Find Satisfaction in the Law: Columns: Belva Lockwood

Find Satisfaction In the Law: Guest Column


A Lawyer...and a Person
Belva Lockwood

By Terri Lynn Eberle

"The young women of today, free to study, to speak, to write, to choose their occupation, should remember that every inch of this freedom was bought for them at a great price. It is for them to show their gratitude by helping onward the reforms of their own times by spreading the light of freedom and truth still wider. The debt that each generation owes to the past it must pay to the future." -Abigail Scott Duniway, suffrage organizer in the Pacific Northwest
I am so excited to write this column that I did not know who or what to write about first. So many things have happened in my life since I started law school (I told a friend recently that I sometimes feel like I have lived ten years in the last four years), and I want to write it all down. However, lately I am trying to enjoy life and the process of things rather than trying to achieve everything at once. Ron Fox assured me that it was perfectly fine that I not write a book all at once, so I will try to be patient...

A few weeks ago, when I was just about to submit my first article, I went to the library with my fiance. As I mentioned in my last column, he is getting his master's degree. I know all too well his grad school routine, having lived it myself in law school - studying all day during the week, stopping by the library on Saturday afternoon for "just one journal article" before trying to have a relaxing evening, making polite conversation at brunch on Sunday while dying inside to get back to the books. I think I scared him away from going to law school, but not from undertaking a rigorous academic program.

At any rate, as he was looking in the library for his "just one journal article," I saw a display on Women's History Month that was created by the National Women's History Project. This display contained some names that were familiar to me and some that were not so familiar. One name that was familiar to me was Belva Lockwood, who I had heard of before for reasons I will soon mention.

I looked up the web site of the National Women's History Project to get some more information on Belva Lockwood. I found the quote above. I e-mailed the site. They rather quickly sent me information and a nice note, saying they would like to see my article when it was done.

Belva Ann Bennett McNall Lockwood lived from 1830-1917. She grew up in New York State. She was married and widowed twice and had two daughters (one died as a baby). As a schoolteacher, she made half as much as the male schoolteachers, and spoke out against this unequal treatment. Ms. Lockwood, who spoke a number of languages and had an intense interest in history, law, and world affairs, headed to Washington DC in 1866 with her daughter - "...for no other purpose than to see what was being done at this great political centre -- this seething pot-- to learn something of the practical workings of the machinery of government, and to see what the great men and women of the country felt and thought." (Lippincotts', February 1888).

Ms. Lockwood operated a school in DC and became a renowned lecturer on women's rights. She then decided that to become a lawyer was the way to go. She was turned down from a number of law schools that felt that she would be a distraction to the male students. She went to the National University Law Center, but was unable to receive her diploma until she appealed to the school's president, US President Ulysses S. Grant. She opened a law practice and included among her clients women, Native Americans, and the poor.

When one of Ms. Lockwood's cases reached the Supreme Court, she was not legally able to argue before the High Court. She drafted a bill that would allow women the same right to practice law as men. She lobbied Congress for three years until the bill was passed, and in 1879, she became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court.

Ms. Lockwood not only "practiced" law but was an activist and lobbyist for women's suffrage and other rights for many years. She drafted an equal pay bill for women government workers that became law in 1872, and was one of the drafters of the Married Woman's Property Act (1896). She ran for President of the United Stated in 1884 and 1888 on the Equal Rights Party ticket. She believed very strongly in world peace, and towards the end of her life worked on developing the rules for international arbitration.

The National University Law Center became the George Washington University National Law Center, which it was called when I went there. It is now the George Washington University Law School. Every year, the GW Law Association for Women (LAW) holds a week during March (Women's History Month) to honor Belva Lockwood, GW Law's first woman graduate. A journal is published, and a series of brown bag lunches and evening panels on women's issues is held.

I was active in LAW as a GW Law Student. I served as its Community Action Co-Chair, along with a friend of mine. Our function was to hook women law students up with public interest jobs and internships. I became a mentor to a lot of students, a role which I later took on in other capacities (I will talk about this more in later articles).

As a 2L, I had an article published in the Belva Lockwood week journal on the ill treatment of women in war. After my graduation, I went back to my school (in March 1996) and sat on a panel for Belva Lockwood Week on "Women in the Law." I represented a public interest organization, and sat with a judge, a government attorney, and an attorney from a small firm. The judge had been one of only a handful of women in her law school class, could not at the time get a job with a firm because she was a woman, and went on to start her own practice and run it successfully while raising children. We panelists talked about our careers and gave the students advice. Panelists and students marveled at how much had changed since the judge went to law school, yet we all recognized that there still is a lot to do to improve the situation of women lawyers.

I think it was great that these women took time out from their busy schedules to give something back to their alma mater. I did it myself not because I loved GW or felt any sort of debt (other than the financial one) to my school, but because I wanted to share something with the students.

Though it does take some effort to help law students and recent grads, I think it is fun to share with others who have similar interests, and flattering to have people look up to me. I do not know why some lawyers shirk this responsibility. I was amazed as I went about the process of looking for a job and a life that so few people were willing to make an effort to talk about what they did and whether they liked it (I will talk more about the ones who did help and inspire me in articles to come). I was even more amazed when some of the people who brushed me off were women who were working on "women's issues." I actually met women who were devoting their professional lives or spare volunteer time to improve the condition of poor and abused women but could not be bothered spending five minutes talking to a younger woman who needed so desperately to be inspired.

Like Belva Lockwood, I am from New York. Like Belva Lockwood, I also headed to DC thinking I would be welcomed quickly into the realm of politics and world affairs because of my talents and interests. I wanted to "make it" not for my own benefit but to make the world a better place for women and men. I became very disgusted with a lot of things I saw in DC, not the least of which were people who would not give me the time of day as I tried to figure out what the heck to do with myself after law school. (My fiance, who is very politically active and astute, had a hard time in DC too. He is happy to be back in New York, and I am too. I will tell the DC story at another time.)

I am thinking about the quote I started this article with, and about Belva Lockwood's life. I am wondering if I will ever accomplish as much in my life as she did, and whether it matters if I do. I think that as women lawyers, we cannot have it all, at least not all at once. We cannot simultaneously make partner and work 80 hours a week and run for President and volunteer for battered women and raise a family. Yet we do not have to do everything at once, nor do we always have to work on "women's issues" to make a difference for women. There is something both men and women can do as responsible members of the legal profession and of society.

When young law students or lawyers call you about an associate position at your firm or an internship with your government agency or public interest organization, take the time to talk to them. If they call at a bad time, call them back when you can talk. Even if you don't have a positions for them. I want to emphasize this especially for lawyers in the government and non-profit sectors, since students seeking jobs in those sectors usually receive so little support from their law schools and from their peers.

Tell these callers how you got your job, what you do, and what your agency does. Ask them what their interests are. Volunteer any resources or personal contacts that might be useful to them. Take a few minutes to make them feel like what they want to be matters.

Cynicism is so easily spread. It doesn't take much time to inspire.





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