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In the 1970s amid the national effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a group of San Diego women attorneys banded together to take action. This group challenged sexism as the norm and refused to be excluded from the bench, bar, board, or from having lunch a downtown restaurant, The Grant Grill, where the “old boys” met to do business. The restaurant’s brass plaque boldly read “No Women before 3:00 p.m.” In defiance, a small group of women attorneys made a reservation under a male colleague’s name and pressured the restaurant to honor it.

 

Founded in 1972, Lawyers Club of San Diego’s mission is to advance the status of women in the law and society. Lawyers Club is the largest specialty bar association in San Diego with more than 1,300 members of all genders, including attorneys at various public agencies, law firm managing and equity partners, retired and active federal and state judges, current and former U.S. Attorneys, current and former San Diego District Attorneys, San Diego Public Defenders, Federal Defenders of San Diego, as well as law firm associates, law students and others in the San Diego community who share our mission of advancing the status of women in the law and society. We are a proud affiliate of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and California Women Lawyers.

 

The name "Lawyers Club of San Diego" was selected to indicate this is not a club exclusive to women but is open to all who are committed to fair treatment under the law regardless of sex. The name was the brainchild of Prof. C. Hugh Friedman, who later became President of the San Diego County Bar Association. In July 1972, Judith McConnell, Sharron Voorhees, Christine Pate, Lynn Schenk and Louise De Carl Malugen were elected as directors of the association.Our membership continues to grow each year, illustrating the value it provides to its members to advance the mission. We have had the great honor of presenting these distinguished Annual Dinner keynote speakers in recent years:

 

2014: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Ret.)

2015: U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (Ret.)

2016: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, documentary filmmaker/CEO,

The Representation Project

2017: Professor Anita Hill, attorney and women’s and civil rights advocate

2018: Hon. Loretta Lynch, former United States Attorney General

 

Our charitable arm, the Lawyers Club Fund for Justice, is a donor-advised fund at The San Diego Foundation. Lawyers Club, through its Fund for Justice, has awarded more than $400,000 to 45 organizations since its inception in 1997.

 

In 2022 Lawyers Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary, marking a half-century of advocacy, activism and shared vision focused on advancing the status of women in the law and society.

 

 

2012 – Lawyers Club of San Diego at 40

 

In preparation for its 40th anniversary in 2012, Lawyers Club published the book, Lawyers Club of San Diego at 40, A Look Back and Forward, 1972-2012 and Beyond, written and compiled by the Lawyers Club History and Archives Committee, Co-Chairs Betty Evans Boone and George W. Brewster Jr.

 

This history is extracted from that book, with specific articles and contributions from Rivian Taylor (Lawyers Club Newsletter, June 1997), Pamela Lawton Wilson, George W. Brewster Jr., Betty Evans Boone, Sarah Boot, Hon. Judith McConnell, and Hon. Lynn Schenk.

 

 

The Early Years: Women Lawyers in San Diego County – Blazed Trail for Women in the Bar

The San Diego County Bar Association, which dates back to 1899, was run solely by males until January 1945. That’s when the Bar Association – at the time a membership-by-invitation-only organization – invited the 15 women who were practicing in San Diego County to join, serve on committees and attend monthly luncheon/dinner bar meetings.

 

On August 22, 1945, a week after VJ Day, eight of these women met with the officers of the Bar Association for a luncheon meeting in the English Room of the U.S. Grant Hotel. They agreed to form the Women’s Division of the San Diego County Bar Association, which later was called Women Lawyers of San Diego.

 

The first undertaking of this new group was to present the October Bar Association luncheon program featuring Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge May D. Lahey, who spoke on “Women in the Law.” After surveying the issue from ancient times down to the present day, Judge Lahey suggested that the ideal law firm should include a woman attorney.

 

The second undertaking of the female members of the San Diego County Bar Association was to elect a woman to the Bar Board. Madge Bradley was elected and took her seat in January 1946. This was one of the many firsts for Bradley, who later became the first woman judge in San Diego County. Bradley was a Municipal Court judge for 18 years until she retired in December 1971. She was also the first San Diego woman member of a State Bar committee and the first woman to sit as judge pro tem of the Superior Court.

