Main content

1979: The Year Women Changed the Judiciary

In 1979, the number of women serving as federal judges more than doubled. In this series, learn more about the trailblazers who reshaped the Judiciary. 

Carolyn King: ‘Reluctant Judge’ Excelled as Leader

Image: Judge King with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Published onOctober 16, 2019

By her own admission, Carolyn Dineen King, who in 1979 joined an historic class of 23 women jurists, was not committed to being a lawyer when she entered law school in 1959.   

Stephanie Seymour: Judge From Historic Class Learned Independence Early

Image of Judge Stephanie Seymour being sworn in to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979.

Published onOctober 9, 2019

Judge Stephanie Kulp Seymour, who joined a historic class of women judges when she was appointed in 1979 to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, was encouraged early on by her parents to be an independent thinker.


Barbara Crabb: ‘My Parents Taught Me I Could Be Anything I Wanted to Be’

Judge Barbara Crabb.

Published onOctober 2, 2019

District Judge Barbara Brandriff Crabb, of the Western District of Wisconsin, had a potential head start on a legal career. Her uncle, father, and grandfather all had law degrees, and as a child, “my parents taught me I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Dorothy Nelson: An Instinct for Fairness Led to the Bench

Image: Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson

Published onSeptember 25, 2019

Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson was a legal pioneer long before 1979, when she joined a historic class of women judges who reshaped the federal Judiciary, and she already had an uncanny knack for finding justice in non-confrontive ways.

Sylvia Rambo: Perseverance Made a Childhood Dream Come True

Image: Sylvia H. Rambo

Published onSeptember 18, 2019

Long before she joined a historic class of women judges in 1979, District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo’s professional future began with a childhood vision. As her school bus drove past Dickinson School of Law in her home town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer.


Law Dean Said, ‘You’ll Change Your Mind;’ Susan Black Proved Him Wrong

Image: Judge Susan Harrell Black, at her 1979 investiture in the Middle District of Florida.

Published onSeptember 11, 2019

Like many  of the 23 women judges who transformed the federal Judiciary in 1979, Susan Harrell Black was encouraged by her father to have professional aspirations—but for a darkly practical reason.


Anne Thompson: Inspired by Parents, ‘I Loved Every Job I Had’

Image: In 1979, with her family at her side, Judge Anne E. Thompson is sworn in as a federal judge in the District of New Jersey.

Published onSeptember 4, 2019

Judge Anne Elise Thompson never had specific career goals, and never imagined she would be part of a historic class of women judges appointed to the federal bench in 1979.

Rya Zobel: A Child of Nazi Germany Says ‘I’ve been Incredibly Fortunate’

Published onAugust 28, 2019

Judge Rya Zobel, of the District of Massachusetts, joined a historic class of 23 women who in 1979 transformed the federal Judiciary. In a group of pioneering women lawyers, her journey to the federal bench was perhaps the most remarkable.

Mary Murphy Schroeder: She Broke Barriers From the Start

Judge Mary Schroeder is sworn in as a U.S. judge.

Published onAugust 21, 2019

In 1979, Mary Murphy Schroeder joined a historic class of women judges who transformed the federal Judiciary, but her law career nearly ended before it began. The night before her first final law exam at the University of Chicago, Schroeder collapsed and was hospitalized with a severe kidney infection.

40 Years Later, Pioneering Women Judges Savor Place in History

Image: In 1980, President Jimmy Carter met with members of the new National Association of Women Judges, many of whom he had appointed to the federal bench.

Published onAugust 14, 2019

In 1979, 23 women were appointed to the federal bench—more than doubling the number of women appointed to life-tenured judgeships in the previous 190 year history of the United States. The doors they opened never swung shut again. Forty years later, women make up one-third of the courts’ full-time, active Article III judges.