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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 740

Records of the National Association of Women Lawyers, 1913-1999


By-laws, minutes, annual reports, financial records, publications, clippings, photographs, and membership records of the National Association of Women Lawyers, a voluntary legal organization promoting the interests of women lawyers and advocating for women's rights.


  • Creation: 1913-1999

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the National Association of Women Lawyers is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other records in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


8.34 linear feet ((20 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ photograph folder, and electronic records.)

The records of the National Association of Women Lawyers document a long history of challenges and accomplishments for women in the legal profession. The records provide critical insights into women's leadership, the Association's organizational structure and participation in social reform, and the struggle to achieve women's equality under the law. Included are organizational and administrative records; correspondence; project and program files; publications; and membership records. Clippings have been organized with related series. The records were received in labeled folders, which the archivist modified to avoid duplication and consolidate related material. The archivist also provided the arrangement and interfiled loose material. Correspondence of the Association's officers can be found in all series, reflecting the multiple roles they played within the organization.

Series I, HISTORY AND ORGANIZATION, 1928-1995 (#1.1-5.13, PD.1f+, E.1), includes incorporation records, constitution, and by-laws; correspondence; and financial records that document the Association's formative years, including its organizational structure and financial status. The bulk of this series consists of correspondence and inter-office memoranda; financial records; reports; resolutions; photographs, and speeches associated with annual, mid-year, and regional meetings. Also included are minutes of the executive board that detail the decision-making process of the Association, and correspondence of the past presidents council that highlight their role as advisors. A small number of brochures, correspondence, reports, and an application document the Association's role as a member, delegate, and observer for the United Nations and its related programs. Also included are reports and correspondence of ad hoc, standing, and special committees organized to support specific administrative functions, governance, and redress within the legal profession, and social reform. These include committees on constitution and by-laws; finance; public relations; judicial administration; legislation; criminal law and criminology; juvenile law and procedures; and legal aid. The records of the service award committee document the Association's efforts to secure appointments for women in the judiciary through annual recognition awards and include letters of nomination to elected officials (see Series III for additional records of the service award committee and Series IV for records of the membership committee). Some committee records are sparse and most have gaps. In addition, the web site of the National Association of Women Lawyers is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection Service (WAX). A searchable archived version of the web site starting in 2010, is now available through this finding aid (#E.1). Related correspondence can be found in Series II, III, and IV. The series is arranged alphabetically with meetings being arranged chronologically therein.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1946-1999 (#6.1-10.6), contains correspondence files for Association officers. This correspondence provides insight into individual leadership styles and mainly describes office procedures, day-to-day operations, and planning goals for annual, mid-year, and regional meetings. Included are awards, curricula vitae, and other biographical information; correspondence and inter-office memoranda; reports; revised by-laws; and draft programs and resolutions. Also included are clippings sent by affiliates and members describing various events, efforts to reform state laws, discriminatory practices, and updates on women in the legal profession, including their accomplishments, illnesses, and death. Correspondents include individuals and law firms seeking information about the Association, judges responding to questions involving discrimination in the workplace, and city officials and organizations involved in the planning of public events, including Bill of Rights Day, Constitution Week, and World Peace Under the Law. See Series III (Projects and Programs) for additional material regarding these events. Included is a letter from Hilary Rodham Clinton, who worked with the Association while serving as a member of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession. Internal correspondence and memoranda from state and regional officers, the council of delegates, and past presidents' council describing various meetings are also included. Smaller files of officer correspondence have been consolidated in folders entitled "correspondence of officers" (#7.1-7.3). The series is arranged alphabetically by officer. See Series I, III, and IV for additional correspondence.

