Since the beginning of time, women have traditionally been known as the caregiver, the child-bearer, and many more stereotypes representing the personification of what a woman “should” be. Fulfilling the role of house-wife, child-bearer, and other traditionally gendered jobs is good, challenging, and needed. The limits placed on what a woman should be (based on society’s perceptions of what she was capable of doing) is where the issue lies.
However, the American Civil War drastically changed the “role” of a woman and what the average “house-wife” was able to do. Women have since taken the roles of lead political figures, CEO’s of fortune companies and the like, paving a future that envisions women capable of more.
Take Arabella Mansfield for example. In 1869, four years after the Civil War ended, she was admitted to the Iowa Bar, making her the first female lawyer in the United States. During this time, an Iowa state law only allowed white males, 21 or older, to take the exam. At the age of 23, Arabella not only challenged the law and won, but also passed the exam with high scores. In the same year, Iowa became the first state to change its licensing law to allow women and minorities to be accepted into its bar. Other states followed and, just three years later in 1872, the first minority woman, Charlotte E. Ray, was the first Black American female lawyer in the United States admitted to the bar in the District of Colombia.
According to Britannica, Mansfield went on to become a university professor at Iowa Wesleyan, while also serving as an activist in the organization of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Society. The Rudnicki Firm celebrates and keeps the memory of women like Arabella Mansfield and Charlotte E. Ray alive for the simple lesson of not taking “no” for an answer.
Without the courage of Arabella and other monumental figures like Women’s Suffrage Leader Carrie Chapman Catt and Jeannette Pickering Rankin (the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives), our 100% woman-owned and managed law firm would cease to exist.
Attorney Margaret Meier, a partner here at the Rudnicki Firm and Iowa native says this about Mansfield’s precedent. “I’ve always been proud to be from Iowa and fellow Iowan Arabella Mansfield pioneering her way into the law is just one of the reasons why. I admire her that she was unwilling to accept the status quo.”
Ms. Meier also serves as co-chair of the National Association of Women Lawyers Membership Committee, the same organization that honors the legacy of Mansfield through the Arabella Mansfield Award. This award recognizes women who illustrate the same dedication and grit that Arabella did in her lifetime.
“[Arabella] found a way,” says Meier, “through hard work, dedication, and perseverance to get what she wanted and also single-handedly paved the road for thousands of women lawyers who followed her, including me and the dynamic group of woman at The Rudnicki Firm who are pioneering our way as a women-owned, operated, and led firm.”
Today, there are more than 400,000 women attorneys who make up just over 1 in 3 (38 percent) of lawyers*. Arabella Mansfield is undoubtedly inspiring, not only for what she achieved but also for something that is personified by the female attorneys that work at The Rudnicki Firm today – grit.
*Information from the United States Census Bureau as of May 08, 2018 https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/05/women-lawyers.html