July/August 2002
Paul H. Mills, Esq.                                             
Interviewed July 17, 2002 in Farmington, Maine.

Historical Research and Early Maine
Women Attorneys: Part Two
"I think many of us who are involved in historical research ... have a fascination with courageous individuals, people of great integrity, or people who have accomplished something in life in a very grand and unusual manner."

"An overriding theme would be that of George Santayana, the turn of the last century philosopher, who observed that those who do not remember the lessons of history will be condemned to repeat them."

"The intriguing thing, I just learned from the benefit of Justice Silsby's research, was that Clara Hapgood Nash went into the courtroom. "

"Those of us who are men perhaps have some difficulty trying to appreciate the hardships and some of the challenges and obstacles that many women attorneys...have in surmounting prejudices and certain historic and cultural tendencies that are an obstacle even as we speak."
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Q: Why did you pursue a career in law?

A: It was an incremental decision.  It was always in the background when I was approached about my childhood aspirations because my father was an attorney and his father was also an attorney.  It raised some expectation that I might have an interest in it and occasionally I did.

As a teenager I pursued a career in broadcasting and I worked part time through most of high school, all through college, and much of law school in a number of different radio and television facilities in Portland, Farmington, Boston, and outside of Boston. I probably thought as much about pursuing a career in broadcasting and broadcast journalism as much as law.

The decision to get to law school was impelled by the fact that when I was a senior at Harvard all of my friends and acquaintances were going on to school to do something. I felt I would be out of the loop if I didn't take a crack at some kind of graduate education. I was enthusiastic about history, which I had majored in and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, but I didn't want to make an academic career out of that.  I thought about business school, but realized that if I went to law school I would keep my options open.  I could be both in business and pursue law and possibly even continue to pursue broadcasting.

When I got out of law school in Portland in 1977, my father was re-establishing a family practice that he had relinquished when he worked for the federal government and he encouraged me to start out with him.  It sounded like an interesting adventure. Also, I liked the Farmington area, to which I had always maintained ties. 

I decided to pursue a career in private practice, which I enjoyed enormously from the start.  I must say I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about some elements of law school and I wasn't sure how I would like practicing law.  But, once I got out of law school, it was a very exciting, rewarding, challenging and fascinating experience for which my enthusiasm has not abated to this day, twenty-five years later.

Q: What law school did you attend and when did you graduate?

A: University of Maine Law School in 1977.

Q: What did you do after law school?

A: I came back to Farmington, where my roots are, and have been here ever since.

Q: Did you have a particular area of expertise?

A: Yes. During the last fifteen years my area of specialization/concentration has been in real estate title. The firm, to an extent, is a title company. We issue title insurance and do closings.  There is some diversification with business operations, LLC's, estates, and occasionally some other areas of law.

One of the great things about the practice of law is that it will allow you to shift your area of concentration. When I started out I did more criminal and domestic relations and some workers compensation law. The title work was done by other lawyers in the Farmington area who had been practicing longer than I had.  But, over the first ten years of my practice, that gradually shifted and my focus developed in that area.

The one common thread to when I first started would be that I do a lot of collection and foreclosure work, which is a bread and butter item for a lot of new attorneys. And, I have certainly tried to sustain that area of practice well into the present time.

Q: You are considered to be a preeminent historian in Maine. When did you first begin to take an interest in history?

A: Certainly as a child I always had an interest in it.  One of the pleasures I had as a child was growing up across the street from the library at the University of Maine at Farmington, which was called Farmington State Teachers College. I was frequently able to gain access to historical items there and then we were just a few doors down from the Farmington Public Library.

Both of my parents had an interest in history and encouraged that interest.  It was a favorite subject of conversation with my parents. And, occasionally my grandparents, although I don't remember them too well, would have that interest. That's how it began and I majored in it in college.

Go to Top                            Fascination with Courageous Individuals                               Go to End

Q: When you research historical topics do you focus on a particular time or place?

A: Usually. Besides the element of time or place, there is also subject matter, as well as the protagonist or personality.  I think many of us who are involved in historical research, and I hasten to point out that I don't regard myself as a professional historian, have a fascination with courageous individuals, people of great integrity, or people who have accomplished something in life in a very grand and unusual manner.  That oftentimes becomes the fulcrum for the subject matter.

Let me give you an example that illustrates the point. Over the years I recall my father speaking of an individual he knew in the Maine legislature who had run for governor. His name was Roy Fernald.  My father referred to Roy Fernald because he was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not for having nine different earned college and graduate degrees. Probably very few people in the country have had that many earned degrees and certainly very few of them were in the arena of public service or in politics.

