ETLAW celebrated its 30th Anniversary on October 25, 2013 at Cherokee Country Club in Knoxville. A cocktail hour overlooking the beautiful Tennessee River and Smokey Mountains began the evening with piano music by Program co-Chair Shelly Wilson’s talented daughter. The dinner program began with a short video celebrating ETLAW’s role in empowering women attorneys. Cheryl Rice, a lead planner for the event, gave the invocation. (The other lead planner and impetus behind this event, Karen Crutchfield, arrived from Paris, France after an intensive course in nuclear law just in time to enjoy the celebration with us.) ETLAW’s co-founders Margaret Klein and Patty Wheeler provided insight on the formation of the group and their grass roots efforts to create this collegial group of women attorneys. Their efforts of stamping and hand-addressing flyers and making phone calls led to over 100 attendees at the organizing meeting at which the Honorable Martha Craig “Cissy” Daughtrey spoke. Margaret, who now lives in North Carolina, was almost giddy to see how vibrant the organization had become. She declared the night to be a crowning moment of her career.
Current ETLAW President Rebecca Franklin recognized the many individuals and sponsors who contributed to the event and to ETLAW through the years. She then appropriately introduced Justice Sharon Lee of the Tennessee Supreme Court as someone who has been a friend, supporter, and role model to many ETLAW members. In turn, Justice Lee introduced Judge Daughtrey as a woman of many firsts, including the first woman Assistant U.S. Attorney, the first female prosecutor in Tennessee, the first tenure-track woman law professor at Vanderbilt, the first woman to sit on a Tennessee court of record, the first woman on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and the first woman from Tennessee on the Federal Court of Appeals. In her keynote speech, Judge Daughtrey gave us a view from her side of all these “firsts” – that of the only woman in the room. She told of being the only woman at many of her jobs and at most of her professional events for many years. She was inspired on a trip to California where there were over 150 female judges and active women’s professional organizations empowering and supporting the women attorneys and judges in the state. Her marching orders from the women judges she met in California were to start and support women’s professional associations in Tennessee. Around the same time, ETLAW founder Patty Wheeler moved to Knoxville from California and expected such organizations to already exist here. When she and Margaret Klein invited Judge Daughtrey to speak at the organizing meeting, Judge Daughtrey agreed and the meeting was a success.
Thank you to all the founding sisters of ETLAW, to those who have kept it strong for the past 30 years and to those who are currently contributing to its continued role of empowering women. Thank you, also, to the men behind these amazing women, our husbands and those who have hired and mentored us in the law. Female lawyers no longer face the same challenges as our founding members faced, but ETLAW’s relevancy and purpose remains, as evidenced through the continued vibrancy of the organization.