HSPRD Celebrates Women’s History Month

As March is Women’s History Month, HSPRD celebrates the incredible achievements and contributions of women, particularly in the face of persistent inequities and obstacles. Despite critical advancements in the fight for equality, women continue to battle unequal pay compared to male counterparts and increased attacks on their right to reproductive and other health care post Dobbs, the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade

This month, HSPRD reflects on the remarkable women who have specifically advanced the legal profession, including Myra Colby Bradwell, the first woman to pass the Illinois bar exam. Even though she passed the bar, the Illinois Supreme Court denied Bradwell her law license because she was a married woman. The United States Supreme Court upheld the denial, with Justice Joseph Bradley, in a stunning display of blatant and institutionalized sexism, writing, “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life . . . The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.” 

While Bradwell may have lost the lawsuit and appeal, her advocacy made great strides for women in the legal profession. Bradwell led the Illinois legislature to pass a new law in 1872 stating that no person shall be precluded from a profession or employment because of their sex, and she was, finally, admitted to practice law in 1890.  

Since then, women have continued trailblazing and gaining representation in the legal field, even reaching law firm associate numbers equal to men. And yet, there remains a deep need for continued advancements: women remain vastly outnumbered at the law firm partner level and less than 4% of partners are women of color. 

March, in addition to serving as Women’s History Month, also brings two additional, critical dates for the advancement and celebration of women: International Women’s Day on March 8th, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women globally, and Equal Pay Day on March 12th, which highlights the significant pay inequities that women continue to battle.  

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Inspire Inclusion, which celebrates the diversity and empowerment of women and serves as a call to challenge gender equality barriers and create spaces where all women are valued. As the International Women’s Day campaign states, “[t]o truly include women means to openly embrace their diversity of race, age, ability, faith, body image, and how they identify. Worldwide, women must be included in all fields of endeavor.” 

Equal Pay Day raises awareness for that fact that, on average, women must work until March 12th to receive the full pay that non-Hispanic white men received for the previous year. Equal Pay Days for women of color are even more outrageous: April 5th for Asian American women, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women; July 27th for Black women; October 5th for Latinas; and November 30th for Native women. HSPRD joins advocates in calling for equal pay now for women everywhere. 

Please join us this month in reflecting on advocates’ continued fight for equality, women’s incredible contributions to the legal profession, and all the advancements for gender equality that have yet to be made. 

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