The Life and Times of Jones Day's First Woman Lawyer
Last summer, two important milestones in the history of women as citizens and professionals occurred. In 1919, the U.S. Congress adopted the 19th amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote, and in that same year, the UK Parliament withdrew the statute barring women from serving in professions such as law, known as the Sex Disqualification Removal Act of 1919.
As we remember those national milestones, we take this opportunity to acknowledge some of the Firm's own markers of progress as a welcoming partnership. In fact, today our Firm has more than 1,000 women lawyers. In the past 17 years, under the leadership of our Managing Partner Steve Brogan, we have welcomed more than 230 women into the partnership from the ranks of our associates and added nearly 150 women as lateral partners. And in 2019, the Firm was ranked as one of the top 10 large law firms in the country for female lawyers. We truly have come a long way.
From this perspective, the extraordinary life of Naoma Stewart, who joined the Firm 60 years ago this fall, is even more impressive. Naoma had the distinction of being the Firm's first woman lawyer and partner and the first female partner at a major Cleveland law firm.
After raising her family in the 1950s, Naoma earned her law degree from Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1960. She then applied for a job at Jones Day—as a librarian—the only position she thought would be available to her. The senior associate then in charge of the library was so impressed that he advocated for her to be hired as a lawyer and not as a librarian. That senior associate was a visionary in more than just this respect—he was Dick Pogue, who later became Managing Partner of the Firm and initiated its international expansion.
Naoma quickly became an expert in "Blue Sky" law and "did a fabulous job of getting to know the securities commissioners of the various states and enabling our clients to get their securities problems worked out in an efficient manner," Dick recalled in Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue: The First Century.
Several years after Naoma joined the Firm, other young partners "nominated" Dick to challenge Jack Reavis, then the Managing Partner, to do something revolutionary at the time in the legal profession—make Naoma a partner. Again, Dick proved his powers of persuasion and convinced Jack to make Naoma the Firm's first female partner in 1970.
For many years thereafter, Naoma practiced with her "brothers-at-law," as she referred to her male colleagues, many of whom looked to her as a mentor. She had a quick wit and an irreverent sense of humor but shunned the spotlight, turning down both Life and Look magazines when they asked to profile her for paving the way for women in the law.
As she wrote to Dick Pogue in 2010: "Some of the happiest years of my life were spent at Jones Day. It's been almost 27 years since my retirement and a day has never passed without some memory or thought of my special friends at Jones Day. I have so many funny stories about experiences there I could not tell to my partners—and [there were] no warnings at law school about unexpected and unique experiences resulting from being the first woman."
Naoma retired in 1983 but continued to follow Firm developments and watched hundreds of women follow her into the partnership, become Partners-in-Charge of major offices, lead practices, and join the Advisory and Partnership Committees. In 2009, upon learning that the Washington Office was dedicating a conference room in her name, she wrote: "Next year will be half a century of progress for women lawyers at Jones Day. I'd like to rent a thousand billboards to spread this remarkable news around the world."
She was 91 at the time and unable to travel for the celebration but wrote, in her typical self-deprecating style, that "I shall be there in spirit, and celebrating in Ohio with champagne and cigarettes smoking away in my Bette Davis cigarette holder…. Please extend my condolences to everyone in the Washington Office who may have to answer the question: 'Who in the world is Naoma L. Stewart?'"
Naoma passed away in 2015 at age 96, but her pioneering role at the Firm lives on in all her successors. She was an excellent lawyer and a wonderful person, and she leaves behind a strong legacy and lessons for us all as we continue to build a diverse community of leaders for the future of our Firm.
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