Big Girl Boots

by ursavoice

Anna Bennett
J.D. Candidate 2014, UCI Law

“Sometimes you have to put on your big girl boots and prove that you can use the pointy end.” – Lori Kaspar

Nellie Gray Robertson graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1918, one of only four women in her class. The first woman to pass the bar in Texas had done so only eight years prior to Nellie’s graduation. Not a stranger to hard work or adversity, Nellie had grown up in rural Hood County, Texas, the sixth of six children. Her father left home when she was just a few months old, leaving her mother to care for Nellie and her siblings. After she passed the bar, Nellie returned to her home in Hood County and in 1921 she opened her own law practice. Busy with work, Nellie never had a family of her own—her grandfather once told a reporter that she was “too smart” and that she never found a man who was “smart enough to marry.”

Not satisfied with simply running her own practice, Nellie Gray ran for the office of Hood County Attorney, and in 1922, she became the first female county attorney in the state of Texas. Just two years later, Nellie had the honor of being another “first”: the Governor appointed her to be the Chief Justice on a special panel of the Texas Supreme Court. At the time, there were only thirty female attorneys in all of Texas, only ten were eligible for the position, and Nellie was the only elected official in the bunch. Governor Neff said this of his decision to appoint only female justices to the panel: “I am in hopes that this recognition of the womanhood of the State as attorneys will be helpful in many ways to those women, wherever they may be, who are fighting single-handed the battle of life.” While Nellie Gray prepared to lead the panel at trial, it became clear that she was actually constitutionally ineligible to serve as a Texas Supreme Court Justice—she had been practicing law for seven years and eleven months, and the Texas State Constitution required eight years of licensed legal experience. She returned home and resumed operation of her practice, ran a title company, and co-authored law books for Doubleday Publishing Company. Nellie Gray died in 1955 at sixty-one years old.

Fifty-eight years later, on January 1, 2013, Lori Kaspar was sworn in as Hood County’s second female County Attorney. Like Nellie Gray, Lori had only been practicing law for a few years before being elected to office. Lori graduated high school in 1975 and went to college to become a teacher, which she did for twenty-seven years. During her career in education, she worked full-time teaching elementary school, earned two Master’s degrees, and supported a family. One day, while taking a class in education law as a part of her Master’s program, a light bulb went on in her head and she knew what it was she was supposed to do next—she made the decision to go to law school. In just a few short years, her dream of being a lawyer became a reality.

When I think about strong women, I think of pioneers like Nellie Gray, but I also think of my mother, Lori Kaspar. She is continuing Nellie Gray’s legacy of service and perseverance and she is the best example of hard work that any daughter could ask for. Any time that I have felt challenged in my life because of school, work, or personal relationships, I think about how strong my mother was during the years that she earned her degree and I think about how hard she worked to get where she is now. Never one to take the easy route, Mom supported me as a single parent and taught full-time while going to law school part-time at night. She balanced school, law review, and her own classroom for four years before she graduated. She was 49 years old when she passed the bar exam, but she did not let anything slow her down. In just a few years, I watched my mother’s dream become a reality and I saw an elementary school teacher become the second female Hood County Attorney. As I grow older, I realize just how lucky I am to have such a great example of strength, dedication, and integrity in my life. I can only hope that I will follow in her footsteps and one day be an example of a strong woman who made her dreams come true.

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