 





Hon. Madge Bradley


Another superstar among the eight original members of the Women Lawyers of San Diego was Marie Herney, who was admitted to the bar in 1931. In 1932, District Attorney Tom Whelan hired Herney as a deputy district attorney, the first woman to hold the position in the county.

 

There were also Josephine Irving, the first woman partner at Gray, Cary, Ames and Frye; Rosa Lee Johnson, admitted to the bar in 1916 and a member of Fred Lindley’s firm for the next 50 years; and Betty Marshall Graydon, the first Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Diego County. Others were Sara Fitzpatrick Harden, admitted to the bar in 1914, and Elizabeth MacPhail and Minnie Maguire, admitted to the bar in 1944 and 1939, respectively.

 

During the next 20 years, women lawyers continued to maintain a presence in the legal community as part of the San Diego County Bar Association, but the number of women lawyers in the county remained relatively small.

 

Dorothy Belkin, who graduated from California Western School of Law in 1961, was the second woman employed by Gray, Cary, Ames and Frye. In 1970, Belkin became the second woman elected to the San Diego County Bar Association’s Board of Directors. Belkin also was the first woman to head a branch of the state Department of Corporations.

 




 


Dorothy Belkin

Among the many firsts and seconds for women attorneys in the mid 1960s were:

Betty Boone, who graduated from University of San Diego Law School in 1964, was the first woman to be employed as trust counsel by Title Insurance and Trust Company and later the first woman deputy county counsel of San Diego County;










Betty Evans Boone


Artie Henderson, who became the second woman to be employed as a San Diego deputy city attorney in 1967;









Artie Henderson

and Marge Stein who became the second woman deputy district attorney of San Diego County, also in 1967.

 

Up until then, the San Diego legal community had grown accustomed to absorbing two or three new women lawyers a year. However, the second half of the 1960s saw the number of women attending law school grow tremendously. By the early 1970s, women comprised half of the students at some law schools. The new women attorneys coming to San Diego were less inclined than their predecessors to accept the fact that many professional clubs and meeting places were closed to them because of their gender.

 

These and other concerns led to the formation of Lawyers Club of San Diego, which was created on March 27, 1972 pursuant to a resolution of the members of the Women Lawyers of San Diego, and, according to the July 1972 DICTA (a publication of the San Diego County Bar Association), “supersede[d] the informal group known as The Women Lawyers of San Diego.”

 

Bankruptcy Court Judge Louise Adler, one of six Lawyers Club founders, recalled how she experienced “more than a little bit of a culture shock” when she moved to San Diego from Chicago, which had a viable women’s bar association. “Not only were there only 28 women lawyers in the county, but there was no group of women organized to look after their own interests, which is the interest of getting a job, the interest of participating in the legal community and being a voice for other women,” Judge Adler said.

 

Sharon Voorhees, another Lawyers Club founder, recalled: “I remember it was very controversial when we wanted to form this organization because the old group had been just kind of a get-together old girls group. There was a big division between the women who had been practicing for eight to ten years and us. We were the next group. And the older group was very much opposed as I recall to our going into politics so to speak. So it was a very controversial thing and we had to fight kind of hard to get enough votes to change the organization into what it is.”

[Rivian Taylor, from Lawyers Club Newsletter, June 1997]

 


  San Diego’s Women Attorneys form THE LAWYERS CLUB

Approximately thirty San Diego women attorneys attended a luncheon meeting June 14th (1972) at the University Club, thus making the first meeting of the newly formed Lawyers Club.

 

The unofficial goals of the Club are to improve the status of women in the legal profession and community, promote the appointment of women judges, encourage women to enter the legal profession and promote legislative reform.

 

Temporary acting officers are Judith McConnell, chairman; Louise Malugen, secretary; Christine Page, treasurer.

 

Bylaws were passed on June 14th. A permanent board of directors will be elected by mail before July 10th….There will be no discrimination against men – they are encouraged to join. This formal organization supersedes the informal group known as The Women Lawyers of San Diego.

