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Celebrating the Women of the Department of Justice

March 1, 2012
Annette Abbott Adams, the first female Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice

Annette Abbott Adams, the first female Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice

The following post appears courtesy of the library staff. Women have always played a major part in the Department of Justice and have contributed to every aspect of the department's operations. In recent decades, women have moved from staff positions to positions at the very top of the department. The culmination of this evolution was the appointment of Attorney General Janet Reno who served in the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001. These changes did not take place overnight. If one were to survey Department of Justice directories prior to 1970, it would be very rare to find women serving at the level of Assistant Attorney General. Starting with the 1970s, this situation changed slowly, and then dramatically in the 1990s. March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate the month we’ll highlight some of the women who have risen to the top leadership of the Justice Department. These women provide wonderful examples of the exemplary service women of the department have made, and continue to make, to the United States. Their service and dedication has helped secure the safety of our nation and promote justice for all. Annette Abbott Adams: Assistant Attorney General (1920 - 1921) Annette Abbott Adams (b. March 27, 1877 - d. October 26, 1956) was the first female Assistant Attorney General. Adams was also the first woman to sit on the California Supreme Court, having been appointed by special assignment for one case. Adams attended Chico State Normal School and the University of California Berkeley, receiving her Bachelor of Law in 1904. She was the one of the first women to graduate from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and was admitted to the California state bar in 1912. Thereafter, she campaigned for Woodrow Wilson in California. After he was elected, she was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of California from 1914-1919. In 1920 she was appointed the first female Assistant Attorney General of the United States and held the term for one year before resigning in 1921. Adams' other achievements included a successful law practice after her appointment; being appointed presiding judge of the California Court of Appeal, 3rd District in Sacramento; and winning election to a twelve-year term on that court. In 1952, Adams retired for health reasons, and passed away in 1956. Adams' legacy nonetheless broke barriers for women in the legal profession, and established a precedent for women achieving high political office.

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Updated April 7, 2017