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Celebrating Florida’s first 150 women lawyers

Regular News

Celebrating Florida’s first 150 women lawyers

Wendy S. Loquasto
Special to the News

On Thursday, May 25, The Florida Bar and the Florida Association for

Women Lawyers will honor Florida’s First 150 Women Lawyers and First

Five African-American Women Lawyers at a gala dinner banquet at the

Sheraton Bal Harbour Beach Resort.

The dinner is a joint effort between the two bar associations and is part of

The Florida Bar’s 50th anniversary festivities. The celebration then moves

to the Florida Supreme Court, which will hold a ceremonial session to

honor these trail-blazing pioneers in the legal profession on Wednesday,

June 14, at 10 a.m. After 101 years of women practicing law in Florida,

with women now approaching 50 percent of law school admittees and 27

percent of The Florida Bar membership, this is a celebration that is long


Through the efforts of the First 150 Committee, composed of FAWL

members from Tallahassee and Dade County who have worked tirelessly

to plan, organize and obtain underwriting assistance for the two events,

everyone who attends either the May 25 dinner or the June 14 ceremony

will be part of a program that will not only recognize the personal sacrifice

and commitment of these trail-blazing women, but which will also inspire

today’s attorneys to continue their work to ensure that equality, diversity

and professionalism are the hallmarks of The Florida Bar.

Plus, everyone who attends will receive a commemorative book that LEXIS

Publishing is printing. The book, which includes 115 pages of biographies

and photographs, as well as articles about the history of women in the law

and Florida’s law schools, is not just a glorified program, but rather is a

book of women’s history already sought by libraries around the state.

Here is a glimpse of the women we will be honoring on May 25 and June

14: First, of course, is Louise Rebecca Pinnell, Florida’s first woman

lawyer who had to wait five months in 1898 while the Florida Supreme

Court decided whether a woman could be admitted to practice law in the

state. Her 60-year legal career included 19 years as an associate of Major

Alexander St. Clair-Abrams and 25 years with Florida East Coast Railway.

Mary Stewart Howarth-Hewitt, who graduated from Stetson

University College of Law in 1908, was the first woman to

graduate from a Florida law school. She was licensed not

only in Florida, but also in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, as

well as in the federal courts. She practiced law in her

family’s law firm in DeLand; raised three daughters, two of

whom became surgeons and the third a lawyer; assisted her

husband in his construction business and her family with its

orange groves; managed real estate holdings; opened a day

care center; and formed a bank, in addition to serving on

numerous civic boards and committees.

It would be difficult for any person, man or woman, to

duplicate the level of energy Ms. Howarth-Hewitt

demonstrated, but if anyone could, it was her daughter

Catherine Stewart Howarth Carter (1934). She followed in her

mother’s footsteps by graduating from Stetson and working

in the family law firm. In addition to her law practice, she

raised a family of four children; was a founding trustee of the

Lawyers’ Title Guaranty Fund, now known as the Attorneys’

Title Insurance Fund, which, 50 years later, is the largest

title insurance underwriter in Florida; maintained real estate

holdings; was campaign manager for Gov. Millard F.

Caldwell, Jr.; and had a marriage counseling practice during

the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Old-time politicians will still remember Nell L. Cowan

Bostwick (1909), who operated the Nell L. Cowan Bostwick

Legislative Bureau, publishing briefs on legislation and

maintaining a bill information booth at the Florida Capitol.

When the legislature was not in session, she maintained a

legal practice in Jacksonville.

