The National Bar Association (NBA) approved a Women Lawyers Division in October 1972. In the fall of 1974, a group of African-American women lawyers in the District of Columbia metropolitan area began organizing a chapter of this new division and in September of 1976, the Greater Washington Area Chapter– GWAC — elected its first officers. Over the years GWAC’s membership has grown from approximately 20 to 400 members. Members include female and male law school students, law school graduates, practicing attorneys and judges. In February of 1995, GWAC became an affiliate chapter of the NBA.
GWAC’s stated purpose is to address the concerns of the District of Columbia metropolitan community with an emphasis on African-American women in the legal profession. In furtherance of its purpose, throughout the year, GWAC sponsors many programs for its members and others in the community. In addition, GWAC members implemented a tutoring and enrichment program with girls at the Malcom X Elementary School and Harriet Tubman Elementary School in the District of Columbia, and works with residents of the Washington Center for Aging Services.
One of GWAC’s major efforts has been devoted to establishing and endowing a program for law students. This effort culminated in the establishment of the Legal Intern Placement Program (LIPP), through which GWAC secures and /or partially finances summer employment for law students selected to participate in the program.
Additionally, GWAC is an active participant with many legal, governmental and community groups throughout the area, such as the D.C. Commission for Women, the National Committee on Pay Equity, the Women’s Bar Association, and the National League of Women Voters. Participation in these and similar organizations allows GWAC to influence and assist the community at large and carry its messages to a wider audience. GWAC has also taken a keen interest in judicial and executive appointments, recommending many of its members for appointments, and others, to these vacancies. GWAC also actively seeks information on employment vacancies and disseminates it to the membership.
GWAC has flourished under the leadership of its presidents Barbara Whiting-Wright, Lenore H. Cameron, Ruth R. Banks, Cecile A. Vaughters-Johnson, N. Denise Wilson-Taylor, Belva D. Newsome, Kathryn A. Ellis, Gloria R. Sulton, Grace E. Speights, Cheryl L. Ziegler, Kim Kendrick, Elicia Pegues Spearman, Norma Brown Hutcheson, Tara Fentress, Rita Sampson, Kirra L. Jarratt, Ayoka Campbell, Michelle Thomas, Lani P. Shaw, Nakeasha L. Sanders, Valencia Rainey, Josephine Nelson Harriott, Meredith Graves, Melanie Bates, Brandes Ash and Alicia McNeal. Each GWAC President has improved upon or added something new to the GWAC structure to ensure its continued existence and assistance to the community.
Of particular note, GWAC organized its own American Inn of Court. The Charlotte E. Ray American Inn of Court in 1994 is the first African American Inn of Court named after an African-American woman. GWAC also established and endowed its own foundation to fund its charitable activities. GWAC is a committed group of proactive individuals!