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History of Women in the Profession Committee

The Women in the Profession Committee has been an integral component of the NCBA since its inception in 1993, providing valuable leadership and vision to the NCBA in countless ways.

Over the course of its first 20 years, the Women in the Profession Committee produced several outstanding major projects and events. Each endeavor brought great visibility and acclaim to the NCBA and its Women in the Profession Committee while also serving a greater cause in promoting the contributions and achievements of women attorneys.

Perhaps the most significant undertaking was the publication of a book devoted to the state’s first 100 women attorneys. Seven years in the making and published in 2004, “The Changing Face of Justice: A Look at the First 100 Women Attorneys in North Carolina,” was an exhaustive effort organized by the committee and written by Emily Colon and Lynn Roundtree. To celebrate the book’s release, a special dinner was held featuring Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund and a lifelong advocate for disadvantaged Americans. Attendees included Hazel Siler Mull Cole, who was 97 at the time and one of the few surviving women attorneys featured in the book. Earlier that day, the committee hosted a symposium at the N.C. Bar Center,

“Women Lawyers in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities.”

JWB & RBJ

Then-NCBA President Janet Ward Black, left, visits with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during “The Changing Face of Justice: A View from the Bench.”

In 2007 the Women in the Profession Committee presented an outstanding two-day program, “The Changing Face of Justice: A View from the Bench,” featuring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court. The venerable associate justice was the featured speaker at a dinner event at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, “A Conversation with Justice Ginsburg,’ moderated by Suzanne Reynolds of the Wake Forest University School of Law. A CLE program featuring leading female jurists from across the nation was held the following day. Participants included Chief Judge Karen J. Williams (S.C.) of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court chief justices Mary Mullarkey (Colo.), Kay McFarland (Kan.) and Jean Hoefer Toal (S.C.) North Carolina was represented by N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan of the Eastern District of N.C., Judges James Wynn and Linda Stephens of the N.C. Court of Appeals and NCBA Past-President Rhoda Billings, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. Former Chief Justice Betty Dickey (Ark.) also participated.

In 2009 the Women in the Profession Committee stepped out of the limelight to focus on the needs of disadvantaged women who were searching for employment. Rise and Shine, as it was titled, was a two-night program wherein 28 women of limited means and education received extensive advice, training and instruction on how to gain employment and better their lives. The pilot program, conducted in Raleigh, spurred the development of the Rise and Shine Toolkit that has been utilized by other organizations and remains in place for use to this day.

In 2012, the Women in the Profession Committee presented “The Changing Face of Leadership: Our Backyard and Beyond” at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. The focal point of the two-day event was a dinner program featuring N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, former Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) executive Shannon McFayden, and N.C. Rep. Deborah Ross. The following day’s CLE program featured Yola Carlough, former corporate social responsibility director at Ben and Jerry’s and Burt’s Bees, and N.C. Treasurer Janet Cowell.

The greater volume of history of the Women in the Profession Committee, much like the expanding role and contributions of women attorneys throughout the state and nation, is yet to be written. As this update was being written, a former chair of the committee, Catharine Biggs Arrowood of Raleigh, was poised to become the 120th president of the North Carolina Bar Association. She becomes the fifth woman to hold this position, preceded by Rhoda Billings (1991-92), Elizabeth Quick (1997-98), Judge Allyson Duncan (2003-04) and Janet Ward Black (2007-08). Perhaps no better evidence exists to demonstrate the contributions women attorneys are making within the profession in general and the NCBA in particular than the fact that Catherine Arrowood’s successor will be the sixth woman attorney to serve as president of the NCBA.