Forty Years Later

Madeline Morcelle, WLSO Co-President, ’15L

Washington and Lee University School of Law (W&L Law) was the last law school in the United States to become co-educational. It remained an all-male institution until the American Bar Association threatened loss of accreditation. W&L Law finally opened its doors to six women in 1972.

There was some initial skepticism as to whether the first women law students would go on to use their degrees. On the first day of class, a male student asked a female classmate whether she felt guilty taking the place of a man who would need to support his family. Not only did this woman go on to practice law for decades, but there came a time when she had to support her own family as a single parent. There is no question that those first women—the women of the class of 1975—were worthy of the seats that they filled, but at the time, doubt resounded through Tucker Hall.

Only a year went by before the women law students began to contemplate an organization of their own. The age was thick with activism. Change agents—civil rights activists, gay rights advocates, Vietnam-era conscientious objectors, second-wave feminists—were vocal throughout the United States. The then eleven women law students of W&L wondered whether it was better to try and assimilate with their male classmates or to create a group that would actively advance gender equality at the law school. Harriet D. Dorsey (‘76L) decided the latter. She founded the Women Law Students Organization (WLSO) in 1974. WLSO worked to remedy gender disparities at the school and to open up conversations relating to women and the law straightaway. Through WLSO, Dorsey brought Sarah Weddington, the attorney who represented “Jane Roe” (real name Norma McCorvey) in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, to campus. After leaving her mark on W&L, Dorsey went on to serve as a Juvenile and Domestic Court judge for the 27th District of Virginia.

Today, WLSO continues to promote an atmosphere of gender equality and awareness of women’s issues in the W&L Law community. To that end, WLSO advocates for the success of women—in the law and beyond—and provides a gathering place for the discussion of issues that interest, concern and affect women. In furtherance of this mission and in honor of 40 years of W&L Law women graduates, WLSO introduces Juris Sophia. Through Juris Sophia, WLSO strives to enrich discourse around issues of women and gender equality. To that end, WLSO will gather and publish content that spurs thoughtful and substantive discussion of challenging issues relating to women and gender; investigates the challenges and opportunities that women in the law encounter; is grounded in research and experience; and celebrates diversity.

On behalf of WLSO, welcome to Juris Sophia.

Madeline Morcelle, Co-President, ’15L
Women Law Students Organization
Washington & Lee University School of Law
WLSO Logo Design Option 6

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