The contest started only a few days after my grandmother's funeral, and she was the inspiration for the essay I wrote. I know, essay, that sound very junior high, but what can you expect, really?
LiveJournal Non-Fiction Essay Competition Entry
Number of words: 1098
It's amazing how we latch on to certain things as a child. We are able to comprehend that they are important, but now always how important, or why they are important at all. As a child I was wildly proud of my grandmother for having been a judge, but I didn't understand that accomplishment as I do now.
You see, among other positions held, Dorothy Carson was the first female judge in the Phoenix City Court.
It took years for it to occur to me that my grandmother was a maker of history, a champion for women, and an amazingly strong person. Her path to becoming a judge and a member of the Bar in three states was long and rocky.
Dorothy decided to become a lawyer at the age of seven, and that goal never changed even though nearly a year later she lost most of her hearing due to a case of the measles. She used hearing aids when possible, learned to read lips, and worked even harder. The disability never hindered her. She wouldn’t let it; she never used it for sympathy.
After high school graduation she attended Utah State University and graduated with a B.S. in 1945. She had applied to twenty-one law schools for admission; some didn't accept female students and others didn't have any openings. She was finally accepted to Stanford University with a one year scholarship. During her time there, men outnumbered women 20 to one and women were not allowed to attend the meetings or parties of male students. In 1948, my grandmother was one of only six females to graduate from Stanford Law School.
After graduating, Dorothy tried to get a job in Los Angeles, but no law firm there would hire a woman lawyer. She was a member of the California Bar with a law degree, and yet she had to take a position as receptionist for a local legal newspaper. And most of her $180 a month salary went to pay the rent for her room at the YWCA. Eventually she managed to find work as an attorney for a small law firm that specialized in real estate. While all the men in her same position had carpeted offices, my grandmother had to share a storage room with a secretary.
She married my grandfather in 1952 and they started a family. While raising two young children she continued to work as a lawyer, though in a part-time capacity. Even though the "working mother" was practically non-existent at the time, she was a success at both home and work. When the young family moved to Phoenix, it had been eleven years since she'd graduated from law school and she had to study hard in order to pass the Arizona Bar in 1960. She was the only female to pass the exam that year—out of 60 candidates.
Still finding it difficult to bridge the gender gap in the legal profession, Dorothy started her own business doing legal research for other attorneys. Her work with legal research was proof to firms that she was good at what she did. Eventually that research led to a position in a six-man law firm. This opportunity put her name and experience into the community and within two years she was able to open her own office in downtown Phoenix.
In 1970 my grandmother was appointed the first woman judge in the city of Phoenix. Four years later she ran against seven men for a position on the Maricopa County Superior Court. Her friend, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, ran for a different seat in the same court and both women were elected. Dorothy became the fifth woman in the history of the United States to serve as a Superior Court Judge.
She became known for doing her homework before a case, and said that judges must "put on the black robe of fairness to blanket any biased feelings." This was important because she presided over several death-penalty cases and Dorothy had to follow the law instead of her emotions. She served as a judge for nearly 15 years before retiring in 1984.
Over the years, my grandmother was a member and often branch/chapter president of many local women's organizations, including serving as president of the Camelback Chapter of American Business Women's Association in 1978 and the president of the Alexander Home for Girls in 1973.
My grandmother received a number of honors and awards during her life, including 1979 Phoenix Woman of the Year and 1979 National American Business Woman of the Year; in 1981 she received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Utah State University. Dorothy is listed in Who's Who in American Law, Who's Who Among American Women, Who's Who in the West, Who's Who in Arizona, and the World Who's Who of Women.
I was extremely lucky to grow up with this great woman as a role model. Because of her example, my father has never had a problem hiring women for his businesses, and he never discouraged me from various pursuits because I’m female. In my household I never heard anything like “you can’t do that, you’re just a girl.” My grandmother taught my father that women are as capable as men, and they both taught that to me and my siblings.
My grandmother was also very lucky to have found my grandfather, a man who was very supportive and dedicated to her, and knew the importance of her work and positions. At one time he was the CFO of a very large clothing company, and the Board of Directors offered him the position of CEO. He knew that if he took the job he’d be away from his family more and unable to help with their children as much, thereby putting unnecessary strain on my grandmother. He decided that her work as a judge was more important, and turned down the promotion so he could continue to support her.
My grandmother's accomplishments paved the way for women in law everywhere, not just in Arizona. While I didn't choose to enter law myself, I always had her support and saw in her a way to follow my dreams and do whatever I want, no matter what might stand in my way. Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of my grandmother and women like her, I have limitless possibilities ahead of me.
When asked to advise women entering the legal field, my grandmother once offered, "Remember you can’t be superwoman. Be the best you can—with what you’ve got—where you are." That’s sound advice for any woman.
So that was my entry. I went for more of a journalistic, biographical writing style, mostly because I was still quite emotional over it, so this was the best approach for my feelings. I didn't include any mention of her death because that wasn't the focus of the story, her life and accomplishments were.
Anyway, according to the contest rules, there were two winners. One chosen by the LJ staff and one chosen by the members of the LJ community (out of the pre-selected ten that were up for vote). You can read those ten entries in the community (one through five and six through ten), as well as the non-eligible showcase favorites and the two grand prize winners.
That's all folks! (For this entry, that is. I know I've been neglecting this journal, hopefully that'll be fixed soon.) Thanks for reading my essay, and feel free to tell me what you think!