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First Jewish woman lawyer admitted to Washington state bar

June 6, 1901

Bella Weretnikow, who became the first Jewish woman lawyer in Washington State, was born in Russia in 1880. Seeking better luck in America, her family immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, in 1882 before settling in Seattle in 1893. There, Bella attended a public high school and then entered the University of Washington at age 16. She graduated in 1900 with a bachelor's degree in political and social science, with honors in German, and another bachelor's degree in pedagogy.

Immediately upon her graduation, Weretnikow entered the University of Washington Law School, which was at that time open to anyone who could pay the fee and meet the entrance requirements. In fact, Weretnikow had completed the first year's work concurrently with her senior year of college. She therefore was able to graduate from law school on May 31, 1901, one of two women in a class of fifteen. Hers was the first class to graduate from the brand-new law school. Just six days later, on June 6, 1901, Bella Weretnikow was admitted to the Washington state bar.

Weretnikow found work in the law office of Frederick R. Burch, and soon won her first case in King County Superior Court. In addition, she continued to help run her mother's dry-goods store and manage property belonging to the family. Her law career, however, came to an end in 1905. Like many women of her generation, Weretniknow left the professional arena upon her marriage. Lewis N. Rosenbaum had seen a few lines in the American Israelite newspaper announcing Weretnikow's graduation from law school, contacted the young woman, and soon moved from Tennessee to Seattle to woo and wed her. He, too, was a lawyer.

The Rosenbaums lived alternately in New York and Seattle during the course of a marriage that lasted fifty years, until Lewis's death in 1956. Together, they raised five children and were active in their local synagogues. Bella wrote an autobiography, today housed at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, excerpts of which were published in the American Jewish Archives Journal in 1967. Bella Weretnikow Rosenbaum died on December 17, 1960.

Sources: Molly Cone, et al., Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, (Seattle, 2003); Judith Rosenthal, "Bella Weretnikow: Seattle's First Jewish Female Attorney," Columbia, Spring 2004; American Jewish Archives Finding Aid, http://americanjewisharchives.org/collections/ms0179/.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "First Jewish woman lawyer admitted to Washington state bar." (Viewed on November 26, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/06/1901/bella-weretnikow>.

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