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Pays tribute to trailblazing Illinois women

Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

As our nation celebrates Women’s History Month in March, we should remember the extraordinary, trailblazing efforts of women who overcame tremendous obstacles to enter and succeed in the workforce.

One of those women was Illinois resident Myra Bradwell, considered by many to be America’s first woman lawyer.

In 1869, Bradwell was denied admission to the bar on the grounds that she was a married woman. She challenged the ruling and went on, with the help of two other women lawyers, to draft and pass Illinois legislation prohibiting gender-based employment exclusion. It was the first anti-sex discrimination law in the country.

Since that time, women have come a long way. In the legal field, the number of women lawyers has grown from five in 1870 to some 330,000 today. One out of three lawyers is female, and female enrollment in U.S. law schools is almost 50 percent.

Simultaneously, women in all fields have made tremendous advances.

We all owe a debt of gratitude, not only to those first Illinois women lawyers who shaped the course of history, but also to women “pioneers” everywhere whose courageous actions helped paved the way for the opportunities we now enjoy.

Note to readers: Paula H. Holderman is president of the Illinois State Bar Association.

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