 

(From July 1972 DICTA, the monthly publication of the San Diego County Bar Association)

           

There are seven women generally recognized as the founders of Lawyers Club of San Diego: Judith McConnell, Lynn Schenk, Louise Adler, Linda Navarro, Christine Pate, Sharron Voorhees, and Sandra Morris.

 

 

The 1970s: Organizing and Opening Doors

The 1960s were the end of an era, thank heavens. It was the sixties when two popular restaurants – the Grant Grill and the old University Club, didn’t allow women. That’s why attorney Betty Boone had to climb up the old metal fire escape in her dress to attend a probate section meeting on an upper floor of the old University Club, and Judge Madge Bradley was the only judge who couldn’t attend the Municipal Court judges’ meetings that the Presiding Judge intentionally set at the Grant Grill.

 

Then the 1970s came, and women began making inroads into public agencies and private law firms…Women attorneys still were not very visible; they were few and non in high profile positions. Women and minorities were conspicuously missing from programs like Inns of Court. There were no women in the California Supreme Court until the controversial appointment of Rose Bird as Chief Justice, and there were no women in the US Supreme Court until 1981.

 

In the 1970s more young women were graduating from law schools…We wanted equal pay, equal treatment, and equal opportunities. It did not come easily. We knew if we were excluded from places where important decisions were being made, we wouldn’t have equality.

 

Judy McConnell, Lynn Schenk, and Elaine Alexander insisted on being served at the Grant Grill in 1972, opening the door to women.

 

The first decade of Lawyers Club saw the birth of key initiatives and recurring events that continue to define the club. Raging political battles over issues including abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, and government funding for child care were frequently addressed. Legislative updates on proposed laws impacting women were regularly featured in the newsletter, including those addressing domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape.

 

Lawyers Club was not afraid to take on controversies, including an objectionable dress code ordered by a Superior Court judge but later stayed by a writ from the Court of Appeal. Members took note when a 1977 state study determined there wasn’t a single shelter for battered women in San Diego County. The board voted in 1978 to oppose the Briggs Initiative which would have permitted the firing of homosexual teachers. In 1982 a club member discovered a “rape skit” was planned for the annual SDCBA dinner and Lawyers Club pressure took it off the program.

 

By law, husbands managed community property and women couldn’t have credit in their own name; they needed their husbands’ written permission to open accounts. There were hardly any domestic violence arrests or cases filed. Many people considered domestic violence the parties’ private business and argued the victim obviously like it or she would have left. These injustices angered us and inspired us to work for change. Women attorneys helped change the laws.

 

For LC’s 35th anniversary, one of the founders, Lynn Schenk, wrote…”The laws discriminated not just on the basis of credit…the major banks did not allow a wife to use a ‘different’ name on a checking account than her husband’s even though the law as silent on this point. In addition, to register to vote, one had to indicate if one were a ‘Miss’ or a ‘Mrs.’ There was no ‘Ms.’ Or decline to state, making it impossible for women who did not assume their husband’s name to give truthful indication.”

 

Lawyers Club in 1972

The Equal Rights Amendment was a national topic in 1972, and the fight was on to get states to ratify the Amendment. In California, the process was stalled by a State Senator. The fight for passage of the ERA in California was one of the first battles of LC.

 

The Equal Rights Amendment was written by an attorney, Alice Paul. Paul, a leader of the woman suffrage movement, wrote the ERA in 1923, the same year it was introduced in Congress. It took 49 years before the House and Senate passed the proposed amendment (after additional rewording), sending it off to the states for ratification in 1972.

 

The amendment to the U.S. Constitution sought to guarantee that equal rights under any federal, state or local law could not be denied on account of sex.

 

When Lawyers Club of San Diego was founded in 1972…the first order of business after installation of officers was to create the Equal Rights Amendment Committee, chaired by one of the original founders of Lawyers Club, Linda Navarro. It was agreed that a meeting with State Senator James R. Mills (President Pro Tem of the Senate, and representing San Diego’s 40th District) should be arranged to “present arguments to rebut his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.” Navarro was tasked with coordinating the arguments written by each Board member. She and Lawyers Club President McConnell met with Sen. Mills, who assured them of the likely California passage of the ERA in January 1973. McConnell recalled Sen. Mills’ characterization of the ERA as “Mickey Mouse” and his use of position as chair of the Senate Rules Committee to block a vote on it in California. However, public support for passage and an impromptu meeting with Lynn Schenk at a political dinner caused Mills to appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee, with members including McConnell, Vorhees, Artie Henderson (among others). “Our first and only meeting lasted less than ten minutes as we all agreed the ERA should be supported,” said McConnell.

