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President's Message - October 2019

by Angela Morcone Giannini, Esq.

As the daughter of a history professor, I learned at a very young age to appreciate history for what it teaches us and how it brings about change and progress in our society. I share with you one of those historical accomplishments that occurred 150 years ago that has paved the way for women lawyers and other minority groups and continues to bring about change and progress in the legal profession.  

      Belle Aurelia Babb later known as “Arabella” Babb Mansfield was born in 1846 in Burlington, Iowa. Her father was a foreman miner and killed in a mining tunnel cave collapse.  He, however, was certainly ahead of his time in not only recognizing the value of an education but also recognizing that his daughter, as well as his son, should be educated.  He provided in his Will that both his children, Belle and her brother would be educated.  They both enrolled in Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  One of Mansfield’s first acts of independence was to start calling herself “Arabella” not her given name of Belle.    She did very well in her studies and was the valedictorian of her class.  At age 21, she started to study law at the law office of H. & R. Ambler in Iowa.  At that time, the study of law was accomplished by apprenticeship. Her soon to be husband Johns Mansfield also joined the office and studied law.

      Both her and her husband took the bar examination and were admitted in June, 1869. However, Arabella’s admission was not automatic. Iowa Code Section 2,700 provided admission was limited to “white male persons.” Arabella apparently took issue with this and it is said she criticized this prohibition in her bar examination.  Despite her intellect and wit, her admission appears to be based upon the examining board’s recognition of the state’s construction statute.  Section 29 of the Iowa statute provided that “words importing the masculine gender only may be extended to females.” (Chicago Law Times 1887).  Thus, the examining board relying on the construction statute recommended to the court that the Iowa Code did not exclude women from the practice of law.  

      After being admitted, Arabella worked on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage movement and also chaired Iowa’s first suffrage convention.  She did not continue with a career in lobbying and instead turned to education where she taught at Iowa Wesleyan and then became the Dean of Women at Asbury University.  Certainly, she was an inspiration for the female students on her campus and her achievement and legacy lives on in today’s Mansfield Rule. 

            The Mansfield Rule was piloted in 2017 by Diversity Lab as a pilot rule for large law firms.  It was modeled after the Rooney Rule.  In 2003, the late Dan Rooney created the Rooney Rule in the NFL which requires every NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach vacancies. The Mansfield Rule requires that law firms consider at least 30% women, LGBTQ+ and minority lawyers for significant leadership roles.  This year the rule has been extended to the “Mansfield Rule: Legal Department Edition” which will require participating in-house legal teams to consider at least 50% women, minority lawyers, LGBTQ+ lawyers and lawyers with disabilities as applicants for key leadership roles.  Arabella Babb Mansfield’s accomplishments continue to inspire change and progress to close the gaps for women, minorities and other groups some 150 years after her admission to the bar.

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