Fascinated with this person's accomplishments, with my father's assistance, seven or eight years ago I decided to pursue as much information as I could about Mr. Fernald.  He died in 1951 and was only about forty-nine years old when he died. My father knew his widow. I looked her up and the widow offered us the chance to borrow graduate school as well as other theses, writings and scrapbooks that Mr. Fernald had put together. And we were able to authenticate the story of his appearing in Ripley's Believe or Not at least twice.

I pursued some subject matters that had achieved the interest of Mr. Fernald.  In one he was an opponent on the floor of the state senate in 1935 of legislation for the expression Vacationland on license plates. And this was a very learned person and he debated it at some length.  He said that it would perhaps give the connotation that we were a lazy state.  It actually passed. Now we have the record for a license plate slogan. No other state has had a license plate slogan longer than the State of Maine.

Just in this morning's daily paper was an article in which a study had been completed that said that the Maine government and the image makers for the State of Maine have to make up their mind as to whether we want to be a state that attracts business, industry and commerce or whether we want to attract tourists. They pointed out that in some ways they're incompatible notions. It's hard to have both of them as the image of your state. The same kind of concepts that Mr. Fernald was driving at when he objected to Vacationland appearing on the license plate.  I'm not trying to pass judgment on the virtue or merit of that kind of discussion, but what we were talking about in 1935 was just in this morning's paper.

Another area of great interest to Mr. Fernald was the sales tax. We actually didn't have a sales tax that stuck until 1951. It's a daily event in our lives, a ubiquitous feature in everybody's existence in Maine. Now it's five percent. The Maine legislature in 1937 passed the sales tax. It was a one percent sales tax. And it also taxed groceries. There was a referendum clause attached to it and it went out to public referendum in September 1937.

Mr. Fernald led the campaign against the sales tax in the state senate and collaborated with the Maine Grocer's Association. The reason why the sales tax was defeated in that referendum was largely based upon opposition that he led with the grocers as well as some other organizations in the state. And the foundation of that opposition was that there was no exemption for groceries.

In 1951, when the sales tax was enacted, which is the basis of the one that we have had in continuous existence, there was an exemption for groceries. So, again, focusing on this individual that had this seemingly random personal accomplishment in Ripley's Believe It or Not has led me to areas of interest that he had.

As far as particular time and place, I think as an historian I probably am more interested in the first half of the twentieth century than other areas. This is inspired in part because of the enthusiasm that my father had for a number of the public figures with which he may have been associated beginning in the late 1930's and through a number of decades later.  The State of Maine has been the geographical focus in some of my recent work.

Within the legal community I obviously have to give a great deal of credit to Herbert Silsby who has written more than I have about history of the judicial system and of early attorneys in Maine.  My area of historical research, as his of course, extends to other areas than the legal profession.

Q: Where do you find your information?

A: I've alluded to the fact that I was in close proximity to the library facilities and even to this day still am. I'm at the opposite corner of University of Maine at Farmington than I was when I was a kid. And that's not far away. Certainly anybody that has an interest in history, as I do, will collect books or other periodicals either at second-hand bookstores or elsewhere. I have a collection of materials, published and unpublished, of our family correspondence as well as a collection of newspapers.

We use the internet some. I have acquaintances as well as the people on my staff who will work with me to pursue different leads.  A great source of information, particularly biographical information of state legislators and the legislature, is Laura Goss and Lynn Randall at the State Law Library in Augusta. I cannot say enough good things about them. We have also had some assistance and cooperation from the state archives.

I also do my work at the Sun Journal library in Lewiston. I have some access to the microfilm of the Sun Journal papers and also of the index systems for subject matters and individuals, which is very helpful because most of your public libraries that carry a paper like the Sun Journal don't have an index. There's not a Reader's Guide to Periodicals for a lot of your daily newspapers in Maine.

We sometimes correspond with the Blethen newspapers in Portland if we have a particular time period or a person we're looking for and with the Secretary of State's office for some of the election returns that we occasionally research.  The Bowdoin College library is a place where we have occasionally picked up some items.

There have been interviews with particular figures: Judge Frank Coffin of the US Circuit Court of Appeals, who was very generous with his time a couple of years ago; Don Nicoll, who was a congressional administrative assistant with Senator Muskie's office as well as with Coffin's office when Judge Coffin was a congressman.

A lot of Maine attorneys I've had the pleasure of interviewing on tape as well as over the phone.  Judge Woodcock in Bangor, for example. Martin Berman in Lewiston was very cordial and generous with his time.

There is also an individual in the Farmington area, Dick Mallett.  He's one of the more fascinating historians, now ninety-three years old and still going strong.  He has written four historical books, three over the last dozen years, on the area of education and the history of the University of Maine at Farmington, as well as local historical publications. I've collaborated with him on a couple of those.  He worked for the CIA for twenty years in Washington DC. He has an enormous background, a learned person, as well as having taught history at the college level and the prep school level. He has been a very inspirational figure.

