Women in the Uniform Law Commission - A Brief History

By Robinson, Katie posted 06-25-2019 11:15 AM


ULC Women Commissioners

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920, giving women the right to vote in the United States.  Not only did women finally have the right to vote, but by 1920 every state admitted women lawyers to the bar.  It wasn’t long after the ratification of the 19th Amendment that women were then appointed to the Uniform Law Commission, which had been founded in 1892. There were two women appointed to the ULC in 1923.

Marguerite Ashford, an attorney in Honolulu, Hawaii, was appointed commissioner in 1923 and served until 1932.  She was born in 1891 in Honolulu, when Hawaii was still a constitutional monarchy. Her father, C.W. Ashford, was a member of the Hawaiian League, a group that wanted to replace the monarchy with a republic.  He was exiled in 1895.  He spent his exile in San Francisco, practicing law.  His family, including Marguerite, remained in Hawaii.  He eventually returned to Hawaii in 1902. 

After graduating from high school in 1909, Marguerite went to the University of California – Berkeley, where she graduated in 1914 with high honors.  She went on to earn her law degree from the University of Michigan in 1915; she was the only female in the graduating class.  She returned to Hawaii in 1916, and at the age of 24, she became the first woman admitted to the bar in Hawaii.  She practiced law for more than 30 years.  In 1950, she was an elected delegate to the Hawaii constitutional convention that began the work for statehood (Hawaii was admitted to the Union in 1959).  She passed away in 1970 at the age of 78.  As a lifelong resident of Hawaii, she had been the subject of three distinct types of government:  monarchy, republic, and state.

Margaret Young, an attorney in Forsyth, Montana, was appointed to the ULC by Governor Joseph M. Dixon in 1923 and served as commissioner until 1942.  Margaret was born in 1882 in Madelia, Minnesota, and received her law degree from Valparaiso University in 1908.  She was admitted to practice law in Indiana in 1908, and in Montana in 1910.  She was married to Harry G. Young, and together they established the law firm of Young & Young in Forsyth.  In 1913, she was admitted to practice in the United States federal court, the third woman in Montana so admitted.  She was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1928 and was a member of the American Bar Association and the Montana Bar Association.  She practiced law until 1950 and passed away in 1954 at the age of 72.

Both Margaret Young and Marguerite Ashford were trail-blazers in their home states, and though they did not chair any committees or serve in any leadership role in the ULC, they paved the way for the women that followed them.

Some firsts:

Soia Mentschikoff was the first female reporter for any ULC drafting committee.  She was the Assistant Chief Reporter for the Uniform Commercial Code, appointed to that role in 1942.  She was later appointed a commissioner from Illinois and served from 1965 to 1969.  Outside the ULC, she was the first woman to teach at Harvard Law School, and then became the first woman faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School.

Jeanyse R. Snow, Oregon commissioner from 1977 to 1986, was the first female ULC officer.  She was appointed Vice President in 1986.  Jeanyse was also the first female member of the Scope and Program Committee, serving as a Scope member from 1983-1985.  As Vice President, Jeanyse was also the first female member of the Executive Committee (1986).

Linda Judd, Idaho commissioner from 1978 to 1993, was the first female appointed member of the Executive Committee.  She was a member of the Executive Committee from 1987 to 1989.

Lani Ewart, Hawaii commissioner, was the first female life member of the ULC.  Lani was appointed commissioner in 1977 and became a life member in 1998.  There are now more than 20 female life members.

Battle Robinson, Delaware commissioner since 1980, was the first woman who was appointed chair of any ULC committee.  Battle was chair of the Review Committee for the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act in 1992.  Battle would then go on to be the first woman to chair a study or drafting committee.  She was chair of the drafting committee to amend the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act in 1996. 

Another first in 1996:  Paula Tackett, New Mexico commissioner since 1988, became the first woman to chair a special committee when she was appointed chair of the Committee to Review ULC Acts.

Pat Fry, Missouri commissioner since 1990, was the second woman to chair a study or drafting committee, when she was appointed to chair the drafting committee on the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act in 1997. UETA was approved in 1999 and has since been enacted in 48 states.

The first woman to be appointed Division Chair was North Carolina commissioner Rhoda Billings, who served as Division Chair from 1989 to 1996.  Rhoda was a commissioner from 1985 until 2016.

Marti Starkey, Indiana commissioner since 1990, was the second woman to be appointed Division Chair in 1997.

Rhoda Billings was also the first woman appointed to the Uniform Law Foundation; she was appointed trustee in 2004.  Marti Starkey became the second woman to serve as ULF trustee when she replaced Rhoda on the Foundation Board in 2009.

In 2003, Martha Walters, Oregon commissioner since 1992, became the first woman to chair the Scope and Program Committee, serving as chair from 2003 to 2005.  Martha then went on to be the first woman to chair the Executive Committee (2005-2007) and then to become the ULC’s first woman president, serving from 2007-2009.

Harriet Lansing, Minnesota commissioner since 1993, was the second woman to chair the Scope and Program Committee (2009-2011), the second woman to chair the Executive Committee (2011-2013) and the second woman ULC President, serving from 2013 to 2015.

Anita Ramasastry, Washington commissioner since 2002, is the third woman to serve in those roles (Scope and Program chair from 2013-2015; Executive Committee Chair from 2015- 2017), and is the current ULC President, having been elected in 2017.

In conclusion…

In 1923, there were two women commissioners.  Those numbers did not increase for many years, and as a matter of fact, in 1942, the 50th anniversary of the ULC, there were still only two women commissioners (Margaret Young, in her last year as commissioner, was joined by Mrs. Frances F. Royce, a member of the Legislative Drafting Office in Michigan).  Even from that point, the numbers went down before there was a steady increase.  In 1962, there were no women commissioners.  In 1982, there were 13 women commissioners.  In 2002, there were 56 women commissioners.  And in 2019, there are 96 women commissioners.

In the first 100 years of the ULC, from 1892 to 1992, there was only ONE woman commissioner who chaired any ULC committee (Battle Robinson in 1992).  Contrast that with 2019, where women serve as drafting committee chairs, study committee chairs, division chairs, special committee chairs, and members of the Scope and Program and Executive Committees.  As a matter of fact, there are now more than more than 30 women who are serving as chairs or co-chairs or vice chairs of ULC committees.  ULC women commissioners have come a long way!