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March Message from SCWLA President Molly Cherry

Last month marked the thirtieth anniversary of Women’s History Month.  In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women's History Project, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the month of March as “Women's History Month.”     

Interestingly, a number of noteworthy events for women lawyers have occurred in the month of March.  Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood was the first woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 3, 1879.  She was not only the first woman to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, but she was also the first woman to run for U.S. President.   In our own state, Jean Toal was sworn in as the first woman elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court on March 17, 1988.  She was elected Chief Justice in 2000, and served until December 31, 2015.  And, most recently, SCWLA learned last month that we are the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Member Program Award from the National Conference of Women Bar Associations for our Building Resilience Project!  To learn more about the project, click here:

Countless amazing women lawyers hail from and live in this state.  In 1988, Carol Connor was the first woman in South Carolina elected to the SC circuit court, and she was the first woman to serve as an acting member of the South Carolina Supreme Court.   Marian Wright Edelman, a native of Bennettsville, South Carolina, broke barriers in 1964 when she became the first African-American female admitted to the Mississippi Bar.  Our own long-standing board member, Sarah Leverette, was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her service as a World War II Civil Air Patrol Member, Columbia Squadron.   There are many, many more women lawyers throughout our state, and it is impossible to list them all in this message.   Who comes to your mind when you think of inspiring SC women lawyers?  Tweet or post about them and, when you do, remember to tag SCWLA so that we all can celebrate them with you: @scwla_briefcase @scwla @scwomenlawyers

SCWLA endeavors ever year to honor the outstanding women lawyers in our State through one of the awards established in recognition of some our own trailblazers, including Chief Justice Jean Toal (the Toal Award) and Jean Galloway Bissell (the Bissell Award).    All of you know Chief Justice Toal, who continues to be a tireless advocate for women lawyers in our state.  The Toal Award is not given every year but, instead, is reserved for special recognition of professional excellence and notable career achievement characterized by the championship of causes affecting women.  The award is designed to honor visionaries and pioneers whose careers demonstrate longstanding and groundbreaking public service, commitment to the advancement of women and the cause of justice, as well as a history of leadership in the legal community.   

The Jean Galloway Bissell award is given every year.  Jean Bissell graduated first in her University of South Carolina School of Law class in 1958, and later became General Counsel of the South Carolina National Bank, and was promoted to Executive Vice President and Vice-Chairwomen of the SCN's Board. At that time, she was the highest-ranking female executive among the 100 largest bank holding companies in the United States. In 1984, she became the first female South Carolina lawyer in a federal judgeship when she was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  The award is designed to honor distinguished and noteworthy service to the public and the legal profession; achievement of professional excellence; and participation in activities that have paved the way to success for women lawyers on the national, state or local level.   


The SCWLA Foundation also presents the Dicus award each year.  Martha B. Dicus touched and improved countless lives in our state during her long career in public interest law, primarily as a front-line legal aid lawyer and public defender.  The SCWLA Foundation presents the Martha B. Dicus Award for Public Interest Law to an attorney who exemplifies Martha’s commitment and zeal in using the law to serve the most vulnerable in our communities.   

For a list of SCWLA’s award recipients, click here:    You can also download an application to nominate an individual for one of these award.  With the close of Women’s History Month, take time to reflect on a woman lawyer who has impacted your path.  Who was the woman lawyer who came to mind above?  Let her know and consider nominating her for one of SCWLA’s awards.



 Molly Cherry