History

The mission of the Central New York Women’s Bar Association is to promote justice for all, regardless of sex; to advance the social, economic and legal status of women through the law; to expand opportunities for women and to raise the level of competence and integrity in the legal profession.

How We Started
On June 20, 1977, Karen DeCrow convened the first meeting of what was later to become known as the Central New York Women’s Bar Association (“CNYWBA”). A few months earlier, Karen had met Joan Ellenbogen on an airplane. According to Karen, Joan was then active in the Women’s Bar of the City of New York, and she urged Karen to organize a similar organization in Syracuse. At the time, Karen was President of the National Organization for Women (“NOW”). Karen seized Joan’s challenge as soon as she completed her term as President of NOW. See: http://www.cnywba.org/uploads/6pdty.pdf

Over the next year or so, Karen organized several meetings of the female attorneys in Syracuse to discuss the issues they faced in their practice, to consider the formation of a women’s bar association, and to enjoy each other’s company. At one of the meetings, Joan Ellenbogen was a guest, and she talked to the group about two other women’s bar associations in the state – Westchester and Capital District.

As to be expected, there was some divisiveness among the early participants. Some thought it was inappropriate and counterproductive to form an organization that segregated female attorneys from their male counterparts. Others thought that a women’s bar association should be open to all “sisters in the law” – lawyers, law students, paralegals, legal secretaries and other legal office workers. Initially, consensus was illusive. Finally, some of the women decided to just do it. In 1980, the CNYWBA was formed and Beatrice Krupkin was elected as its first President. One of the first tasks addressed by the CNYWBA was gender discrimination in the Onondaga County Bar Association (“OCBA”). At the time, the OCBA held its Board meetings at an all male social club. Through CNYWBA’s efforts, the OCBA meeting location was changed. The next challenge arose at election time. As had always been true, the slate of candidates endorsed by the OCBA Board of Directors boasted all men. Five members of the CNYWBA (who later became known as the “Onondaga Five”), collected signatures on petitions, produced the required letters and got on the slate. As a result of these efforts, women have become active OCBA Board members and officers. Indeed, a few years after the efforts of the Onondaga Five, M. Catherine Richardson became the first female president of OCBA. Throughout the years, CNYWBA has strived mightily, and successfully, to advance women in the law. CNYWBA was the first chapter of WBASNY to set up a legal clinic to provide legal advice and assistance to victims of domestic violence. Annually, CNYWBA provides a scholarship to a female law student. Through CNYWBA’s efforts, many women have been elected to the judiciary in Central New York, and one of its longstanding members was elected President of the New York State Bar Association. Among other things, CNYWBA has also raised money for breast cancer, written amicus briefs in support of issues important to women, organized continuing legal education programs, established a respected judicial evaluation process, assisted with the formation of the Rochester and Buffalo chapters of WBASNY, mentored countless law students, and provided a forum to address gender bias in the law in Central New York.