Series III, PROJECTS AND PROGRAMS, 1913-1999, n.d. (#10.7-17.10, FD.1), includes articles and clippings publicizing the Association's history; the contributions of its officers; and activities associated with annual, mid-year, and regional meetings. Installation of new officers and keynote addresses and panel discussions on topics that include the viability of the Association as a woman's organization, and law and the sexual revolution, are also documented here. The series also includes correspondence related to campaigns for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), including letters of support from John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Correspondence, memoranda and committee records in this series are associated with various projects that were generally short-term and appear to have been funded through fundraising events organized by officers, members, and co-sponsors. These projects include Bill of Rights Day, the Association's participation on the Board of the Women's Advisory Council to the New York World's Fair (1964-1965), and the Women Lawyers Centennial (celebrated in 1969). Materials documenting efforts to obtain a commemorative stamp honoring Arabella Mansfield, the first woman to receive a law license in the U.S. (1869), include letters of support from Senators Russell B. Long, Jack Miller, and Congresswoman Martha W. Griffiths. Programs, uncataloged photographs, and substantial correspondence related to annual award programs for women in public service include nominations for judgeships sent to President Eisenhower, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Foster Dulles, and other elected officials. The bulk of the series consists of correspondence and uncataloged photographs associated with the outstanding law student awards. Some educational material representing the young lawyers division established in the mid-1980s is also included. Amicus curiae briefs related to discrimination in employment, correspondence, memoranda, photographs, programs, and conference ephemera document collaboration between the Association and other organizations, including the American Bar Association, the International Bar Association, the National Women's Law Association, and others. Topics of interest include the Association's support of a controversial pro-life resolution authored by the American Bar Association. There is also substantial material used in the Association's quarterly publication Women Lawyers' Journal, including correspondence, speeches, articles, obituaries, interviews, manuscripts and uncataloged photographs of Association's officers, including Marguerite Rawalt, Virginia Mueller, and others; Justices Florence E. Allen, Beatrice S. Burstein, and Juanita Kidd Stout; and pioneering women lawyers, including Sarah Kilgore and Lucy Somerville Howorth. Related correspondence can be found in Series I, II, and IV. Published journals were transferred to the Schlesinger Library periodicals collection. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*]. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, MEMBERSHIP, 1942-1997 (#17.11-20.8), documents the various strategies used by officers of the Association to expand membership through active participation in elections, membership drives, and networking opportunities. The records include correspondence related to recruitment drives and subscriptions; membership applications and brochures; national membership lists; financial records and statistical reports; procedural handbooks; directories; and biographical data on members, subsequently published in the Encyclopedia of Women Lawyers and Who's Who of Women Lawyers. Items of special interest include special (honorary) memberships and awards for members over the age of 70 that includes pioneering lawyer, activist and feminist Lucy Somerville Howorth, Justice Beatrice S. Burstein, and Justice Genevieve Blatt. Also of interest are surveys and questionnaires used to identify topics for discussion at annual and mid-year meetings, including advancement within the American Bar Association, alternative dispute resolutions, gender bias in the courts, and the future of legal aid. The surveys also solicited recommendations for the Association's governing structure, election procedures, and quarterly journal. Related correspondence can be found in Series I, II, and III. The President's Newsletters and published journals were transferred to the Schlesinger Library periodicals collection. The series is arranged alphabetically.


The National Association of Women Lawyers is a voluntary legal organization that promotes the interests of women lawyers and advocates for women's rights. Initially based in New York City, the Association was founded in 1899 in response to widespread exclusion of women from bar associations and the practice of law. Originally known as the Women Lawyers' Club, the small group of founding members met informally and left no surviving records of the organization's formative years. In 1911, under the leadership of Marion Weston Cottle, the Club began publishing the Women Lawyers' Journal to attract new members, provide a vehicle for sharing professional concerns, and facilitate social contacts. By 1914 the Club had changed its name to the Women Lawyers Association to reflect the addition of 130 members from fifteen states, including Canada and France. In the years leading up to World War I, the Association joined the General Federation of Women's Clubs and participated in social reform, which included legal support to the women's suffrage movement, authoring child labor laws, and campaigning for state ratification of the 19th amendment.