A college roommate of mine from Harvard, Jim Baughman, I'm frequently in touch with.  He has oftentimes offered some feedback on issues of general historic importance. He teaches history at the graduate school of journalism at the University of Wisconsin.

Information can obviously be from various documentary sources.  I don't confine myself to the first half of the 20th century. We recently did a piece for the Sun Journal on the Ira Einhorn case. I interviewed Mr. Chitwood and we found access to the Philadelphia newspapers invaluable to keep tabs on it.

Q: How long do you typically spend on a particular subject?

A: Some subjects are ones on which I have a longer attention span than others.  For example, about three years ago I did a story on the death penalty in Maine, the history of it from the 19th century ... it was abolished the last time in the 1880's ... and whether proposals to reinstate it had a chance of passage. Probably not a month goes by that I am not continuing to update that file in anticipation of perhaps doing another column on it because there are stories on it all the time.

The story that I did for the Sun Journal in February on women lawyers in Maine is another.  On that particular story I worked off and on for seven or eight months before it went into print. Even after the story was published, I have continued to augment the files.

What draws my focus of interest would be the deadline for the story for the column that I do every four weeks for the Sun Journal.  Probably seventy-five per cent of the work that I have to do occurs in the last six or seven days before the deadline.

After the article is done, in about half the cases, I've built up such a momentum of interest that I will continue to do more research on the subject and even get some email feedback from readers as well as letters from people.  That will continue the interest and research for a few more weeks.

The occasion of a particular subject will oftentimes be driven by public events.  There was a lot of focus on domestic terrorism after the September 11th tragedy. That gave me an occasion to visit some research and some materials that I had regarding the trials of several individuals in the federal district court in Maine in 1976 and 1977 arising out of events that occurred in July of 1976, the nation's bicentennial.

Some weathermen-type pseudo revolutionaries had a purpose and intent to cause some disruption here in the United States, obviously not on the same scale as the September 11th tragedy, but nevertheless did result in some violence in New England.  I recalled a column that I had written that discussed the roots of terrorism in Maine during that earlier period of time and I compared it and related it to its contemporary manifestations. 

Similarly, when we got to the end of the millennium, there were a lot of retrospective features on the twentieth century. I just did a column that appeared a few days ago that incorporated some research I had done on the history of income and property tax matters in the State of Maine, which was clearly inspired by the budget shortfall that we have today.

Go to Top                             Remembering the Lessons of History                                      Go to End

The title of my column is Past and Prologue. I tend to relate some historical writings that I do to a contemporary event so that it appears relevant. An overriding theme would be that of George Santayana, the turn of the last century philosopher, who observed that those who do not remember the lessons of history will be condemned to repeat them.  I think it's important that people understand the texture and the context of contemporary events and how what we may be going through in many respects is by no means the first time it is happening, although clearly some aspects may have a very unique dimension to them.

One popular misapprehension about historical events occurred in the weeks and months after September 11th. It was frequently asserted in the media that this was the largest single day disaster in terms of the loss of human life in American history.  Anyone with a cursory familiarity with the Civil War will tell you that there were more people killed in one day at Antietam in September of 1862 than were lost last September 11th.

Knowing the dimensions and the perspective in which people should place particular events or occurrences are helpful and meaningful and it is important people have an educated consciousness of where things fit today.

Q: You have been doing ongoing research on early women attorneys in Maine. Who was the first woman attorney?

A: Clara Hapgood Nash, admitted in 1872, was the first woman in New England and only about the fifth in the country. She was admitted in Machias, the seat of Washington County, one of our outlying areas.

Q: What was the background in her becoming an attorney?

A: Her husband was an attorney. It was obvious she had worked with him in his practice. She actually lived in Columbia Falls, which is a town outside of Machias. She, like most of the early women attorneys and even men attorneys at that time, read law in another person's office under an apprentice system.

She was examined before a board of attorneys and then Justice Barrows of Brunswick, who was probably one of the more individualistic members of the judiciary in the State of Maine at that time, gave a decision that certainly was not adhered to in other states.  He declared that he couldn't find anything in the law that would prohibit a woman from being admitted and so he made the final decision to authorize her admission.

It was not until 1899, however, that we had a law that specifically prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in the admission of attorneys.  Shortly after that we had our second and third women attorneys. But, it is interesting that it was over 25 years from the time the first was admitted until the second and third and it required a specific statute.

