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History of Connecticut Women in the Legal Profession

(left to right) Hon. Melanie Cradle, Hon. Dawne G. Westbrooke, Hon. Tammy D. Geathers, Hon. Norma Sanchez-Figueroa, Hon. Robyn Stewart Johnson

Project Overview

At the turn of the 20th century, women lawyers were virtually unknown in Connecticut.  By contrast, at the onset of the 21st century, women comprised 49% of the entering law school classes in the United States.  In their time at the bar, women have become leaders in the profession at a pace out of proportion to their brief history and numbers. 

In 1999, the Fellows initiated the Oral History of Connecticut Women in the Legal Profession Project with a goal of creating a permanent historical audio and video record of some of the legal profession's most memorable moments as women entered the field of law in Connecticut. Through its first two phases, the project worked with award-winning documentarian Karyl Evans and attorney/photographer Isabel Chenoweth to produce fifty-eight oral history interviews with outstanding female jurists and 118 portraits of women in the judiciary. Links to 25 of the interviews are available at the bottom of this page.

The participants are women whose ingenuity, perseverance and intelligence dismantled barriers that prevented women from pursuing careers in the law.  Connecticut has benefited from the efforts of these “pioneers” as they enriched the legal profession by joining the ranks of their male peers and paved the way for more women to join the profession.

Now entering its third phase, the project hopes to grow the number of stories captured in the archive, develop new ways to share these stories, and continue to highlight the achievements of female lawyers and the barriers that persist to their full participation in the legal profession today.

Phase I

As of June 29, 2012, the Foundation had interviewed thirty-three of Connecticut’s outstanding female jurists, a number of whom were among the first in Connecticut to achieve prominence in their particular roles within the legal profession.  The Foundation worked with Karyl Evans, an award winning documentarian, to produce short videos of each interview to be streamlined on the internet.  The Foundation then worked with volunteers to prepare short biographical sketches of the interviewees and to identify the areas of greatest interest in their transcripts, which were then used in the videos.  The final product serves as both an educational tool and a source of inspiration to those interested in the field of law. 

The Connecticut Bar Foundation, as part of its James W. Cooper Fellows History of Connecticut Women in the Legal Profession, in collaboration with Isabel Chenoweth, a lawyer and photographer, created photographic portraits of seventy-six women on the state and federal bench serving in Connecticut between 2001 and 2007.  The photographs, taken at courthouses throughout the state, provide a striking visual statement about the powerful presence of women in Connecticut’s judiciary and consequently, their part in history.  They were on display at the Legislative Office Building for two weeks in 2007 and were then moved to the University of Connecticut School of Law and Quinnipiac University Law School where they remain on display.

Phase II

Hon. Holly Fitzsimmons viewing the “Women in Black, 2nd Edition” photographic portrait exhibit.

In 2018, the Connecticut Bar Foundation James W. Cooper Fellows held a reception at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to celebrate the new installments of the History of Connecticut Women in the Legal Profession Project.  The event premiered a documentary by Emmy award winning filmmaker, Karyl Evans.  The film is based on twenty-five (25) oral history interviews of women who have been among the first of their gender to attain professional achievement and recognition as lawyers throughout the state.  The interviewees include members of the state and federal judiciaries, inhouse counsel, academics, prosecutors, legal services lawyers and partners in private law firms.  The addition of these interviews brought the total number of oral history interviews completed since the inception of the project to fifty-eight (58).  The event also included the opening of a photographic portrait exhibit of women in the judiciary entitled, “Women in Black, 2nd Edition,” by award winning photographer Isabel Chenoweth.  The exhibit consisted of forty-two (42) portraits, which brought the total number of completed photographic portraits of women in the state and federal judiciaries to one hundred eighteen (118).   The second edition included women who have been appointed to the judiciary since 2007.


James W. Cooper Fellows
History of Connecticut Women in the Legal Profession Video Project

Click on the names below to view the interview.