The first female lawyer

It’s been something like 10 years since I first began writing about local history. My earliest attempts were for a women’s magazine that an employer found at the dentist. It was a free, newsletter-style magazine that you sometimes pick up at the grocery store, and it was all about local women. My boss had found a copy on the table at her dentist’s office, and suggested I contact the editor and ask about getting a regular column.

So, in other words, you wouldn’t be reading this now if my boss hadn’t had a cavity.

I used to choose one local woman every issue, and write about her. Maria Molson, Annie Snyder, Annie Halenbake Ross, Gertrude Kistler. I chose some of the women I found the most interesting, and write a column every month. I wrote for that publication for two years, and it was a good experience for me.

It may come as no surprise that, when I need an idea for a column, I have a tendency to gravitate back to women.

And so many of them have accomplished so much in this county. It’s actually sort of fascinating to look into it and learn about what women have managed to do.

For instance, Gloria Haggerty.

Gloria Haggerty was the first female lawyer in Clinton County.

She didn’t start out as an attorney, of course. She started out as a child. Born in 1924 to Matt and Olive Haggerty, she grew up at 59 East Church Street. Her father was a local lawyer, and from an early age, she expressed an interest in following in his wing-tips.

Gloria went to Lock Haven High School, where she was in the drama club, the French club, and wrote for the school newspaper. She graduated in 1940. To her credit, she managed to avoid acquiring one of those ridiculous nicknames like “Ace” or “Muttsie,” that appear in high school yearbooks and nowhere else.

She attended Dickinson Law, where she graduated in June of 1944 with her LL.B. degree, whatever that is. (I’m sure some lawyers will contact me and tell me.) Her parents attended her graduation in Carlisle and the banquet in Harrisburg, which was reported in the Clinton County Times on June 1, 1944.

The Times reported on the fact that she was the first female lawyer. The article said, “There has never been a woman practicing attorney in Clinton County and Miss Haggerty will have the honor of breaking the precedent.”

Gloria spent two weeks at home, visiting her parents, and then left for Philadelphia, where she studied for the summer, preparing for the bar examinations. She passed the bar in August, which I respect. I haven’t passed a bar since I turned 21.

Gloria was required to serve a six-month clerkship in an established law office, and she chose her father’s firm at 138 East Water Street. He was also the solicitor for the city of Lock Haven and a director of the First National Bank, and it’s probably safe to assume she helped out with those, too.

Busy lady. In January of 1905, a new group for women was formed, the Lock Haven Business and Professional Women’s Club. In addition to being the county’s first female attorney, she was this club’s first president, which was announced on the front page of the Clinton County Times on Jan. 11, 1945.

“Miss Gloria A. Haggerty was elected president of the Lock Haven Business and Professional Women’s Club as a club was organized at a dinner meeting at the Fallon Hotel,” the article said. “Twenty-four women signed the charter and it was decided the charter will remain open for ten days for the convenience of any who wish to join. The club will meet at the Fallon on the third Tuesday of each month.”

Gloria Haggerty definitely deserves to be remembered for her accomplishments. As our first female attorney in Clinton County, she was something special. I think most of the local lawyers would agree with me on that.

The rest will probably sue me.

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Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at ross13@rosslibrary.org or 570-748-3321.

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