In 1923 the Association's membership, which had grown to include 300 individuals in thirty-two states, was incorporated under its present name. Its organizational structure included a national executive board, state vice presidents, local councils, and various committees. Dues paying membership was extended to individual women, affiliated women's law groups, and women law students. That same year, the Association held its first national convention, which was attended by Chief Justice William Howard Taft. One of the primary objectives voiced by attendees was the need to develop strategies to end discriminatory practices within the legal profession. Although thousands of U.S. women held law licenses, the vast majority were either excluded from practice or forced to find work as teachers, stenographers, and librarians in law firms. In 1923, Association members also joined with other women's groups to press for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment introduced by Alice Paul. Extensive campaigns conducted over several decades led Congress finally to pass a revised version of the ERA in 1972. The Amendment fell three states short of ratification in 1982.

With the onset of World War II, Association members turned their attention to enlisted men and women, providing legal counseling for such issues as citizenship, allotment pay, and the preparation of wills. Approximately 150 members of the Association reportedly served as officers and pilots, organized relief committees and loan drives, or helped organize Red Cross services. In the post-war era, the Association renewed its efforts to overcome discrimination in the profession. In 1943 they became a legal affiliate of the American Bar Association, largely through the efforts of Marguerite Rawalt, then serving as the Association's president. As an affiliate, the Association participated in policy-making decisions and played an active role in forming the Federal Commission on the Legal Status of Women in the United States. The Association also used national surveys to target specific issues within the profession. For instance, a 1947 national survey only identified 53 women judges in federal, state, and local courts across the nation, including Association member Florence E. Allen of Ohio, the first woman elected to a state supreme court in 1922 and subsequently appointed to a federal judgeship by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Association's successful campaigns to nominate women lawyers in public service for judgeships expanded the field and resulted in the inclusion of several of its members and officers: Mattie Belle Edwards (Florida), Beatrice S. Burstein (New York), Genevieve Blatt (Pennsylvania), and Ana Veter Levy (New Orleans).

From the 1950s through the 1990s the Association became an accredited non-governmental UN observer and played a more active role in international affairs, including adoption of the United Nations Genocide Convention, assisting in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and forming an International Law Committee that participated in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The Association also sent representatives to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. In addition to its continuing role as consultant and observer for the United Nations, the Association is an active member of the International Bar Association, the Federacion International De Abogadas, the National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, and the National Conference on Women and the Law, among other affiliate organizations. The Association's national and international membership reflects the broader legal profession and currently includes law firms, not-for-profit organizations, corporations, in-house counsel, government attorneys, and law schools.

Although its 2012 Survey on Retention of Promotion of Women in Law Firms concludes that biases and pay disparities still exist within the legal profession, the Association has made critical strides in advocating for women's rights, fostering diversity, and providing unflagging support of women in law. Notable accomplishments include authoring legislation that enabled women to serve as jurors, receive equal pay, obtain property rights, and gain benefits and protection under the Uniform Divorce Bill (no-fault divorce). The Association also assisted in authoring numerous amicus curiae briefs for cases involving discriminatory practices against women and continues to organize annual recognition programs for women in public service, provide career development for outstanding law students, and build liaisons with minority bar associations. For additional information see the Association's web site


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. History and organization, 1928-1995 (#1.1-5.13, PD.1f+, E.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1946-1999 (#6.1-10.6)
  3. Series III. Projects and programs, 1913-1999, n.d. (#10.7-17.10, FD.1)
  4. Series IV. Membership, 1942-1997 (#17.11-20.8)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 98-M186, 99-M3, 99-M13, 99-M114, 2000-M129

The records of the National Association of Women Lawyers were given to Schlesinger Library by the National Association of Women Lawyers between 1998 and 2000.


Donors: National Association of Women Lawyers

Accession numbers: 98-M186, 99-M3, 99-M13, 99-M114, 2000-M129

Processed by: Emilyn L. Brown

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials division (pending review by curator):

  1. Women Lawyers' Journal
  2. The Bar Examiner
  3. The 75 Year History of National Association of Women Lawyers, 1899-1974
  4. Cumberland County History, 1997

Processing Information

Processed: July 2013

By: Emilyn Brown, with assistance from Emily Underwood.

National Association of Women Lawyers. Records of the National Association of Women Lawyers, 1913-1999: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Class of 1959 and the Falik Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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