WLAM holds centennial celebration

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

On April 27, hundreds of women and their supporters came together to celebrate 100 years of advocating for women to gain their rightful place in the legal profession.The event was held at Detroit’s Colony Club, which in the past had served as a meeting place for the burgeoning Woman Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM).

Calling themselves “five ardent Portias,” a group of women started a primarily social network to “advance the interest of women members of the legal profession and to promote a fraternal spirit among lawyers” in March of 1919. The organization soon undertook programming to that end, and in 1983 started a foundation that oversees a scholarship program to help women attend law school. To date, the WLAM Foundation has given out over a half million dollars.

The current structure, with a central office supporting strong regional chapters, dates from 1975.

It is hard to imagine the difficulties the five founders of WLAM must have faced. In 1919, females did not even have the right to vote, and when the pioneering law students who managed to pass the bar exam sought employment they were overlooked for jobs, or subject to having their husbands asked for permission to employ them.

In fact, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the subject of the book written by the evening’s keynote speaker, reportedly told the dean of Harvard Law School – when he asked how she could justify taking the place of a man in her class – that she just wanted to be a better wife to her husband.

Co-author Irin Carmon (with Shana Krizhnik) talked about “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” emphasizing how strong physically and mentally the Supreme Court Justice remains.
Carmon’s slide show detailed how the nickname, taken from the rapper Notorious BIG, came to be justified over her 25 years on the highest court and showed a variety of the iconic items inspired by the justice.
Carmon said that after the still-intimidating Justice Ginsburg had read the galleys of her book, she pulled the young author aside after a chance meeting at an event. Carmon was relieved when the justice whispered, “They’re going too far. Tell people not to get tattoos of my face.”

Carmon’s talk followed the presentation of the Jean L. King Award to former State Bar President, Julie Fershtman; the Mary S. Coleman award to the Hon. Denise Langford Morris; and the new Geraldine Bledsoe Ford Award to the Hon. Theresa Doss, the first African-American woman judge, a past president of WLAM.

There were a good number of judges present, along with three Michigan Supreme Court justices:  Brian Zahra, Kurtis Wilder and Elizabeth (Beth) Clement. Former Justice Marilyn Kelly, also a past WLAM president, was in attendance, drawing a large cheer from the crowd. Clement, the newest justice, swore in the large group of incoming WLAM officers and directors-at-large.

WLAM intends to host centennial events through the year.

 

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