KCUR News
10:30 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Age No Barrier to the Bar

St. Joseph, MO – Courtrooms around the country are teeming with women lawyers, women attorneys, active and aggressive in criminal, business, bankruptcy and family law. But it wasn't always so. Once upon a time in many of our lifetimes, they weren't there at all. A woman pioneer in the legal profession has been honored by colleagues. Grace Day of St. Joseph is linked to a time when women simply didn't do what she did. Grace Day recounts her career at the office where she practises, with the Polsinelli Shugart firm in St. Joseph, Mo.

The Second World War was being fought when this young woman decided University of South Dakota Law School might offer a career path into something interesting-- "well it was to say the very least, rather exciting because they were very unhappy with having a woman in the law school. And they made a point of trying to torment and harass me doing different things, hoping I would give up and quit. I was the only woman in the law school in my class, I was the only women in the entire law school at the time I went. " so the people who are making it difficult are not just the students but the professors as well?" " Oh yes, there were some professors that made no bones about the fact that they thought I was stepping on their male turf and I didn't belong there. " And then once you graduate and once you're admitted to the Bar, how hard is it to find work as a woman in the late 40's? " It was difficult. In fact as I look back I guess my law school days were a good training for what was to come, because when I got out in the real world they didn't want me either, because I was a woman."

It took opening her own office , staring from scratch. And then taking on women who needed a lawyer in divorce and child custody cases around Northwest Missouri. And Grace Day found herself something of a novelty. Now, she can look at it from afar, a distance of some sixty years.

In Day's words, "The first male that came to me to represent him in a divorce, I thought, gee, this is kind of odd, because I had been representing mostly women. And at the time, men were still very prone to go to a male lawyer. So I got up courage enough to ask him why he came to me, a woman lawyer. And he told me at the time, that he came because he didn't want his wife to have me represent her. So I took it as a compliment, whether that was it or not." Do you run into anything that surprises you? You've seen a lot of law? "There's always some surprises you know. One of the things the legislature did just very recently, children usually were not emancipated until they were 22 if they stayed in college. The legislature a couple of years ago decided to emancipate them at 21. Well, most kids are probably in their junior year and if they don't have funds or child support, they may be out the window to complete it. I don't think that was real good thinking to do that because most students don't graduate by time they're 21. But sometimes the legislature does a lot of things that don't always make good sense."

Did we mention that Grace Day still takes cases into the courtroom, argues for her clients at the age of 84? She handles 50 to 75 cases every year in the Circuit Court at St. Joseph. Relishing the job.

There are no records to prove her the oldest practicing woman lawyer in the state at 84. But she is certainly one of them. With no inclination to retire.