Document Type



Clearing the Smoke-Filled Room: Women Jurors and the Disruption of an Old-Boys’ Network in Nineteenth- Century America, 108 YALE L.J. 1805 (1999)


In May of 1884, Massachusetts lawyer Lelia Robinson arrived in
Seattle, Washington Territory, at the end of a transcontinental journey with
the " woman question" foremost in her mind. The territorial legislature had
just passed a women's suffrage act, and Robinson had been drawn
westward by the possibility of witnessing women serve on grand and petit
juries. She arrived skeptical, believing that the scope of women's political
rights had been extended too far. " [W]hatever might be the policy and the
desirability of women's voting," she wrote, "it was carrying the matter a
little too far to force them to do jury service." Gradually, she became
convinced that the women of Washington represented paradigmatic jurors.
She described them as "ladies to whom any one might gladly entrust the
settlement of any question, civil or criminal, that must be carried into a
court of justice ... ."
Robinson's sentiment evolved in response to the changed behavior she
witnessed inside the courtroom-a development she attributed to the
presence of women. Remarkably, after vigorous discussion and judicious
examination of evidence, the women jurors appeared to be less tired and in
better health than their male counterparts. The men of the jury found
themselves at the end of the trial to have been "great sufferers in being
deprived of the use of their favorite weed .... [W]hen women jurors came
in, smoking jurors went out-or rather the cigars and pipes went out. Men
found that they must be gentlemen in the jury-room as in the drawingroom."
4 By Robinson's estimation, women had entered the proverbial
smoke-filled room of the law and quite literally cleared the air.

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women, juries, discrimination