Mary Hall: her name is unknown to many. But she is a woman who revolutionized the practice of law forever. 

Born and raised in Marlborough, Connecticut, Hall never dreamed of being a lawyer and changing the world. She did not know that she would become the first female lawyer in the state of Connecticut, shattering the glass ceiling for thousands of women after her. 

On Aug. 16, 1843, Hall was born. She was the oldest of seven siblings. Her father, Gustavus Hall, was a prosperous miller and a passionate believer in women’s rights —  an unusual combination for the time. He was highly encouraging of Mary, and supported her when she enrolled in Wesleyan Academy. She graduated in 1866. 

In the 19th Century, women in the middle and upper socioeconomic classes like Hall were expected to fit into a narrow position in society consisting mainly of household and maternal roles.

But Hall broke with society’s standards. After graduating from Wesleyan Academy, she went on to teach mathematics at Lasell Academy, becoming a well-respected teacher. Around that time, she visited a women’s suffrage convention in Hartford, and heard Hartford Attorney John Hooker speak about the restrictions placed on women.

It was there that her interest in law began. In 1877, Hall began work as an  apprentice at her brother Ezra Hall’s legal practice. It was not uncommon at the time for women interested in law to apprentice under fathers or brothers. The apprenticeship helped provide a foundation for Hall’s legal education. But Ezra died only a few months later. 

 Among only male attorneys in Connecticut, Hall faced adversity in almost every respect., After her brother’s death, she found herself without a mentor and teacher. Hall eventually found John Hooker, clerk of the Supreme Court of Errors in Connecticut. He took Hall on as an apprentice, and she studied under him for four years, copying and preparing the opinions of the justices working under him. 

Hooker was an abolitionist and suffragist. His wife, Isabella Hooker, was a prominent leader of the women’s rights movement. When asked about Hall’s career path at the time, Judge Holly Fitzsimmons, United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Connecticut, noted how impressive it was that Hall was able to be “apprenticed to a well respected lawyer, and to do it as a second career.” Around this time, Hall also established the Good Will club, a charity for under resourced children. 

In May of 1882, Hall applied for admission to the Connecticut bar. While she was not the first woman to apply, she was the first woman in Connecticut to be taken seriously. Her exam was administered by the local U.S. district attorney and three other lawyers.

Hooker played a key role in her application. He claimed that “Mary Hall of Marlboro in this State has studied law in my office for three years, and that she is a diligent student and is of the best character.” Her case was then passed to the state court to decide whether to admit a female attorney to the bar, a question never before presented in the state or to any judicial authority. Despite some opposition, in July of 1882, the Connecticut Supreme Court admitted Hall to the bar. She became the first female attorney in the state’s history, clearing the way for future women to practice law in the state of Connecticut. After being accepted as an attorney, Hall wrote: “The judges of the Supreme Court of the state decided my case favorably. The Lord be praised for it all.” 

Hall went on to practice law for 40 years, specializing in assisting women with wills and cases concerning women’s property rights. She continued practicing law with Hooker, and also helped to found the Hartford Women’s Suffrage Club, becoming its vice president. She continued work on behalf of the Good Will Club, and dedicated a large portion of her life to expanding it. Hall ultimately became a well-renowned lawyer. She became the state’s first female notary in 1884. She also wrote the first book on Malbourough’s history in 1903. Smart and committed to her craft, Hall transformed Connecticut law. 

Mary Hall passed away in 1927. She was 84.

Judge Fitzsimmons also spoke on her own experiences as a female attorney practicing law in Connecticut after Mary Hall’s transformational role in the legal profession. Speaking on her own experience, Fitzsimmons said that “lots of times [she] was the only woman in the courtroom,” acknowledging that in her own trail-blazing generation of lawyers, female attorneys “always knew that whatever [they] did wasn’t just going to be attributed to [them] and people were going to think, ‘well that’s what women lawyers do, or that’s what a woman does, so you needed to be careful.’”

But with the example of  Hall and women  of subsequent generations, the inclusivity of the legal practice in Connecticut has been improving. Fitzsimmons commented on the increasing number of female lawyers and young girls interested in law. When asked about the cause of  increased diversity in the legal profession, Fitzsimmons said, “Well everything, you know, starting with women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement, and the women’s movement in the 1960’s, sort of laid the groundwork, and then there had to be pioneering people like Attorney Hall.”