100 years of women at Richmond Law

Richmond Law marks a century of women and readies for a new generation

October 17, 2023

University News

Jane Brown Ranson was no shrinking violet. Ranked No. 2 in her class, the first female graduate of University of Richmond School of Law took umbrage when she was voted “Most Improved.”

“After graduation, she became a lawyer and sued the faculty for defamation,” said Wendy Perdue, dean of the Law School. “Like many fiercely intelligent women, she was feisty.”

Earlier this month, Richmond Law held a daylong celebration called “A Century of Women: 100 years, 1923-2023.” The event featured a Q&A with Perdue and Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan, who attended UR as an undergraduate then earned her law degree from the University of Virginia. Alumnae speakers from the past 60 years offered their insights on panels.

While UR’s law school was founded in 1870, it wasn’t until 50 years later, in 1920, that the first female law students were admitted. Richmond and the University of Virginia graduated the first two female law students in the Commonwealth in 1923 — Ranson and fellow Spider Elizabeth Tompkins, a 1919 graduate of Westhampton College.

Dean Wendy Perdue with Mary Lou Kramer, Class of 1975

Today, 55% of all law students, and 61% of those in the Richmond Class of 2027, are women.

“This happened because of the willingness to extend a hand to those behind,” Perdue said at the event.

She noted that one such person is Mary Lou Kramer, Class of 1975, who has committed $50,000 in matching funds to establish the Law Women’s Centennial Scholarship. With a goal of $100,000 and 100 donors, the scholarship celebrates a century of women at Richmond Law, while paving the way for future students to experience a world-class legal education.

When she started Richmond Law in 1972, Kramer was one of only 10 women in a class of 110 students. “People thought that was pretty radical because there weren’t that many women entering law school,” Kramer said.

In the years that followed, Kramer was the first woman to be named partner at her former law firm, Sands Anderson. Her desire to ensure that others have the same access to a Richmond Law education and legal career led her to establish the scholarship fund.

“Having scholarships available is crucial to attracting a diverse student body — from all backgrounds and walks of life — broadening the draw of students," she said. "Education is such an important part of anyone's success. We wouldn't be where we are without access to education."