When I joined the State Bar of Wisconsin in 1977, I carefully studied the roster of State Bar leaders – officers and Board of Governors’ representatives reflecting the legal giants of that time. The names were impressive. But, I wondered, where are the women?
Joyce Hastings is the recently retired communications director for the State Bar of Wisconsin. Reach her by email.
I tucked that roster away, recently uncovering it while cleaning old files in my office. I enjoy these unexpected discoveries, a personal time capsule that opens the door to telling a story. And, because this is my last issue as your editor, there’s no better time to tell the story of the full integration of women in the legal profession.
State Bar membership statistics tell a dramatic story when it comes to the role of women in the profession. As late as 1970, women made up only 3 percent of the State Bar; now 36 percent of Wisconsin lawyers are women. As Jay Ranney’s sidebar, “A Tale of the Numbers,” shows, women now comprise a majority of the State Bar’s youngest cohort (lawyers under age 30), and if this trend continues, women eventually will be a majority of the State Bar.
Betty R. Brown was the first woman on the Board of Governors in 1978. Today, women hold all six State Bar officer positions, and they represent the majority on the board. Joe Forward’s article, “The Rise of Women as State Bar Leaders,” tells the story of the men and women who supported this significant change in leadership demographics.
As I look over the names of those first women on the board – Margadette Demet, Janice Baldwin, Linda Balisle, Kelly Centofanti, Burnie Bridge, Mary Burke, Diane Diel, Jean DiMotto, Pam Barker, Mary Lynne Donohue, and Michelle Behnke, to name a few – it strikes me that the 1980s and 1990s were not that long ago. And for the last 40-plus years, I had a front-row seat as these women paved the way for so many others.
Professor Margaret Raymond, former dean of the U.W. Law School, writes in her Final Thought column what it means to be a “first.” That legacy, she says, imposes a powerful obligation to help make other firsts possible. “When I lose count, I’ll know I’ve done my job.”
As my tenure as the first woman editor of this publication comes to an end, I thank the Hon. Hannah Dugan for her thoughtful contribution to this issue. “Lady Justice: 85 Years of Women in the Wisconsin Judiciary” reveals the structural hurdles women have had to clear to achieve their gradual inclusion on the bench.
For the last 40-plus
years, I had a front-row
seat as these women
paved the way for so
I also thank the industry leaders who have a pulse on what’s happening for women in law firm and corporate leadership for their candid interviews. While women achieved parity in law school classes more than three decades ago, women continue to be underrepresented in positions of power and influence. What’s at the heart of this slow pace of change? Read more in “Glacial Change: Women in Law Firm & Corporate Leadership.”
But, most important as we wrap up this issue, I need to thank my smart, passionate coworkers who will carry on as the storytellers for this profession. Joe Forward will take over as editor and communications director. Karlé Lester continues as our talented managing editor, along with our support cast Margie DeWind (copy editor), Ben Oehmen (graphic designer), Peter Kraemer (digital communications coordinator), Shannon Green (communications writer), and Mike Wiltse (public relations specialist). The Communications Committee, which serves as this magazine’s editorial advisory board, is our behind-the-scenes partner in providing candid evaluations of the content selected for publication.
To all of you, my co-workers, and those who I have met along the way at countless receptions, meetings, and other events, I am eternally grateful for your friendship and support. I am in awe of you and this great profession.
» Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 7 (September 2021).