President’s Message

October 2017


Like most of you, I am inundated on a daily basis with dozens of unwanted emails, but the rare thoughtful piece of paper snail mail still gets my attention. In particular, I received the Fall Program from The US Holocaust Museum, entitled “Never Stop Asking WHY.” Among the pointed questions posed were, ”Why do societies fail?”, “Why do people become collaborators”, and “Why do some people take risks to help others?” For many of us, these questions have haunted us throughout our lives. They are particularly poignant today in light of the recent events in Charlottesville and acts of heroism exhibited by ordinary people in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Part of the New York Women’s Bar Association’s mission is to never stop asking WHY. Why are things as they are? Why are they unjust, unequal, unfair, and how can we, as an Association, make things better, how can we help each other? If you look at our newsletters and follow our calendar, you’ll see that many of our meetings and programs address these issues. On October 17, our International Women’s Rights Committee will present a program on Strategies to End Child Marriage at Home and Abroad, and, on October 19, our Criminal Law Committee will present a screening of the Bill Moyers documentary “Rikers and Beyond,” followed by a panel discussion, to name just two such programs. Please support the great work of our committees by attending meetings and participating in these upcoming events.

It is incumbent upon us to question our American history more deeply and honestly. We need to ask who should be honored in our public squares and why. And of course, who does not get honored and why. In our own New York City backyard we have come to see that men – some with unsavory and less than noble backgrounds – overwhelmingly make up our glorified and decorative statues. According to Gothamist, NYC has 150 statues of historical men but only five of women. They are Joan of Arc, Gertrude Stein, Golda Meir, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman. There are 23 statues of male figures in Central Park, and only one female – Alice in Wonderland. On Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, across from the New York Academy of Medicine, is a monument to Dr. J. Marion Sims, considered the father of modern gynecology. It turns out his life’s work was built on the pain and abuse of enslaved black women on whom he operated without anesthesia or informed consent. I could find records of only ten statues honoring African American individuals in our great and diverse city, including the aforementioned one of Harriet Tubman; Jackie Robinson accounted for two more. Others included Frederick Douglass, Arthur Ashe and Duke Ellington. These monuments say much about our culture and values and who we are as a people. We in the NYWBA will never stop asking WHY.

One thing that gives us strength in difficult times is meeting and bonding with colleagues. Along with other NYWBA and WBASNY members, I had the great pleasure of participating in the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations 2017 Leadership Summit: Succeeding With Strength and Savvy on August 10-11 in New York. This Summit was organized and chaired by NYWBA Director Elizabeth A. Bryson (NYWBA President 2003-2005), who has served as a NCWBA Director since 2015. The Summit started with a reception on Thursday evening at Fordham Law School, and a presentation of the documentary film, “Balancing the Scales,” followed by a panel discussion that included the attorney and filmmaker Sharon Rowen. Two of the women attorneys featured in the film were also present. It is bittersweet when we look at how far we’ve come, yet how far we have left to go; how hopeful so many women were for their own daughters’ generations, and how much is left undone for them.

The Summit continued on Friday in the beautiful conference space at Thomson Reuters overlooking Times Square. We met with colleagues from all around the country, including the president of the nation’s newest women’s bar association in West Virginia. We heard of their challenges and were inspired by their successes. We listened to a behind-the-scenes discussion by the “Women in the White House,” featuring the former chief counsel and deputy chief counsel for President Barack Obama. We attended a panel discussion on mentoring that included our members, Morgan Fraser Mouchette (NYWBA Director) and Martha E. Gifford (past NYWBA and WBASNY President). Our lunch break was accompanied by award presentations, including to our Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York for their voter registration project. Two of our own NYWBA members registered the most voters for the WBASNY project. We were then treated to a rousing speech by Roberta A. Kaplan, counsel for Edie Windsor in U.S. v. Windsor (and 2014 recipient of the NYWBA Hon. Florence E. Allen Award). Ms. Kaplan spoke passionately of the reasons she chose to start her own national law firm at this stage of her career, and the meaning of having a diverse, inclusive work environment. After lunch, we listened to “Good Guys 101,” a presentation by male colleagues engaged in diversity initiatives. They each shared their experiences and their own personal reasons for their commitment to diversity. What they know and preach – and what statistics support – is that the more diverse a company work force, especially at the higher echelons, the more profitable the business is. Each chapter then shared its own innovative practices, ideas, and initiatives for facing their toughest challenges. We were fortunate to have the conference in New York City, facilitating attendance and participation by many of our chapter members. The conference was well received by all. Congratulations to Beth for an extraordinary and important job well done. We wish Beth and all the new NCWBA Board members all the best for their terms in the year ahead.

I look forward to seeing you all at our upcoming events!