The Birth of Legal Aid: Gender Ideologies, Women, and the Bar in New York City, 1863-1910
Law and History Review, Forthcoming
Posted: 6 Apr 2010
Date Written: April 6, 2010
This article demonstrates that organized legal aid societies first developed through the provision of legal services to poor women often by other women. The article provides an in-depth analysis of the Working Women’s Protective Union which was founded in 1863 in New York City. By 1888, the Union had conducted over 10,000 prosecutions and mediated 25,000 disputes on behalf of women. The complex history of the Union establishes how legal aid was shaped by the ways in which shifting gender ideologies intersected with the nascent labor movement, understandings of wage labor, new ideas about philanthropy, and the changing nature of the legal profession. By the turn of the century, however, the New York Legal Aid Society became the dominant provider of legal aid services to the poor. As this occurred women’s roles as legal providers and recipients of legal aid was even further expanded. Gender was thus foundational to the development of legal aid and women played crucial roles as lawyers, benefactors, and clients. Moreover gender dictated who would be the beneficiaries of legal aid, how lawyers constructed legal claims, who provided legal aid, and how legal aid reflected back upon the image of the legal profession.
Keywords: legal aid, women, gender, legal profession
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