Go to Top                             Clara Hapgood Nash in the Courtroom                                  Go to End

The intriguing thing, I just learned from the benefit of Justice Silsby's research, was that Clara Hapgood Nash went into the courtroom. This may seem nothing extraordinary but I think one of the characteristics of most early women attorneys, from previous research Justice Silsby, Meg Johnson, and I have done, was that they were not trial attorneys. But we find in the Saturday, October 18, 1873 Machias Republican newspaper a write-up that Justice Silsby discovered in which it recites in pertinent part:

"Wednesday afternoon the case of J.D. Allen v. Town of Jonesboro for damages to a horse was taken up. This case attracted some attention from the fact that the defense was to be managed by F.C. and C.H. Nash and that Mrs. Nash would open the case to the jury, which she accordingly did. We were not fortunate enough to be present but several members of the Bar admitted it to have been done in a most credible manner giving authorities and decisions promptly and in excellent style. There are other members of the Bar who do not relish the innovation. Mrs. Nash also examined the witnesses in the case, which occupied about a day."

They returned a verdict for the plaintiff for $50.00. Nominally it was a plaintiff's verdict, although I don't know whether those damages were below the expectation of the plaintiff.

Mrs. Nash and her husband later moved to Portland and then to the Boston area. They had a son, Frederick Nash, who was one of the leading attorneys in the country in insurance law, according to Justice Silsby.

The first woman to argue a case before the Maine Supreme Court was not until a couple of generations later. That was Alice Parker, who sometime between 1932 and 1952 pled a case before the Maine Supreme Court. She won.  She was the first woman attorney in Androscoggin County, having been admitted in 1932, and I noticed from a 1952 write-up of her in the Lewiston Journal that she specialized in probate practice, which was a prevalent specialty of many of the early women attorneys.

I personally practiced with one of the early women attorneys in Maine the first two or three years I was practicing law. A woman who is alive today. She is about ninety-three years old, living in Camden, by the name of Ruth Pullen. She, like many women, was a nontraditional law student who did not go to law school until she was fifty-one years old and she went to Temple University in Philadelphia.

She returned to Maine to start practicing with my father in early 1965.  During her previous professional career she had been the warden or head of the women's reformatory in Skowhegan. She was a fascinating person and early mentor of mine and certainly one of the reasons why I've taken an interest in the history of some of the other earlier women attorneys in Maine.

Go to Top                                         Surmounting Prejudices                                               Go to End

Those of us who are men perhaps have some difficulty trying to appreciate the hardships and some of the challenges and obstacles that many women attorneys, not just the first ones of the 19th century, but even women, in some context today, have in surmounting prejudices and certain historic and cultural tendencies that are an obstacle even as we speak.

I think the obstacles were particularly cumbersome during the period of time leading up to the 1970's. I think the turning point was about 1973, when the University of Maine School of Law almost overnight admitted large numbers of women in that entering class.  I recall following that from a distance because my brother, sister, and sister-in-law were going through the process.  The classes that entered in the early 1970's had seven, eight, or nine women in a class of eighty or ninety.  Then, all of a sudden, in 1973 a third of the class became women. When I entered in 1974, a third were women and by the late 1970's these women came out into practice and started trying cases.

Susan Kominsky, an attorney in Bangor, was one of the early trial attorneys of recent decades.  That made for wider acceptance and a role model for women who were entering the profession.

The year 1973 was also a big turning point in that a woman was named to the bench.  Governor Curtis appointed Harriet Henry to the district court. She wrote a history of the district court. She stayed on the district court for her career, which only concluded eleven or twelve years ago.  Many people who are in practice today of course will recall trying cases before her.

Jessie Briggs, now known as Jessie Gunther, was the first woman to be named to the superior court, named by Governor Brennan early in his administration.  She is now on the district court. She took some time out to be in private practice and then rejoined the bench.

Caroline Glassman was named by Governor Brennan as the first woman to be on the Maine Supreme Court, an appointment that occurred about 1983.

The first woman attorney in Cumberland County, Adeline Bond Rines, was admitted sometime around 1915. She was in Portland, but like a lot of women attorneys who were admitted, doesn't seem to have been particularly active in the practice.

The first woman to have graduated from law school at the University of Maine Law School was Ada Gleszer in Bangor in 1915. The first woman law school graduate to practice in Maine was a Boston University graduate, Ethel Walton Abbott, of Skowhegan.

It is clearly an ongoing process and one that Clara Hapgood Nash broke the ice on many generations ago. We are continually encountering biographies and references to early women lawyers. It's a continuing process because we have troubles finding who all these people are. Some are not listed in Martindale Hubbell. Some are not listed in the Maine Registers. And some of them we have found only through scanning the obituary pages of newspapers or from relatives.  We invite any kind of input for further leads to whom they may be.

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