In a Year of Notable Deaths, a World of Women Who Shattered CeilingsBreaking News
tags: obituaries, womens history
Almost all were born between the world wars, one even before women had the right to vote. They came from white-collar homes and blue-, from black households and white. But when they died this year, they had something in common besides the final leveling that death brings.
They had all found a place in a world that rarely, if ever, had been open to women.
Whether one or the other was the absolute first to break a glass ceiling could be open to debate. But let’s say, at the least, that each planted a foot inside a door that had long been closed to women and then shouldered her way in — to a roomful of men.
Ruth Abrams was one. In 1977 she became the first woman to take a seat on the highest court in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court. It had taken 285 years (that is not a typo) — since the court’s founding in 1692. (Another notable juridical event that year was the start of the Salem witch trials.)
Ellen Bree Burns overcame similar obstacles in Connecticut, also in the 1970s — a signal decade in which feminism’s second wave was just beginning to build strength. She became the first woman to rise to the bench of her state’s major trial court and the first woman to be named to a federal court there.
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