Five Influential Women in D.C. Metro History

March 16, 2021 | In the Community

March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history.

As an all-female law firm, Bertram & Murphy would like to highlight five of the many notable women who have made a difference in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland.


Kamala Harris (1964-present)

Kamala Harris made history when she was elected as the first female vice president of the United States in 2020. Her election broke other historic barriers, as she was the first African American and Asian American vice president as well.

Prior to her election, Kamala Harris was a lawyer and U.S. senator for California, having served as state Attorney General and the 27th District Attorney for San Francisco. When it comes to education, Harris is a daughter of D.C., with an undergraduate degree from the historically black Howard University. She went on to earn her law degree from the University of California Hastings School of Law.

As a lawyer, Vice President Harris was known for her criminal justice reforms. She created the Back on Track program as district attorney for San Francisco, as an alternative to jail for non-violent offenders, among others.

Margaret Brent (1601-1671)

Margaret Brent was the first woman admitted to practice law in Maryland and is considered to be one of the “Founding Mothers” of the United States.

Brent and her family emigrated from England to the United States, settling in colonial Maryland. She lived in St. Mary’s City, the capital at that time. While there, she gained social standing as the first female landowner in 1639. Unlike others of her time, she championed women’s rights initiatives. She also advocated for Civil War soldiers to be paid and fed during their service.

So significant were Brent’s influences that she was named executor of Gov. Leonard Calvert’s estate when he passed away. She moved to Virginia in 1650 and died in 1658. The St. John’s archaeological museum has an exhibit devoted to her life.

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-1913)

Harriet Tubman was born as a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland. She later escaped and became one of the key individuals who helped slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

In 1849, Tubman escaped the plantation where she lived with her two brothers. They later decided to return, but she continued to Pennsylvania using the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses set up by freed slaves and abolitionists that provided slaves a path to free states before the Civil War.

During her life, Tubman traveled back to Maryland more than a dozen times to help family and friends escape to freedom, according to the National Park Service. She provided instructions on navigating the path of the Underground Railroad by following the North Star. It’s estimated that she helped 70 slaves to freedom. For that reason, Tubman is often called the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.

In later life, Tubman worked as a spy during the Civil War, a staunch abolitionist, and political activist. She was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery upon her death.

Clara Barton (1862-1912)

Clara Barton is the founder of the American Red Cross and a front-line nurse during the Civil War. A New England native, Barton first worked as a teacher and later moved to Washington, D.C where she was a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office — another first, as she was paid as much as a man doing the same job. That didn’t settle well, and sadly she was demoted and then fired. She returned to the patent office under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in an effort to make way for women in government office.

During the Baltimore Riot at the start of the Civil War, Barton nursed 40 men who were injured during the bloodshed. So began her initiation into working in the medical field, where she worked to bring food and medical supplies to injured soldiers. She became an instrumental part of gathering and distributing supplies during numerous historic battles.

She was also inventive. When bandages were running low, Barton used corn husks to stop soldiers’ bleeding. She was often called the “Florence Nightingale of America” and the “Angel of the Battlefield.”

In later life, she founded what is now the American Red Cross, the organization that is famous for responding to worldwide crises. She lived in her Glen Echo, Maryland home until her death.

Mary Elizabeth Garrett (1854-1915)  

Mary Garrett is an American philanthropist who donated money to the Johns Hopkins University Medical School on the condition that it accept female students “on the same terms as men.” She was also an instrumental suffragist, joining Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw to fight for women’s right to vote in the United States.

Born in Maryland, Garrett was driven early to a life of charitable service. She joined other Maryland women in providing food, supplies, and medical assistance during the Civil War.

Education was a key focus for Garrett, who helped establish the Bryn Mawr School for Girls. Though she sought entry to Johns Hopkins for a medical degree, she was denied because she was a woman. That changed with her donation to the medical school and helped pave the way for medical education for women in the United States.

Women in the Legal Profession

Historically, the legal profession has also been male-dominated. Maryland’s own Margaret Brent broke a giant glass ceiling in the 1600s as the first woman to act as an attorney in court. But it wasn’t until 1869 that the first woman, Arabella Mansfield, was admitted to the bar in the United States.

Today, women lawyers are still underrepresented. Over the last decade, only around one-third of all attorneys in the U.S. have been women. Though those numbers show an upward trend, they also indicate there is work to be done to improve equity in the profession, especially for women of color.

Bertram & Murphy is an all-women law firm representing clients in medical malpractice claims in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. If you have been injured by negligence on the part of a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider, call or contact us for a free consultation.

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