The Florida Bar provided a “Diversity Leadership” grant to the Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers for the purpose of presenting a lecture on the “History of Women Pioneers in the Local Legal Community.”
This event was held in order to honor International Women’s Day, a global event designated to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women. This educational effort was spearheaded by the HAWL Diversity Committee co-chairs, Cynthia Oster of the Office of the County Attorney and Jennifer Gabbard of the Office of the State Attorney.
More than 100 lawyers attended the event, including women who have shaped the direction of the legal community in Hills-borough County: Carolyn House Stewart, the first female African American assistant state attorney; Julianne Holt, the first female public defender; and Kay McGucken, the first president of HAWL.
The keynote speaker was Emiliano “E.J.” Salcines, who provided a historical perspective of Tampa and its embrace of all minority legal practitioners. As the elected state attorney, Judge Salcines hired 29 women and inspired 11 of them to join the judiciary.
Marsha Rydberg, the first female president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, and Clara Rokusek, president of Tampa Bay Hispanic Bar Association, presented the “Trailblazer Award” to Marie Garcia Garrett for her contributions to the legal community. Garrett’s parents emigrated from Spain and Cuba and settled in Ybor City. She entered law school at the University of Florida in 1946 with two other female students in a class of 300 and returned to pursue her legal career as the second Hispanic female attorney to practice in Tampa.
Judge Claudia Rickert Isom moderated a discussion panel, which included Florida Bar President-elect Gwynne Young; U. S. District Court Judge Susan Bucklew, the first woman judge in Hillsborough County; Judge Vivian Corvo, the first Hispanic woman judge in Hillsborough County; and Judge Christine Vogel.
The panelists said their gender did not result in any disparate treatment by other practitioners in the legal community. Young said she had been recruited by Carlton Fields to be its first female trial attorney based upon her reputation in the courtroom as an assistant state attorney. Judge Vogel provided an additional narrative of how she had received her first offer of employment as an assistant state attorney while she was six months pregnant. Judge Bucklew began her career as a teacher at Plant High School and taught young women who would eventually follow her into legal careers. Some of Judge Bucklew’s former students include Judge Catherine McEwen, Judge Emily Peacock, and Judge Katherine Essrig.
At the close of the presentation, Young encouraged attendees to pursue their many aspirations by stating, “You have more control over your career than you think you do. Put yourself out there and put yourself forward, and with hard work, you will move forward.”