In 1971, a conference at Duke University, “Woman In and Under the Law,” inspired the founding of Virginia Law Women. Ideas for starting a women’s organization had already been percolating in Clark Hall. Conference attendees returned to UVA Law with new energy to form a women’s group that could push to increase the number of female students and faculty at the Law School.
Over Virginia Law Women’s fifty years, the group has shifted its goals to meet the changing needs of women at the Law School and in the legal profession. At the group's founding, VLW sought to increase the number of female students and faculty at Virginia Law. Over time, as these numbers have grown, VLW has since heightened its focus on preparing women to succeed in the legal profession after graduation.
Virginia Law Women began as an activist organization. Over the years, the group has spoken out on issues ranging from sex discrimination in the job interview process, to inadequate facilities for women at the Law School, to the Equal Rights Amendment. As the focus of the women’s rights movement has shifted over fifty years, so has the focus of VLW’s advocacy.
At its founding in 1971, Virginia Law Women was one of two affinity organizations at the Law School alongside the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA). For much of VLW’s history, addressing diversity was a matter of choosing when and how to collaborate with other UVA Law student organizations. As intersectionality has come to the fore in conversations about equity and representation, VLW presidents have increasing looked inward to address issue of diversity within VLW.
VLW offers a plethora of programming options, from guest lectures, to wine and cheese nights, to golf lessons, to fundraisers. Multiple VLW alumnae fondly recall designing the organization’s annual t-shirt. These varied initiatives provide social and professional development opportunities for UVA Law students and keep VLW as the ever-present voice for women within the Law School.
Virginia Law Women members are unified in their support for the advancement of women in the legal profession. While former group presidents recall memorable programs and occasional tensions during their tenures, the friendships and mentorships they fostered often remain at the forefront of their recollections.