Jeanette R. Wolman, 96, lawyer for seven decades

January 20, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When Jeanette R. Wolman was a high school student in Birmingham, Ala., she wrote to the dean of the Columbia University Law School in New York seeking admission to the school. She received a curt reply.

"Columbia does not admit women to its law school. If you're interested in going to college, apply at Barnard," the dean wrote.

Undeterred, Mrs. Wolman became a lawyer and, during a legal career that spanned nearly seven decades, fought for women.

Mrs. Wolman died Sunday of heart failure at Church Home, where she had resided since December. She was 96 and a longtime resident of Northwest Baltimore.

"She was always an inspiration to women. She was kind, gracious, supportive and encouraging," Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said yesterday. "She had a determination to open doors for all women, not just for herself."

Mrs. Wolman kept the dean's rejection letter in her "high school memory book" and showed it to young female lawyers to remind them how times had changed.

The former Jeanette Rosner, who was born in New York City in 1902, got her sense of justice from her father, businessman Adolph C. Rosner.

In 1914, her father, whom she considered "very advanced for the time," entered her in a suffragist parade in Birmingham, Ala.. She rode the family pony and wore a headband and shoulder banner in support of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote and was passed by Congress in 1920.

That year, after moving to Baltimore, Mrs. Wolman enrolled at Goucher College, intending to become a social worker. However, still desiring to study law, she enrolled in the University of Maryland law school in 1921, one of three female members of the class. The law school had first admitted women the previous year.

With classes held at night, Mrs. Wolman worked days as a social worker for the Jewish Children's Bureau. After graduating in 1924 and passing the bar, she became one of the few women practicing law in Baltimore.

Barred from the all-male Baltimore City Bar Association, she and six other female lawyers established the Women's Bar Association in 1927 while petitioning for inclusion in the men's group.

The objective of the Women's Bar Association was "to maintain the honor and integrity of the legal profession, to promote legal science, to aid the administration of justice, and to advance the interests of women engaged in the practice of law."

It wasn't until 1957 that Mrs. Wolman became the first female member of the city bar association.

That was the first year blacks were admitted. A headline in The Sun said: "Woman, 3 Negroes Notified of Admission to Bar."

In 1965, she was appointed by Gov. J. Millard Tawes as first chairwoman of the Maryland Commission on the Status of Women.

She retired in 1989.

"She blazed the way for over 70 years," said Elsbeth L. Bothe, a retired Baltimore Circuit judge. "She had very staunch opinions but was not strident. She accomplished what she set out to do quietly, forcefully and successfully. The women of Maryland owe her a great debt."

When Mrs. Wolman celebrated her 96th birthday in August, she told her son, Benjamin R. Wolman of Upper Marlboro, "I don't think there is anything left that I haven't done."

"A woman told her that it was so nice that she had devoted her life to women's liberation and she answered, `Oh no, I believe in women's rights,' " said Mr. Wolman, an attorney. "She said that no one -- not just women -- should be held back because of artificial boundaries or limitations."

Mrs. Wolman was honored by the American Bar Association when Hillary Rodham Clinton presented her with the Margaret Brent Award in 1991.

Mrs. Wolman married attorney Paul Carroll Wolman in 1925 and they resided in Windsor Hills. In 1950, she joined him in private practice. He died in 1978.

For more than 70 years, Mrs. Wolman was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Sisterhood, 7401 Park Heights Ave., where a memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 29.

In addition to her son, she is survived by three brothers, A.C. Rosner of Washington, Lawrence Rosner of New Rochelle, N.Y. and Norman Rosner of Bethesda; a sister, Charlotte R. Pinerman of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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