Spotlight Awards Emphasize Work of Women Lawyers

Five women attorneys were honored during a recent conference sponsored by the OBA Women in Law Committee, joining a group of nearly 100 honorees who have been recognized as Spotlight Award winners since 1996. Over the course of those 18 years, the Spotlight Awards have annually celebrated pioneering women lawyers who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession and paved the way for women lawyers of the future.

Why does this matter? In remarks made at this event, OBA President Renée DeMoss, said women in the legal profession are not yet where they need to be.

“Women lawyers today owe a big debt of gratitude to those who came before us,” President DeMoss said. “The earliest were in law school with only one or two other women, and they were sometimes scolded for taking up spaces in law school, and trying to take jobs away from the men who really ‘deserved’ them. It is all too easy for us to forget their journey, and to forget that things haven’t always been as they are today for women lawyers.”

Ms. DeMoss cites a recent ABA study relating to women in the legal world. Nationwide, men make up 66 percent of the legal profession and women 34 percent. In Oklahoma, men make up 68 percent of the profession and women 32 percent. In Fortune 500 companies, men have 79 percent of the general counsel positions and women 21 percent. Among our federal court judiciary, 76 percent of the judges are men, and 24 percent are women.

In our state courts, 73 percent of the judges are men, and 27 percent are women.  In 2013, a woman lawyer’s average weekly salary was only 78.9 percent of a man’s; women lawyers in the U.S. today are making 21 percent less than men lawyers.
“We are not at the end of our journey, we are only in the middle” said Ms. DeMoss. “Our current generation of women lawyers should honor those who came before us while continuing to push forward for those who will come after us. This is why the Spotlight Awards are important and why we continue them today.”

Spotlight winners past and present attend the recent awards reception in Tulsa. Photographed are: (Front row from left) Linda Thomas, Peggy Stockwell, Judge Patricia Parrish, Judge Kimberly West. Middle row: OBA President Renée DeMoss, Kimberly Hays, Judge Deborah Barnes, Judge Lisa Tipping Davis, Kay Floyd, Justice Noma Gurich. Top row: Deirdre O’Neil Dexter, Jan Grant-Johnson. Photo credit: Ralph Schaefer, Tulsa Business News.

Pioneers Inspire Women Lawyers Today

By OBA President Renée DeMoss

In Leading the Way: A Look at Oklahoma’s Pioneering Women Lawyers (Oklahoma Bar Association, 2003), retired 10th Circuit Justice Stephanie Seymour quotes Susan B. Anthony on the issue of remembering. In 1894, Susan B. Anthony was working tirelessly to help women obtain the right to vote.

She knew that once she was successful — once women did obtain the right to vote — that people would soon forget that there was ever a time when women didn’t have that right. This is what Ms. Anthony said in 1894:

We women shall someday be heeded. And when we shall be heeded, and have our amendment, everybody will soon think it was always so, just exactly as many young people believe that all the privileges, all the freedoms, all the enjoyments which women now possess always were theirs. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that they stand upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women in the past.

It is these “little handful of women” who still inspire us today, and we honor and remember them when we consider the Spotlight Awards. In particular, I want to briefly share what three of those Oklahoma women of the past had to say about their legal careers.

Freddie Andrews (born in 1895, admitted to the Oklahoma bar in 1934) – Ms. Andrews began her practice in Ada. She said that for many years, the only way she could get potential clients in the door was to use the name “Fred” Andrews, not “Freddie.” She said this did get them in the door, but once they were there, they often insisted on seeing a “real” lawyer – meaning a man.

Grace Elmore Gibson (born in 1886, admitted to the bar in 1929) – Ms. Gibson’s husband was a judge, and she said she started studying law so she could “be a good listener when her husband talked.” One time, after she asked her husband a question about one of his cases, he said, “I forgot for a moment that you don’t understand law.” Shortly after that, she began pursuing a legal career.

In her practice, she often tried jury cases, even though at that time women couldn’t serve on juries, and couldn’t in Oklahoma until 1952. So when she had a jury trial, she was addressing only men jurors. About this, she said that she found herself “being a woman first, and then a lawyer, not because she wanted it that way, but because her colleagues were so acutely conscious that a woman was in the courtroom lawyering.”

Florence Adelia Revelle (born in 1903, admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in 1933) – She opened her first law office in Ardmore “upstairs from Brenda’s Flowers on Main Street.” While she stated that she never felt discriminated against in her career, she still had to stop practicing law because her husband’s employer thought that a woman’s place was in the home.

She had great stories to tell about her career. In one, she talked about a time when she was in an office in Ardmore and saw a couple staring at her. She heard the man say, “I think that is that lady lawyer.” The woman replied to him — in what Florence described as a good and loud voice, “She may be a lawyer, but she ain’t no lady.”

Leading the Way: A Look at Oklahoma’s Pioneering Women Lawyers is available for purchase from the Oklahoma Bar Association. Contact the OBA Communications Dept. for more information.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, OBJ 85 2323 (Nov. 1, 2014)

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