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Headshot of Shirley Abrahamson
Justice Abrahamson teaching
Justice on Wheels
Vel Phillips is the first Black judge in Wisconsin
Vel Phillips

Phillips also becomes the first female judge in Milwaukee.

Olga Bennett becomes the first woman elected to the bench in Wisconsin
Olga Bennett

Bennett runs for election to the Vernon County bench on the spur of the moment. “I just didn’t think I’d win. I only ran because I thought the voters ought to have a choice.” She added, “I do feel a woman can deal out justice as well as a man.” She becomes Wisconsin’s sole woman judge on Jan. 1, 1970.    

Shirley Abrahamson and Margo Melli become UW Law School’s first tenured female professors
Shirley Abrahamson and Margo Melli

The University of Wisconsin Law School offers Abrahamson a professorship in tax law. She agrees on the condition that she and Assistant Professor Margo Melli receive tenure.

First two women oppose each other in oral argument before the supreme court
Betty R. Brown and Shirley S. Abrahamson

Shirley Abrahamson and Assistant Attorney General Betty Brown become the first two women to oppose each other in an oral argument before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The case is State v. Strickland, 27 Wis. 2d 623, 135 N.W.2d 295.

Shirley Abrahamson is the first woman lawyer hired by a private firm in Madison
Shirley Abrahamson arguing in court

Abrahamson earns her doctorate in American legal history, is admitted to the Wisconsin bar, and becomes the first woman lawyer hired by a private firm in Madison. Within a year, she becomes a named partner.

Shirley Abrahamson is valedictorian of law school class
Law school graduation

Abrahamson graduates valedictorian of her law school class and learns that Indianapolis firms will not employ a woman lawyer. She and her husband move to Madison where she pursues a doctorate in legal history and he works on a post doctorate in zoology.

Shirley Schlanger graduates from NYU and marries Seymour Abrahamson
Shirley Schlanger graduating from NYU

Schlanger, age 19, graduates from New York University, marries Seymour Abrahamson, and begins her legal education at Indiana University.

Shirley Schlanger graduates from high school
Shirley Schlanger as a teenager

Schlanger graduates from Hunter College High School at age 16 and begins college at New York University.

Shirley Schlanger decides to be a lawyer instead of president
A young Shirley Schlanger

Schlanger tells her parents that she wants to be a lawyer. They don’t discourage her because at least she is now being realistic. When she was four she insisted that she wanted to be a U.S. president.

Verle E. Sells is appointed Wisconsin’s first female judge
Verle Selles

Gov. Phil La Follette appoints Sells to the Florence County municipal court, making her Wisconsin’s first female judge. At her death in 1940, she is still Wisconsin’s only female judge.

Shirley Schlanger (Abrahamson) is born
Shirley's parents in their store

Schlanger is born in the Bronx, New York to Leo Schlanger and Ceil Sauerteig, Jewish immigrants from Poland.

Mabel Watson Raimey is Wisconsin’s first Black woman lawyer
Mabel Watson Raimey

Raimey is also the first Black woman known to have graduated from a law school in Wisconsin and the first Black woman to graduate from UW Madison.

Dorothy Walker is first woman elected county district attorney
Dorothy Walker

Walker is elected Columbia County district attorney at age 23. She is the first woman to hold this position in Wisconsin. The press reports that she is also the first female district attorney in the United States. During her four-year term, she prosecutes over 300 cases.

Belle Case La Follette becomes the first woman to graduate from the UW Law School
Belle Case LaFollette

La Follette says that it did not take much to convince her that she could handle law school without neglecting her baby and her husband, Dane County District Attorney Bob La Follette, who later became Wisconsin’s governor and senator.

Kate Kane becomes the first woman to run for the supreme court
Kate Kane Rossi

Kane, Wisconsin’s second woman lawyer, becomes the first woman to run for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Only men could participate in elections then. She wins three votes.

Lavinia Goodell becomes the first woman to win an appeal in the supreme court
First page of Ingalls v. State

Lavinia Goodell becomes the first woman to win an appeal in the Wisconsin Supreme Court with Ingalls v. State, 48 Wis. 647 (1880)

Lavinia Goodell becomes the first woman admitted to the supreme court
Certificate admitting Lavinia Goodell to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin

In 1875, Goodell is denied admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court solely because of her gender. She drafts a law prohibiting gender discrimination in the practice of law, persuades the legislature and governor to enact it, and finally gains admission.