On January 4, 1972, Dame Rose Heilbron (August 19 1914-December 8 2005) became the first female judge to sit at the Old Bailey in London, England.
Heilbron was born into a Jewish family in Liverpool Her father was a hotelier who managed a lodging house for Jewish émigrés. Her mother, Nellie, who died in 1939, encouraged her educational ambitions.
She achieved a number of firsts for women during her legal education and career. She graduated from Liverpool University in 1935 with a first-class honours degree in law and became first woman to win a scholarship to Gray’s Inn the next year, when she received the Lord Justice Holker scholarship. In 1937, she received a master of laws degree and joined the bar in 1939, as a member of the northern circuit.
Through the six years of World War II, and afterward, Heilbron’s career rose. By 1946, Heilbron had appeared in 10 murder trials. In 1949, at 34, Heilbron and Helena Normanton, who was nearly twice her age, became the first women king’s counsel. That year, Heilbron became the first woman to lead in an English murder case. She defended the gangster George Kelly, accused of shooting and killing the deputy manager of the Cameo cinema in Liverpool. Kelly was convicted and hanged, but through the first half of the 1950s, Heilbron successfully defended many of her clients. One case involved four men accused of hanging a boy during a burglary, which she proved that it had been an accident, and another was Louis Bloom the Hartlepool solicitor accused of murdering his mistress in his office.
In 1956, she became the first woman recorder (chief criminal judge) of Burnley, in Britain, and the first woman judge at the Old Bailey in 1972. Two years later, she was created a dame in 1974. From 1974 until she retired in 1988 she served as a Judge of the High Court (Family Division), the second British woman to be appointed to the High Court. In 1985, she became treasurer at Gray’s Inn, saying of her appointment, “The legal world does not discriminate by sex or race and this is possibly an example of it working rather well.”
Her daughter Hilary Heilbron has written a book about her, Legal Pioneer of the 20th Century: Inspiring Advocate who became England’s First Woman Judge published in 2012.
On January 4, 2007, the 110th United States Congress convened, electing Nancy Pelosi (Born: March 26, 1940) as the first female Speaker of the House. Her family has served in public positions. Her father and brother were both Baltimore mayors, and her father also served in the state Congress.
In 1976, she worked on California Governor Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign. By 1981, she was the Democratic Party chair for California, recruiting candidates and raising funds. The following year, States Representative Sala Burton of California – a Polish émigré who fled the Nazis and settled in America and filled her husband’s Congressional after he died suddenly – encouraged Pelosi to run for her seat after she died. Pelosi filled the vacancy in 1987 and has been re-elected to sixteen succeeding Congresses (June 2, 1987-present).
Pelosi has served on the House Appropriations and Intelligence committees, and was the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Operations committee. In 2001, she was promoted to the House Democratic whip, the second highest position in the party. She rose to minority leader in 2002 when Dick Gephardt stepped, becoming the first woman to ever lead a party in Congress.
In 2006, Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House and was sworn in on January 4, 2007. But she lost her position to Republican John Boehner in 2010 when Democrats lost control of the House. Under Pelosi, the 111th Congress (January 3, 2009, until January 3, 2011) became “one of the most productive Congresses in history” by Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein.