OWLS was incorporated in 1989 as a 501(c)(6) non-profit professional association. Interest in forming a statewide women’s bar organization grew out of meetings of the Multnomah Bar Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in 1987-88.
At the 1988 state bar convention, the Multnomah Bar Committee co-hosted a breakfast with three existing groups of women attorneys: Queen’s Bench (in Portland), Lane County Women Lawyers, and The Mary Leonard Law Society in Salem.
Enthusiasm was high to create an independent statewide group, and in April 1989, about 250 people attended what was ambitiously titled the “first annual spring conference.”
Keynoting the conference was Chief Justice Edwin Peterson. Other speakers included former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, Oregon State Bar president Garry Kahn, Judge Jean Lewis (Oregon’s first female circuit court judge), Vernellia Randall, Roosevelt Robinson (then a member of the state parole board), Celeste Whitewolf, Agnes Petersen, Judge Donald Londer, Judge Ellen Rosenblum, and, of course, founding president Katherine O’Neil.
The speeches and comments from the audience were inspiring, committee sign-up sheets were filled out, and plans were made for further action.
An immediate result of the conference was the endorsement of a resolution, which was then accepted by the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors in June 1989, requesting that a special commission be established to study issues relating to combining family and career.
In 2019, Oregon Women Lawyers celebrated its 30th year of making a difference in the Oregon legal community because of the support and efforts of hundreds of women and men who believe that by working together, we can transform the practice of law and ensure justice and equality by advancing women and minorities in the profession.
Here’s a video from a 1991 brunch with “pioneer” women lawyers who were preparing for an OWLS dinner in their honor.
Download at the link below an article from the July 1993 Oregon State Bar Bulletin, in which women admitted to practice in 1973 and 1983 reflect on their experiences with gender bias.