Member Groups

The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

May 2004, vol. 14, no. 4

The history of women in the Justinian Society

When you first think of women in the Justinian Society of Lawyers, the first person that comes to mind is Judge Gloria Coco. Of course, Judge Coco was our first and, to date, only woman president of the Justinians. In researching this article, we discovered that there was a previous woman vice-president, Helen Cirese, but she never became president. Helen Cirese was not only the first Italian-American woman to be admitted to the Bar in 1921, but also she became a founding member of the Justinian Society. Needless to say, she was the only woman!

It took 70 years for the Justinian Society to install its first woman president, Judge Gloria Coco, in 1993. We have come a long way, baby! When Judge Coco was in law school in 1975, she used to attend the monthly meetings with her father, Samuel J. Coco. She remembers that during that time, she would see other woman attorneys at the meetings upon occasion. After she graduated in 1978, she saw other women lawyers a little more often. But still, no women attended meetings regularly

It was not until the mid-1980s that other women began attending regularly. This all began with Lisa Marino, who will be installed as president in May of 2005. Lisa began attending meetings as president of the DePaul Law School Student Chapter. While her father was not a lawyer, she had family friends, such as Bruno Tassone, who introduced her to the Society. After attending a few meetings, she met many other Justinians who welcomed her. Unfortunately, most of the women who regularly attended meetings at that time are no longer active.

In the mid-1990s, Vita Conforti became very active with the Society as president of The John Marshall Law School Student Chapter. At that time, other law school regulars included Monica Gurgiolo, Jessica DePinto and Cristina Mungai. When Donnalyn Gurgiolo became president of the John Marshall chapter a few years later, she continued the trend of inviting law students to attend. This trend continues today with members like recent graduate Kate Woodard and law student Natalie Petric.

Today, not only is Lisa Marino an officer, but Celia Gamrath is directly behind her. In addition, the writers of this article would estimate that we have more active women members than active men members under the age of 35. Indeed, we have come a long way! This wonderful trend is not only due to our "founding mother," Helen Cirese, and our mentors, Judge Gloria Coco, Lisa Marino and Celia Gamrath, but this trend is also due to the wonderful and open-minded men of our society. Let us not forget that Joe Locallo, Len DeFranco and John Locallo were the presidents who chose Judge Coco, Lisa Marino and Celia Gamrath as secretaries (respectively). Plus, there are countless active members who have welcomed women to become active members.