Women's History Month: Honoring the Legal Giants of Philadelphia

In the city known for the quality of its lawyers for over 250 years, and in honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate the contributions of outstanding Philadelphia women lawyers, including Caroline Burnham Kilgore, Hon. Hazel Hemphill Brown, Hon. Juanita Kidd Stout and Hon. Norma Levy Shapiro. Their contributions on both the local and national stages helped break barriers for equality and add to the legal prominence of the city of Philadelphia.

We invite you to learn more about each of these legal giants below.

Caroline “Carrie” Burnham Kilgore (1838 – 1909)

Caroline Burnham Kilgore was the first woman graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1883. She later became the first woman to be admitted to the bar in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1886. Her accomplishments did not come easily. She struggled for 16 years against cultural and statutory obstacles, knowing that even if she succeeded, she would face challenges, unrelated to her abilities, in achieving a status comparable to that of the significant lawyers of her time. Nonetheless, she persisted – reading the law in the office of her husband-to-be, applying to attend lectures given by prominent Philadelphia judges at the University of Pennsylvania, reapplying when her requests were refused, applying for admission to the bar, lobbying the legislature to change the applicable statutory law, and, finally, gaining admission to the courts of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania after the law was amended. Kilgore joined her husband in the practice of law and continued the practice after his death. Read more about this legal giant.  

Hon. Hazel Hemphill Brown (1895 – 1983)

Hazel Hemphill Brown was appointed a Municipal Court judge in 1952, thereby becoming the first woman judge in Philadelphia. Before her appointment, Brown spent twenty years practicing in the Municipal Court as a district attorney, assigned to the Domestic Relations Division. She maintained a civil practice except when she became the first woman to receive appointments as defense counsel in murder cases. Brown had an academic and occupational background in social work and maintained a private practice in the office of Caroline K. Kenworthy.  Read more about this legal giant.

Hon. Juanita Kidd Stout (1919 – 1998)

Juanita Kidd Stout was born and raised in Oklahoma. She later relocated to Philadelphia, where she practiced law for five years before joining the district attorney’s office. She was first appointed and then elected a Municipal Court judge in 1959, becoming the first African-American woman elected to a court of record in the U.S. She set historic milestones again when she became a judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1969 and was appointed to an interim term on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1988. Read more about this legal giant.

Hon. Norma Levy Shapiro (1928 – 2016)

In 1973, Norma Levy Shapiro became the first woman partner at the prestigious Philadelphia law firm of Dechert, Price and Rhoads (now Dechert LLP). In 1977, she became the first woman chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Board of Governors. In September 1978, President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, making her the first woman judge on any District Court within the U.S. Third Circuit. She remained a respected member of the bench until her death in 2016. Read more about this legal giant.

Authors Lee Moylan and Paige Willan are members of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Klehr Harrison, which strives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion through education in all forms from educating our own lawyers and clients, hiring and mentoring minority lawyers and providing tools to educate students of all ages.


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