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Celebrating the legal legacy of Tiera Farrow in Kansas City

Farrow from Lawyer in Petticoats.jpeg
Posted at 4:00 AM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 07:59:38-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — 41 Action News is celebrating Women’s History Month, highlighting women who have had a major impact on Kansas City. That list includes “The Dean of Women Lawyers.”

Her name is Tiera Farrow. She graduated from Kansas City School of Law in 1903 and went on to lead a barrier-breaking career, and life.

In her 1953 autobiography, "Lawyer in Petticoats," she describes her first night in law school in 1901, as she entered a room filled with young men and cigarette smoke.

"All talk ceased,” Farrow wrote. “The men, as if stunned, stared at me. Every eye of those more than 80 men was turned toward me. A mere woman, invading our sanctum! Such was the thought their attitude seemed to express."

Barbara Glesner Fines is the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and an avid Tiera Farrow fan.

"She was well aware of the gender dynamics and the barriers that faced her, but it just seemed to roll off her back," Glesner Fines said. "I think that's one of the great mysteries of people like Tiera Farrow. Who, in the face of a whole societal structure that says, don't even think about that....do!"

In 1915, Farrow became the first woman to defend a woman in a murder trial in the U.S.

She had just represented Clara Schweiger in a divorce case, which they lost. Afterward, Schweiger shot her husband right in the Jackson County Courthouse.

Farrow defended her using a defense that would resemble an abusive relationship claim today.

"And while Clara was convicted, she was convicted of second-degree murder, instead of first-degree murder,” Glesner Fines said. “And she only served just a few number of years. Even by today's standards, that's a victory."

Farrow was the first woman to open her own law office in Kansas City, the first woman municipal court judge and the first woman to appear before the Supreme Court of Kansas on an appeal case.

Those firsts signified major steps for women in the legal field, but one of them may stand above the others for its lasting effect.

In 1917, Farrow founded the Women's Bar Association of Kansas City.

Today, The Association for Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City carries that mission forward. President Nicole Fisher, also a UMKC Law grad, says the goal is to keep winning cases and changing minds.

"I think that when you're in law school, you don't realize how many women have come before you, and have fought very hard for you to have that seat at the table,” Fisher said. "I went on some interviews that were pretty cringe-worthy. There's a lot of women that are like, ‘There's no ceiling now. I can do whatever I want.’"

That's the mindset of the next generation, too.

Morgan Rivera is a sixth grader at Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy. She already knows she wants to be a criminal defense attorney.

“Because there are so many people who are in jail for crimes that they may not have committed or they didn't get properly sentenced,” Rivera said.

And she won't let gender be a barrier to her goals.

"There are so many women in the Supreme Court, and who are lawyers and if they're able to do it, then I should be able to do it," Rivera said.

That’s the kind of tenacity that UMKC Law School’s dean says that any lawyer has to have.

"A lawyer's job is to bring order out of chaos, peace out of disruption and dispute, freedom out of oppression,” Glesner Fines said. “That's work that requires the ability to persist in the face of extraordinary barriers."

In 2019, Farrow was inducted into UMKC’s Starr Women's Hall of Fame.

During her life, she also served as Kansas City treasurer, recruited for the National Guard Association in World War I and joined the Red Cross in World War II.

She earned more post-graduate degrees in addition to her law degree as well. Her autobiography is currently out of print.

In the 1950s, Farrow also appeared on a radio program called, “This, I Believe.” A recording of the essay she read can be found online.