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Georgia Women Lawyers, 100 Years: "Attorneys at Law; Females May Be."

The Fight for Women to Practice Law in Georgia - Minnie Anderson Hale

    Minnie Anderson Hale led the fight to admit women to practice law in Georgia.

    On June 19, 1911 Mrs. Hale graduated from Atlanta Law School, becoming the first woman to graduate from a Georgia law school.

    Soon afterward, along with the rest of the class, she appeared before Judge John T. Pendleton of the Fulton superior court to be admitted to the Georgia bar. He refused to admit her to practice citing §1810 of the Georgia code, often referred to as the "female disability" section. He also cited §4398 regarding the qualifications of attorneys. That section included the language "[a]ny male citizen" ... . Mrs. Hale argued that §4406 specifically excluded graduates of Georgia Law, Mercer Law, Emory Law, and the Atlanta Law School. Judge Pendleton was unconvinced. Mrs. Hale knew she would be refused and that legislative action would be required.

   Mrs. Hale, by then Mrs. Daniel, along with 18 other women lawyers founded the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers (GAWL). She was also one of the founders of the Atlanta League of Women Voters, now the League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County.

  • Harold H. Martin, Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1940s-1970s 46 (2011).

In 1922 she was elected the vice-president from Georgia of the Women Lawyers' Association.

1911 Legislation - The Portia Bill

    Legislation was introduced by the end of June 1911 and it was believed passage was certain particularly as Speaker of the House John N. Holder supported the bill. The judiciary committee initially defeated the measure on a 6 to 5 vote.

    Two weeks later there was a very different outcome after the house sent the bill back for reconsideration. Only one vote was cast against the bill.

    Unfortunately there was not enough support in the house to reach the constitutional majority of 93 votes. The final tally was 85 ayes, 77 nays, with 22 not voting. The debate preceding the vote lasted five hours, making it the longest of the session. Most of the opposition focused on the potential for such a law to "lower the modesty and purity of Georgia's womanhood ... ." There were also references to the competing values of the "New South" and the "Old South." Representative J.O. Adams of Hall County was very vocal in his opposition, "I am willing to give [a] woman everything she wants, but let's not give her breeches."

    As noted in the first volume of the Women Lawyers' Journal:

The state of Georgia lost a good chance to take rank in the vanguard of progress when it practically told an ambitious, intellectual woman to betake herself to the kitchen and nursery and not seek expression of her natural tastes in such a profession as that of the law. We are sorry for Mrs. Minnie Anderson Hale, who must exile herself from her native hearth in order to exercise her American freedom of choice in making a living, but we feel more sorry for Georgia, which thus invites the exodus of her intellectual women to States of more advanced policies.

    The Georgia Bar Association at its annual meeting in 1912 had a symposium entitled, "Admission of Women to the Bar". After a gentlemanly and at times humorous exchange, the membership took no action on the subject. It was reported that the bar association was opposed to a change in the law.

1916 Legislation - Women's Lawyer Bill

    Mrs. Hale had continued her fight in the legislature and in the courts. In 1915 she was again denied admission to the bar by Judge Pendleton. She appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of Georgia has been appealed to in behalf of women lawyers. Georgia is one of the three remaining States which refuse to admit women to the bar. [Arkansas and Virginia were the other states]. The appeal to the Supreme Court is brought as a test case by Mrs. Minnie A. Hale, of Atlanta, a graduate of the Atlanta Law School. There are a number of women law graduates n Georgia who are interested in the decision of the court. If the matter is brought into the Legislature a vigorous contest is expected. Strange that any State should fail to appreciate the legal ability of its daughters.

    On June 14, 1916 the court in Ex parte Hale, 145 Ga. 350 (1916), affirmed the judgment of the lower court citing Civil Code §§ 4930-4939. View historic Georgia codes.

    By July 16 a bill permitting females to practice law in Georgia had been read for the third time with amended language propose by the judiciary committee. The vote on Friday, July 20 was 131 ayes, 36 nays. 1916 Journal of the House 485. The first reading of the bill in the Senate was on Monday, July 24. The Senate considered the bill on August 15. There was some last minute drama as an amendment was offered that would have required putting the issue before the public at the next general election. The amendment was lost, ayes 11, nays 25. The vote on the bill to amend §4932 was passed, ayes 26, nays 12. 1916 Journal of the Senate 995. Full text of the law below.

    The session ended the next day and  Gov. Nathaniel Harris signed the act into law. Minnie Hale Daniel becomes the first women registered under the new law.

1916 Ga. Law 76

No. 471.

An Act to permit females to practice law in this State, under the same terms and qualifications as are now provided for males.

    Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, and it is hereby enacted by authority of the same, That from and after the passage of this Act female citizens shall be admitted to the practice of law in this State upon the same terms and qualifications as now apply to male citizens.

    Sec. 2. Be it further enacted, That all laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act be and are hereby repealed.

    Approved August 19, 1916.

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