Women Trailblazers in the Law: First 100 Women Lawyers

(May 15, 2014)

Between 1872, when the first two women were admitted to the Bar, and 1975, only 91 women were admitted to the Utah Bar.  In 1976, 28 women graduated together, to finally reach the 119 number.  We refer to these 119 women as the First 100.

On May 8, 2014, Women Lawyers of Utah premiered its much-anticipated Women Trailblazers in the Law: First 100 Women Lawyers documentary, highlighting the lives and accomplishments of the first 119 women admitted to the practice of law in Utah.

A reception was held at the rooftop of the Salt Lake City Library, followed by a short introductory program and the screening of the film.  Governor Herbert made welcome remarks to approximately 230 guests, including 23 of the 119 honorees, their friends and family, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, esteemed members of both federal and state judiciary, Utah State Bar President, and the others who attended this important event.  We were especially honored to have the two earliest living admittees – Mimi Mortensen, woman admittee #28 (admitted in 1949) and  Jacqueline Bell, woman admittee #31 (admitted in 1950) – at the event.

The Women Trailblazers  film includes compelling interviews with many of the First 100.  These women, through their determination, resilience, and hard work, overcame numerous challenges and paved the way for generations to come. Their dedication to the practice of law and their service in key leadership and other positions have helped women gain a greater presence in  the profession where they offer a different set of perspectives, knowledge, and experiences.

Women Lawyers of Utah and the Bar has long recognized the importance of celebrating the First 100.  In 1998, former Utah State Bar Presidents Charlotte Miller and Debra Moore organized a special dinner honoring the First 100. Building on that event, in 2010, WLU’s then-President Melanie Vartabedian and the former Special Committee Chair Cathleen Gilbert initiated WLU’s “Women Trailblazers in the Law Project.” WLU’s goal was to memorialize in film the fascinating stories by and about this group of women for the benefit of future generations of attorneys in this state. The project was co-sponsored by the Utah State Bar, the S.J. Quinney College of Law, the J. Reuben Clark Law School, and many Utah law firms. Thanks to the generosity of these sponsors (which complete list can be found at First 100 Project Sponsors page), WLU was able to film hundreds of hours of interviews with almost two dozen of the First One Hundred and to incorporate those interviews into a full-length documentary.

The legal community celebrated the first phase of the project on May 26, 2011 at the Grand America Hotel, where over 350 guests had an opportunity to preview excerpts of several fascinating interviews of the first One Hundred. WLU presented each of the First One Hundred in attendance with a memento key chain engraved with the words “Utah Trailblazer.” The keychain represented lawyer’s role in creating a path for women to practice law in Utah. All attendees received an updated version of a booklet the Utah State Bar published in 1998, which contained photographs, biographies, anecdotal stories, and advice from the Utah Trailblazers. The electronic version of 2011 Trailblazers Booklet is available HERE.

Since the 2011 event, WLU’s Immediate Past-President Heather Farnsworth and the current Special Project Committee Chair Cortney Kochevar retained producer Ryan Gass to assist in creating a full-length documentary. Mr. Gass was chosen because of his excellent work producing the “Lend a Learned Hand” documentary for the Utah State Bar’s Pro Bono Commission. WLU’s Special Project Committee members Allyson Barker, Carrie Boren, Emy Cordano, Katherine Judd, Heidi Kingman, Tanner Lenart, Stacie Stewart and Carrie Towner worked tirelessly by researching history of the women in the law, collecting photographs, film footage, and various documents from the archives, and conducting additional interviews of the Trailblazers.

The film has received very favorable reviews.  We hope to make the film available in schools across the state as it will, undoubtedly, educate, inspire and empower young girls and women to follow in the footsteps of the First 100.

The DVD and/or Booklet will be available for purchase soon.