In the days when only a handful of women practiced law in Northern Virginia, Arlington attorney Lois Miller recalls that a male clerk in the Fauquier County courthouse inadvertently said to her, "I understand there're a number of you freaks up there."
Now, some 15 years later, female attorneys in Virginia say they have slowly moved from freak status to general acceptance. And several of them are trying to organize to get women appointed as judges.
There's one problem: The organizers say they can't find any female lawyers who are both qualified and willing to be high-level judges.
Some women blame apathy and the psychological impact on men and women of Virginia's history - rich as it is with achievements of men and the servitude of women - for keeping the women out of the legal profession.
"Virginia historically has been a male-dominated state, and many of the men hold to the ideas that women are not capable of work that they do," says Ruth Harvey Charity, a Danville, Va., attorney and politician."It's all right for a woman to have a secretary's job, and some even concede that women have the right to practice law. But the prevailing philosophy is that it takes a man to be a judge."
R. Harvey Chappell of Richmond, the new president of the Virginia State Bar, denies some women's assertions, that they have been discriminated against by men. He says that since taking office July 1, he has attempted to appoint at least one woman to each of the bar's more than 20 committees.
Diane Strickland of Roanoke this year became the first woman to be seated on the bar's council, one of the organization's two governing bodies. Strickland also is president of the young lawyers section of the bar.
Strickland, a lawyer of four years, says she doesn't "know if it's by choice or lack of opportunity" that few women lawyers are active in trial work, which is essential to be considered for judgeships.
She says several judges in Charlottesville told her in 1973 that she was the first woman to appear in court before them.
Strickland says, she has never felt she has been discriminated against, although she says some female colleagues have said they feel that men don't take them seriously when they apply for jobs.
She says some female lawyers thought that "people sort of pampered them thinking this is a passing fad. They'll go off and get married and have kids.
To support their claims, some women lawyers cite the fact that the state-supported Washington and Lee University law school did not admit women until fives years ago, when the entire school was made coeducational.
Charity, who is black, says many local bar associations were hard to join until about five or six years ago, because new members had to be sponsored. Blacks and women were almost never sponsored by other lawyers, she says.
Elise B. Heinz, an Arlington attorney who is also a candidate for state delegate in the Nov. 8 election, remembers "a few years ago in Northern Virginia and now in other places in the state. I would guess, most women lawyers would make a point of wearing a skirt in court," rather than a pantsuit because they felt intimidated by the "conservative legal community" when they did not.
Other women say that when they did break into all-male law firms, they were often given non-prestigious divorce-and family-problems cases that the men didn't want and thought women were better suited of handled.
Virginia has no female state Circuit or federal District Court judges. One full-time and one part-time Juenile and Domestic Relations Court judge and one part-time General District Court judge in the state are women.
The District of Columbia has two female district Appeals Court judges, four female Superior Court judges and two female federal District Court judges. In Maryland two women are Circuit Court judges, one is a state appellate court judge, but none are federal judges.
Some women concede that many female lawyers are preoccupied with family responsibilities and have neither the time nor desire to seek time-consuming and relatively low-paying judgeships. A U.S. District Court judge earns $54,500, but some female lawyers say they can make more than that with less effort in private practice.
Also, many of Virginia's female lawyers are relatively inexperienced, according to Patricia Schowarzachild, president of the newly formed Virginia Women's Bar. Most of the women, she says, are in their mid-30s and have only practiced law within the last five years. Thus they say they have little confidence or support from other lawyers to become judges, Schowarzschild says. About 500 of Virginia's 13,000 lawyers are women, she says.
Older female attorneys in the state often went into research work or government jobs because it was harder for them to get into law firms several years ago, Schowarzschild says. So the older lawyers often lack trial experience, too.
A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to create three new federal judgeships in Virginia and a senate bill, which calls for four new federal judgeships in the state, are being considered in committees and are expected to be voted on by the end of the year.
Virginia's senior senator, Harry F. Byrd Jr., a Democrat-turned-independent, created judicial nominating commissions at President Carter's request to choose candidates for the proposed judgeships.
The commissions are to recommend candidates to Byrd, who will make final recommendations to Carter. The President has said he would like to see blacks and women as nominees. Carter will make the actual selections, subject to Senate approval.
But according to members of the commissions, no women have applied.
"We'd be happy to have anyone who's interested to be considered," says commissioner Josiah P. Rowe III of Fredericksburg. He says several blacks, but no women, have sought consideration.
Those who become judges usually have a solid legal reputation or have friends in politics or in the White House.
Schowarzschild says she is trying to get women active in bar associations and trial practice to build good legal reputations. She says she informally surveyed the 18 largest law firms in Roanoke, Richmond. Northern Virginia and the Tidewater areas and found that of about 600 lawyers, only 22 were women. Ten firms have hired no women, she says.
"I got a sense that Virginia is sufficiently backward in terms of women lawyers developing credibility," Arlington's Heinz says. "To prove yourself, you have to go and beat their (men's) pants off."
Heinz says that when she first graduated from Harvard Law School in 1961, she was hired by a Washington firm and was given research, not trial work. She later quit and took other jobs and then went into Democratic politics.
But one of Washington and Lee's first female law school graduates, who did not want to be identified, signaled a hope toward seeing a woman appointed a federal judge in Virginia.
She said a women's restroom has finally been installed in the judicial chambers of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.