Celebrating Women in Law, Past, Present, and Future

Mar 17, 2022 | News, Smith + Malek

Today, thankfully, it is the norm for women to attend law school and practice as attorneys, however, it wasn’t long ago that pioneering women in Idaho and Washington broke down the barriers in place to pave the way for future women in the legal field.

In 1895, the Idaho State Bar admitted the first woman to its ranks, Helen Louise Nichols Young. Although Young, who went by Nellie, was admitted to practice before she even had the right to vote, that didn’t stop her from pressing on and breaking glass ceilings, including those in politics. In 1900, Nellie, who had worked for many years as a teacher, ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction for Shoshone County and won.

It took 91 more years for the first Black woman to be admitted to the Idaho Bar. Inspired by her mother and by Thurgood Marshall’s example, Judge Ida Leggett recognized the importance of representation in the legal landscape and made it her mission to become a lawyer. She did just that, graduating from Gonzaga University (in what year) and practicing in Washington for several years before moving to private practice in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Judge Legett not only became the first Black woman admitted to the Idaho State Bar, she was the first Black woman to serve on the Idaho Judiciary. She served as a judge in Lewiston, Idaho for six years at the Nez Perce County Courthouse. This judgeship she took over from Linda Copple Trout in 1992 when Justice Copple Trout became the first woman justice on the Idaho Supreme Court.

Justice Copple Trout continued the legacy of Idaho women advancing in the field of law. She was the first female justice appointed to the Idaho Supreme Court by then governor, Cecil Andrus, and the first and only female chief justice to this very day. She was also appointed to such prestigious committees and positions as the Council of Chief Justices and the National Association of Women Judges.

This January, the Idaho Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, awarded Susie Headlee the Federal Bar Association’s Lifetime Service Award, as recognition for her outstanding contributions of time, effort, talent, and dedication to furthering the FBA’s mission of serving and supporting the Federal Judiciary and Bar.

Ms. Headlee served as the volunteer executive director for the Idaho Chapter of the FBA for 17 years, and was instrumental in its growth from seven members to well over 100. She also served as the alternative dispute resolution facilitator and pro bono coordinator for Idaho’s U.S. District Court, helping those in lawsuits reach settlements without trial and finding free or reduced-fee legal counsel for those who couldn’t afford attorneys.

The State of Idaho is lucky to have had such incredible humans and trailblazers in the fight for women’s rights and to create space for all women in the practice of law. The profession is better for it. This post is dedicated to all the women who fought so hard for their rightful place in the legal profession, and for all the women carrying out their legacy today.