Helen Hunt West (1917) was a lawyer, journalist, and

political activist in the National Woman’s Party. She was the

first woman to register to vote in Duval County after the

adoption of the 19th Amendment. Her papers now reside in

the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College in

Massachusetts, the foremost library on women’s history in


Other women who were activists for women’s rights include

Ethel Ernest Murrell (1932), who in 1933 started a 10-year

campaign in the state legislature to pass the Florida Married

Women’s Act, endowing married women with the same

property rights as men. Mary Lou Baker (1938), the first

woman elected in Pinellas County to serve in the House of

Representatives, assisted Ms. Murrell by mobilizing a

crusade to revise Florida laws affecting the property rights of

married women. Ms. Baker also supported legislation to

allow women to serve on juries. In 1946 Ms. Murrell

attempted, without success, to have the Equal Rights

Amendment made part of the Florida Constitution, as did

Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry (1965), the first African-American

woman in the House of Representatives, who introduced the

Equal Rights Amendment in the House in 1970. Charlotte

Inez Farrington Vogler (1927), was a charter member of the

National Organization for Women. At the age of 69, she was

one of 100,000 who marched in Washington in support of the

Equal Rights Amendment, and she was known as the

Grandmother of N.O.W. in Palm Beach County.

These early women lawyers also included many who joined

the military during the two world wars. Madeline Jacobson

Cox (1927) served as a yeoman first class in the United

States Navy during World War I and was prominent in Army

and Navy relief work. Judge Anne E’del Deacon (1942) was a

counter-intelligence officer in the Navy during World War II,

and Caroline Adams (1942) enlisted in the United States

Navy and served at a WAVES separation center, helping

servicemen reorient into civilian life. Mary Cinthya Vann

Racey (1931) was one of the first women to be

commissioned in the WACS during WWII and she was

discharged as a captain. Ethel Jane Steele Brannon (1931)

held a civilian position in the United States Army, which

allowed her to travel overseas and participate in the

Nuremberg War Trials in 1946, and to be part of the post-war

military government in Trieste, Italy. Other women, including

Louise Rebecca Pinnell (1898), Judge Mada Fraser Babcock

McLendon (1932), and Daisy Richard Bisz (1937), worked

on draft boards and/or provided pro bono legal services to

servicemen and their families.

Many of the first 150 women lawyers included public service

in their legal careers. Elsie Young Douglass (1911) worked

for many years with the Internal Revenue Service in

Washington, D.C.; Anna Bray Lindsley (1926) was an

attorney with the Farm Credit Administration and

International Commerce Committee; Carlotta Van Cortlandt

Washburne Faircloth (1941) served in the United States

Department of Justice during WWII, and her most famous

case was that of the seven Nazi saboteurs who came

ashore on the East Coast in 1942 from German U-boats.

Effie Knowles (1926) also worked for the Department of

Justice, and she later began a 21-year legal battle on behalf

of the Seminole Indians for 32-million acres of land taken

from the Indians in the early 19th Century. Jane L. Phillips

Armstrong (1920) joined the U.S. Foreign Service and

worked in Havana, Cuba; Mombasa, British East Africa (now

Kenya); Auckland, New Zealand; and Manila, Phillippines.

Edith E. House (1930) was employed by U.S. Attorney for

the Southern District of Florida for 34 years and was acting

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District when it was created in

1963. Ruby Burrows McZier (1965) began her legal career as

a legal advisor on migrant family issues for Senator Edward

Kennedy, and later worked for the Office of Economic

Opportunity and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban


The Florida Attorney General’s Office employed five of the

women: Anna Bray Lindsley (1926), Madeline Jacobson Cox

(1927), Rebecca Bowles Marks Hawkins (1935), Rose

Elizabeth Deeb Kitchen (1937), and Mary Irene Schulman

(1943). Ms. Hawkins headed the Attorney General’s opinion

division for many years, and Ms. Kitchen worked in its

statutory revision division until it was transferred to the

legislature. Ms. Schulman, who was the first woman county

prosecutor in Florida, later became an assistant attorney

general and represented 25 state regulatory boards for

professions such as accountants, architects, chiropractors,

engineers, funeral directors, and veterinarians, as well as the

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Local governments benefited from women such as Mattie W.

Tompkins (1925), who was elected to Avon Park City

Council in 1939 and served until 1947. She was involved in

decisions to purchase land to build an airport, to establish

jobs under the federal Works Progress Administration, and

to establish the first telephone system in the city. C. Bette

Wimbish (1965) served as city councilwoman in St.

