Lady Lawyers

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing marks the end of an era for the first generation of female U.S. Supreme Court justices. It's been a comfort to read about some of the fearless women who paved the way for her career as a lawyer and jurist.

rebelsRebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers (NYU Press, $26) by legal historian Jill Norgren highlights the accomplishments of women who chose legal careers in the late 19th century, despite opposition from family, society and the legal profession itself. This first generation of female attorneys debated calling themselves "lady lawyers," a term that didn't stick (but I rather wish it had).

In Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers: Lives in the Law (NYU Press, $22), Norgren curates the remarkable histories of 100 senior female attorneys who spent their careers on the feminist frontlines pursuing gender equality in the legal profession. Collectively, they transformed the attitudes of society toward women lawyers.

Historical fiction is a delightful way to acquaint oneself with trailblazing women. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin, $17) is based on the life of Sarah Grimké, a feminist and abolitionist with a sharp legal mind. Grimké's potent words, quoted from her letters of 1837, were used to powerful effect by Ginsburg: "All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks."

Cornelia Sorabji became British India's first female advocate in 1923. She represented women who, observing the Islamic tradition of purdah, could not meet with male lawyers. Sorabji is the inspiration for Perveen Mistry, Sujata Massey's memorable female protagonist in The Widows of Malabar Hill (Soho Crime, $15.95). Like Ginsburg, Mistry has a steel-trap mind and a passion for activism. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer