By Jennifer Feehan
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio.
Judge Arlene Singer wants to make sure the women who paved the way for her and hundreds of other female lawyers are not forgotten.
Since 2011, she has been the force behind the Toledo Women Lawyers History Project, a collaboration between the Toledo Women’s Bar Association and University of Toledo College of Law that dedicated its permanent home Thursday at the UT law library.
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“As a woman who became an attorney when there weren’t many women in law school, it piqued my interest to see who were the women who came before me,” said Judge Singer, a former Toledo Municipal Court judge who now sits on the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals.
She earned her law degree from UT in 1976 at a time when women made up barely 25 percent of law school students. Today, the scales have tipped closer to the halfway point, but it took more than a century for the shift to occur.
In Ohio, women were first permitted to practice law in 1878, but it took until 1970 for the percentage of first-year law school students in the United States to exceed 10 percent, according to the American Bar Association.
The goal of the history project, Judge Singer said, is to collect and catalog information about area female lawyers, creating a permanent resource for law students, historians, and others.
At the law library, 12 portraits of influential female lawyers from Toledo were unveiled at Thursday’s event, with the four surviving honorees in attendance: Julia Bates, the first woman elected Lucas County prosecutor in 1996; Alice Robie Resnick, the first woman elected to the 6th District Court of Appeals in 1982 and the second woman to be elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1988; Holly Taft Sydlow, the first president of the Toledo Women’s Bar Association in 1986, and Vernelis Armstrong, who in 1994 became the first woman and first African-American woman to be magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court in Toledo.
The portraits, which were painted by Paula Mowry, a UT law graduate and artist, also depict jurists from earlier eras, including Enid Ware Foster, who became the first woman member of the Toledo Bar Association in the late 1890s; Clara Millard, who is believed to be the first woman from northwest Ohio to pass the Ohio Bar examination after graduating from law school in 1911, and Ester Antin, a Toledo Municipal Court judge who became the first woman to be a judge in Lucas County in 1925.
Lindsay Navarre, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor and president of the women’s bar association, thanked all of the honorees “for blazing the trail. Thank you for picking the fights. Thank you for staying the course, even when it was tough, and thank you for paving the way for future generations of women lawyers.”
Judge Singer invited anyone with information, pictures, or items for preservation that could be included in the history project to contact her at the appeals court.
“The next phase is going to be the fun part,” Judge Singer said. “Getting into the weeds, so to speak, and getting information and writing about the women who came before us and the women practicing law now. Hopefully it will continue so that women lawyers will have a record of who they are, why there are women lawyers, and what they’ve accomplished.”