Petersburg from 1969 until 1973 and was vice-mayor from

1971 until 1973. Anna Brenner Mankes Meyers (1936) was

appointed by Governor Charley Johns to the Dade County

School Board in 1953 and served on it until 1971. During her

tenure, she worked for integration in the schools, and she

was instrumental in establishing the Miami-Dade Community

College, Baker Aviation School, and educational television in

Dade County. Clara B. Floyd Gehan chaired the Gainesville

Advisory Biracial Committee in 1963-64, which helped the

city peacefully integrate by desegregating public


Florida’s first six women judges are also included in the

book. Edith Meserve Atkinson, was elected in 1924 to the

Juvenile Court of Dade County, defeating two male lawyers

for the position. Mary Kennerly Buckles was Florida’s

second woman in the judiciary, having been appointed as

Putnam County Judge in 1931. In 1938, Mada Fraser

Babcock McLendon became Florida’s third judge when she

was elected Municipal Judge of Lake Wales. In 1959, Judge

Mattie Belle Davis was appointed to the Metropolitan Court

of Dade County. constitutional revision, she became a

county court judge, and she maintained that position until

her retirement in 1980 and continued to serve by

appointment as a senior judge through June 1996. Florida’s

fifth woman judge, Anne E’del Deacon was a successful

painter prior to being appointed as the first Municipal Judge

of Palm Beach in 1956, a position she held until 1966. Judge

Dixie L. Herlong Chastain is the sixth woman judge in the

book. She was appointed on May 27, 1965, to fill a newly

created third judgeship in the Juvenile and Domestic

Relations Court in Dade County, and by constitutional

revision, she became a circuit court judge in Dade County in

1976. She served on the bench until her retirement in 1978

at the age of 70 and then continued to serve by appointment

as a senior judge until the mid-1990s.

Madeline Jacobson Cox (1927) was probably the first woman

to teach law to others. Two of the other 150 women, Rose

Deeb Kitchen (1937) and Grace Williams Burwell (1935),

successfully passed the bar examination after studying law

at Ms. Cox’s law office in Tallahassee.

Several of these women made significant contributions to

Florida’s law schools. Stella Biddle Fisher (1924), who

worked in the Florida Legislature prior to becoming an

attorney, advocated changing the law to allow women to

enroll at the University of Florida College of Law, which was

formed in 1909 but did not admit women until 1925. Reba

Engler Daner (1936), who was a member of the University of

Miami School of Law’s first graduating class, has made

substantial financial contributions to UM for its moot

courtroom and library.

Jeannette O. Mullens Smith (1937) began her 27-year law

school career when she became an assistant professor at

the University of Miami School of Law in 1949. She was

promoted to associate professor in 1959 and was the first

woman to become a full professor at the law school in 1969.

Dr. Herberta Hathcock Leonardy (1926) taught

parliamentarian law in UM’s evening division and was also

UM’s law librarian. Both Bernice Gaines Dorn (1958) and

Gwen Sawyer Cherry (1965) taught briefly at FAMU School

of Law. Ila Adele Rountree Pridgen (1943) had a 26-year

career as librarian and assistant law professor at the

University of Florida College of Law and influenced

generations of law students in Florida.

Several of the women authored books. For instance,

Herberta Ann Hathcock Leonardy (1926), who was an

internationally known parliamentarian, wrote two successful

books and countless articles on parliamentary law.

Professor Jeannette Smith (1937) authored a book on

Florida Constitutional Law, and Ethel Ernest Murrell (1932)

wrote “Law for the Ladies,” a college text.

