Women attorneys who opened doors honored by peers

With jokes and stories of fond memories, Barnes & Thornburg and the Indiana Bar Foundation honored the legacy of Shirley Shideler, the law firm’s first female attorney and female partner, and recognized three women who are creating impressive legacies in the law of their own.

About 125 lawyers, judges, friends and family gathered at the Indianapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg Sept. 17 to toast Shideler’s accomplishments. In addition, the firm honored Sarah Evans Barker, first female judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana; Loretta Rush, first female chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and Carol Stephan, first female chair of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Shideler worked as a legal secretary for Barnes & Thornburg and went to Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law at night to earn her J.D. in 1964. Upon graduation, she was expecting to work as a trust officer in a bank but, to her surprise, she was offered an associate position at Barnes.

In 1964, Shideler was the first woman to walk through the Barnes and Thornburg front doors as an attorney working at that firm. Seven years later in 1971, she was the first female attorney to become a partner.

She was also the first woman president of the Indiana Bar Foundation, leading the nonprofit from 1988 to 1990.

Shideler died in 2003.

Geoff Slaughter, president of the bar foundation, said the stories of Shideler tell of her generosity, dedication to clients, and always leaving her office door open so young attorneys could come in for advice or a sympathetic ear.

Leading the effort to honor Shideler was one of those young attorneys, Nicholas Kile who is now a partner at Barnes & Thornburg. He wanted to create a lasting memory so the future generations of attorneys know of her pioneering work.

The reception unveiled a special commemoration that included a portrait of Shideler along with copies of the typed letters offering her a position and a partnership at Barnes. It will hang in the firm’s entry way to symbolize the doors she opened for women in the law.

Barnes & Thornburg attorneys then introduced the other three honorees at the evening event. They told of the professional accomplishments of the trio as well as stories about their personalities and lives outside of the legal profession.

Jan Carroll, partner, described Barker as a “wonderful co-conspirator” and said the judge was much admired for the quiet things she does.   

Terri Bruksch, partner, recalled that after being selected as chief justice, Rush said she looked forward to the day when a female chief justice was unremarkable. Bruksch then encouraged the attendees to continue to open doors and walk through doors so it will not be unusual for Rush’s new twin granddaughters to achieve the heights of their future professions.  

Teresa Nyhart pointed to Stephan’s long career in the public sector and said she fit the definition of servant leader.

Each of the three woman and Shideler’s daughter Gail Frye were presented the “Key to Success” recognition award. The key symbolizes the doors the women have opened for others.



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