Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Spring 2020 - 18

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ACCESS TO A
VOTING BOOTH,
NOT NECESSARILY
A JURY BOX

T

By Brian C. Engelhardt

he view that the "suffrage" granted to women under the
19th Amendment included the right to serve on juries
in state proceedings was neither universally held in a
number of other states nor in in any number of Pennsylvania
counties. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a judge in
McKean County and two judges in Schuylkill County ruled
in separate cases that women having the right to vote did
not mean they had the right to serve on juries in state court
proceedings.
This view was overruled by the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court when it upheld an indictment found by a grand jury of
which a woman was a member in Commonwealth v. Maxwell,
114 Atl, 825 (1921). (A detailed discussion of this question in
Pennsylvania as well as other states matter is found in The
University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law
Register, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Nov. 1921) pp. 30-35; see http://www.
jstor.org/stable/3314117.)
The issue in Pennsylvania was ultimately resolved when
the legislature passed the "Barnes Act," originally proposed by
Republican state senator Wallace J. Barnes of Wayne County,
which was signed into law by Governor William C. Sproul on
May 5, 1921. Among other things, the act specifically provided
that, effective January 1, 1922, women in the Commonwealth
had the right to serve as jurors in state cases.
Following the passage of the Barnes Act, Pennsylvania
became one of 19 states that confirmed the right of women
to serve on state juries. However, that right to serve on state
juries would not be extended to women in all states until
1968.

"Miss Dickinson": Berks County's
First Female Attorney
Continued from page 17

:

Burnham Kilgore was the first woman admitted to practice in
Pennsylvania in 1885. Dickinson remained the lone woman
member of the Berks Bar for 21 years until S. Jane (Ludwig)
Worley was admitted in 1943.
Dickinson immediately entered into practice with her
father, with her areas of expertise being real estate, domestic
relations, Social Security, and estate practice - all areas of
law where she felt she would be able to operate without as
much friction arising from her being a woman in the maledominated profession. Although she never completed law
school - she said going back to get a degree would be a "waste
of time" - she sought out as many seminars as she could that
were being given on the developing area of Social Security law,
in which she developed a decided expertise.
After her father's death in 1937, Dickinson operated as a
sole practitioner until January of 1956 when she was appointed
the first county law librarian, a position she held until retiring
in June of 1969. During her tenure as law librarian, Dickinson
remained an active member of the Bar Association and
regularly assisted and encouraged young attorneys performing
research in the law library.
Dickinson bore frustrations she would occasionally
encounter with a good-natured sense of humor. For years,
Dickinson was upset because she was severely underpaid
in her position with the county until then President Judge
Warren K. Hess and the other judges persuaded the county
commissioners to raise her salary to a level that both sides
found acceptable.

After 1921, on a state-by-state basis, legislation confirming
the right of women to serve on juries trickled through in each
of the remaining states - for example the right was granted in
New York and Connecticut in 1937, Illinois in 1939, Maryland
in 1947, and Massachusetts, Florida and Wyoming in 1949.
The last three states to confirm the right were Alabama (1966),
South Carolina (1967) and Mississippi (1968).

Another example of this - which took less time to resolve
- was on February 7, 1969 when a sign appeared in the Law
Library stating, "Librarian on Strike." This arose from the
continued failure of lawyers to return books to the shelves. This
point was immediately addressed that morning when no less
than all the county judges came to the library and re-shelved
the books.

The federal "Jury Selection and Service Act" passed in
1968 would have assured that women in Mississippi would
have had the right, even if the legislature in that state had not
finally acted. Finally on a national basis, women had the same
right to try to avoid jury duty as men did.

Aside from being respected by her peers in the law,
Dickinson was also well-traveled, a student of Berks County
history, active in local bridge competitions, and participated in
several local theatre groups. She was an alternate delegate to
the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

18 | Berks Barrister


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Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Spring 2020

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