A review of Florida’s first 150 women lawyers would not be

complete without reference to those in private practice. Kate

Walton Engleken (1936) was primarily a litigator with a large

array of criminal and civil cases. She represented Zelma

Cason in her landmark lawsuit against Marjorie Kinnan

Rawlings, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The

Yearling,” which was the first lawsuit by a disgruntled literary

subject against an author of an autobiography for invasion of

privacy. Esther A. Poppell (1933), while working first as a

legal secretary, later became a member of the Miami law

firm of Pallot, Marks, Lundeen, Poppell & Horwich, which

was later known as Pallot & Poppell. Daisy Richards Bisz

(1937) maintained an active legal practice in Dade County

from her admission until her retirement in the 1990s. She

was active in the Dade County Bar Association, serving for

three terms as secretary, and she was the first woman to

become director of the Dade County Bar Association in


Both Betty Speizman Lippmann (1937) and Dorothea

“Dodie” Clarson Watson (1942) practiced in Orlando, and

Wilhemina Hawkins (1933) worked for Fowler & White and

then was a partner in Cason, Hawkins, McWhirter and

Henderson. L. H. Shoemaker (1918) and Marie Broetzman

(1932) were solo practitioners in Jacksonville, as were

Dorothea Montgomery (1941) and Laura Helen Hyde (1942).

Clara B. Floyd Gehan (1933) maintained a practice in

Gainesville, specializing in probate and real estate. Marie

Eleanor “Nell” Cooper (1922) practiced with Shutts & Bowen

in Miami. Anna Krivitsky (1927) practiced first in Tampa and

then in St. Petersburg, Dorothy Douglas (1932) practiced in

Dunedin, and Frances Lovelace (1934) practiced in St.

Petersburg. Daytona Beach legal circles included Mae

Donovan and Edith Horn, both admitted in 1930, as well as

Mary Jo Williams Garris (1933) and Marian Borros (1926).

Arthenia L. Joyner (1969), the first African-American woman

lawyer in Hillsborough County, is managing partner of the

law firm of Stewart, Joyner & Jordan-Holmes, P.A.

Many of these early women lawyers provided hours of

service to the poor. Marie Broetzman (1932) of Jacksonville

visited Death Row inmates and assisted Cuban refugees,

and Kate Walton (1936) was described as a “one-woman

legal aid society.” Dorothea “Dodie” Watson (1942)

performed so many hours for the Orange County Bar

Association’s Legal Aid Society that she was honored with

its Judge J.C. Jake Stone Legal Aid Society 1994

Distinguished Service Award, as well as The Florida Bar

President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the Ninth Judicial

Circuit in 1995.

Service to the community has been the hallmark of Lois

Ellen Thacker Graessle (1941), who was unable to find

employment as an attorney when she graduated from the

University of Florida College of Law. Lucille Cairns George

and Alma Oyama Carlton are two others who dedicated

themselves to community service.

Concern for the status of women in the legal profession

prompted many of these women to join women’s voluntary

bar associations. Rebecca Bowles Marks Hawkins (1935)

and Judge Mattie Belle Davis (1936) were both presidents of

the National Association of Women Lawyers, and many

others were officers in that organization, including Louise

Pinnell (1898), Clara Gore (1925), Laurine Leonore Goffin

(1927), Ethel Ernest Murrell (1932), Emma Roesing (1933),

Marjorie Varner (1933), Esther A. Poppell (1933), Anna

Brenner Mankes Meyers (1936), and Mary Lou Baker

(1938). Anna Brenner Mankes Meyers was the leader in

organizing FAWL and served as its first president in

1951-52. Many of the others were founding members of

FAWL, including Frances Lovelace (1934), Clara Gore

(1925), Emma Roesing, Rebecca Hawkins, Judge Mattie

Belle Davis, Rose Deeb Kitchen, and Judge Anne E’del

Deacon (1942). Rebecca Hawkins and Judges Davis and

Deacon also served as FAWL presidents.

The foregoing is just a taste of what you will discover about these

pioneering women in Florida’s legal profession when you attend either the

May 25 or June 14 events. There’s still time to register for either.

To make a reservation for the May 25 dinner, the cost of which is $60, call

Lea Souza-Rasile at (305) 530-0050, and to make a reservation for the

June 14 Supreme Court ceremony, call (850) 561-5600, extension 6627.

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