Justice Matters: Former Governor Remembered for Breaking Gender Barrier in Nonpartisan Judicial Appointments
23 May 2014
The following reflections of Missouri Chief Justice Mary R. Russell make up her most recent Justice
Earlier this month,
Missouri lost former Governor Joseph Teasdale. As I read the news coverage of
“Walkin’ Joe’s” legacy, it occurred to me something was missing from those
articles: In 1978, Teasdale became the first governor to appoint a woman to the
bench under the nonpartisan court plan. Women previously had served as judges
in other parts of the state, by virtue of an election or the occasional appointment
to a midterm vacancy, but no governor ever had selected a woman to serve on one
of the courts governed by the Missouri Plan.
When Governor Teasdale
selected Ann Niederlander to be an associate circuit judge in St. Louis County, she was the first
woman elevated to the bench through Missouri’s nonpartisan court
plan. Then, in 1979, Teasdale selected Anna Forder to serve as a circuit judge
in St. Louis city. Through these appointments,
Teasdale opened doors for more women – as well as his successors in office.
Nine years and two
governors later, history again was made as women were chosen as judges for Missouri’s appeals court. In
1987, then-Governor John Ashcroft selected Ann Covington for that court’s western
district, and the next year, he selected Jean Hamilton to be the first woman to
serve on the appeals court’s eastern district. It took another 13 years and
another three governors, however, before the first woman was selected for the court
of appeals’ southern district – Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer, appointed in 2001 by
then-Governor Bob Holden.
The first woman selected
for the state’s high court did not occur until 1989, when Ann Covington was
appointed by Governor Ashcroft. I now am the third woman to serve as a judge of
the Supreme Court of Missouri and its third female chief justice.
We have come a long way
since the United States Supreme Court, more than a century ago, upheld
Illinois’ denial of a woman’s application for admission to the bar, noting in
its 1873 decision: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs
to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil
life. … [T]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble
and benign offices of wife and mother.”
Thanks to the trend
begun by Governor Teasdale, we – thankfully – have moved well beyond talking
about “firsts” on the bench for Missouri women.