with twenty organizations participating. As a result, it was determined that there was an urgent need for the creation of a Commission on the Status of Women.
10. In 1967, two WBA members were appointed to the DC Commission of the Status of Women. This Commission had been created largely due to the efforts of the WBA's Committee on Equal Status of Women.


From 1967-1977
1.In 1967, the WBA endorsed many bills, including H.R. 1274 removing the restrictions on the careers of female officers in the Military Service.
2. In 1968, the WBA joined forces with the DC Women's Commission for Crime Prevention by helping to draft legislation and educate the public on the law.
3. In 1968, the WBA refused to endorse a bill before Congress establishing a DC Superior Court of Criminal Jurisdiction to prosecute local crime. At the time, the District was the only jurisdiction in which common-law crime was tried in a Federal Court. Fearing confusion and no change in the docket, the WBA formally opposed the reorganization bill.
4. In 1969, the WBA endorsed Congresswoman Martha W. Griffiths for appointment to the US Supreme Court (it would be 12 years before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Court).
5. In 1969, the WBA became the first organization to hold a reception in the reconstructed Dolly Madison House which was converted into Federal Judicial Center.
6. In 1970, the WBA studied proposed and pending legislation on bail reform, drug addiction, no-fault insurance and sex discrimination; Also, in 1970, WBA member and first Women Lawyer of the Year recipient, Marguerite Rawalt testified on the first day of the hearings for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. After her testimony, she received a standing ovation, and her written statement was hailed by the Senators sitting on the Subcommittee as a most complete and effective legal brief.
7. In 1971, The Women's Legal Defense Fund was founded, and several WBA were the co-founders. The Women's Legal Defense Fund was devoted to securing equal rights for women through litigation, education, information and counseling.
8. In 1974, the WBA began listings job openings in its publication to its members, then known as "News & Views".
9. In 1975, the WBA participated in the proclaimed "International Women's Year", and held seminars focused on women's issues and needs.
10. In 1976, the WBA established the "National Women's Bank Committee" seeking to establish the first ever National Women's Bank.


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