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5 Pioneering Lawyers You Should Know for Women's History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating some of New England Law | Boston’s earliest graduates—including these trailblazing women lawyers.

Did you know New England Law | Boston was the first and only law school founded to educate women? Back in 1908, that was pretty revolutionary. We were called Portia Law School, and our students earned law degrees at a time when most other institutions would not accept them at all. They came primarily from working-class and immigrant families. For decades, most of the women who passed the Massachusetts bar exam were Portia graduates.

Since then we’ve seen more than 100 years of women using the law to break barriers, help others, and change the world. The women below were some of the very first. We’re honored to call them alumnae.

Dorothy Crockett

Dorothy-CrockettPortia Law School Class of 1931
Image Courtesy of the Boston Chronicle

When segregation was still legal in much of the country, African American women attended Portia Law School from its earliest days. Dorothy Crockett was one of those pioneers, becoming the first black woman lawyer admitted to the bar in the state of Rhode Island, in 1932. (Another Portia grad, Blanche Braxton, was the first black woman admitted to the Massachusetts bar, in 1923.)

Minna Kapstein

Minna-KapsteinPortia Law School Class of 1936
Image Courtesy of New England School of Law Library Archives

Though it’s certainly still a challenge, it’s not unusual for mothers to go law school these days. It was a little different for Minna Kapstein. She was a mother of 10 young children when she received her LL.B. from Portia Law School, and three of her children were born while she was in school! To top it all off, she commuted to school from Providence, Rhode Island. Despite all that, she graduated on time.

Catherine E. Falvey

Catherine-E-FalveyPortia Law School Class of 1937
Image Courtesy of The Boston Public Library, Print Department

Only three years after graduating from law school, Catherine Falvey became the youngest elected member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. However, she chose to resign not long after so she could serve her country in the Armed Forces. She achieved the rank of Major and eventually became the only woman attorney department head on the American legal staff during the Nuremberg trials. Though she tried to return to politics in 1946, Falvey ultimately lost the Congressional Democratic primary to a young man from a well-known local family: John F. Kennedy.

Elizabeth McCarthy

Elizabeth-McCarthyPortia Law School Class of 1923
Image Courtesy of The Boston Public Library, Print Department

In addition to her legal prowess, Elizabeth McCarthy became one of the nation’s leading handwriting experts. For more than 30 years, she testified in high-profile cases, including the JFK assassination investigation. (In fact, she once discovered her own forged name while conducting an investigation!)

Anna E. Hirsch

Anna-E-HirschPortia Law School Class of 1928
Image Courtesy of The Boston Public Library, Print Department

Not only was she among the earliest women lawyers in the country, Anna Hirsch had a whole career of “firsts.” In 1954, she became the first woman elected as Registrar of Probate in Norfolk County (and only the second woman elected to countywide office in Massachusetts). And in 1983, she was elected president of Portia Law School—both the first alumnus and first woman chosen for the role.

Learn more about women’s history at New England Law here.