 

Mills stated publicly that he would give “considerable weight” to the findings of the panel; and in fact, the legislation to ratify the amendment was released from his committee and sent to the Senate, where it was ratified on November 13, 1972. The Assembly had earlier that spring voted to approve the resolution to ratify the ERA.

 

Reflecting back, Schenk believes that seeking California ratification of the ERA “helped coalesce us and showed us how there is power in working together, and that we can make change working together.” Schenk said that with Lawyers Club being newly formed and generally unknown, the ERA push “helped expand the circle of people who knew about Lawyers Club.” She believed that Mills and others thought Lawyers Club was much bigger than it actually was at the time, “so we leveraged that.”

 

In the legal profession, the day to day life of a lawyer was tough enough. The daily life of a female lawyer had additional layers of frustration heaped upon it. Even assuming female attorneys could find work in the profession, they were still excluded from the “old boys’ network.” As Schenk recalled, in those days, “people went out to lunch every day; it was the time to bond and to get the ‘deals’ done…There were only three decent places within walking distance of the courthouse – the Cuyamaca Club which was private, the Westgate Hotel and the Grant Grill. The Grill was ‘the’ place and they would not let us in at lunch. Our decision to bring down that barrier…was made at the same time we were already forming LC. It was not the impetus for forming LC. However…it was an understandable symbol of all the other women ‘keep out’ signs in the laws, in the legal profession and in society.”

 

The San Diego County Bar Association’s Board of Directors had a female Board member, Dorothy Belkin. It was Schenk’s recollection that the then Bar President felt that “one girl” was sufficient, and thus was resistant to women lawyers participating on bar committees.

 

The founders and early supporters of Lawyers Club also wanted to take action to correct the underrepresentation of women in the judiciary. In April 1979 the club formed an Appointment Qualification Committee to help women seek judicial appointments, and so the club could issue endorsements to highly regarded candidates. Also offered were briefings about state board and commission vacancies and how to win them.

 

 

 

The work of Lawyers Club’s mission – to advance the status of women in the law and in society – continues. And it will continue until we achieve gender equality, here in San Diego and beyond. We, as an organization, as a sisterhood standing with hundreds of male allies, still have a great deal of work to do.

 

Our founding mothers and early members opened the doors to the legal profession for us…countless women have walked through these doors and made huge strides. Along the way, these women and their male allies have reached back to lift up the women coming behind them, and they have reached outward to improve the lives of women in this community. That’s what this organization is about. And it is clear that the work of Lawyers Club must continue.

 

Sarah Boot, LC President 2012-2013



From the Archives:
The History & Archives Committee works steadily to gather and present Lawyers Club's history and to organize and preserve its archives.

In this video, "The Grant Grill Invasion of 1971: A Look Back," Lawyers Club "founding mothers" Lynn Schenk, Judith McConnell, and Elaine Alexander recall their efforts to remove the "Men Only" restrictions at lunchtime at The Grant Grill.

Two projects were completed in 2012 for the 40th Anniversary of Lawyers Club:

Lawyers Club of San Diego at 40: A Look Back and Forward, 1972 - 2012 and Beyond, written and compiled by the Lawyers Club History and Archives Committee, co-chaired by Betty Evans Boone and George W. Brewster Jr., was published (May 2012: San Diego, CA)  to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Lawyers Club. Contact us to request a copy.

On May 16, 2012, Lawyers Club members and community partners gathered at The US Grant Hotel to celebrate "40 Years of Making Dreams a Reality", when this video of Lawyers Club's first 40 years was presented:
more Calendar

9/19/2019
Diverse Women's Committee Luncheon-- Registration Open

10/24/2019
Save the Date: Fall Judicial Reception

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