One of the first two women allowed to pass the bar in Delaware, Evangelyn Barsky made a great impact on her community in her brief career. Barsky earned a master’s in 1918 and a law degree in 1922 from the University of Pennsylvania. She taught school and campaigned for women’s rights and on behalf of Republican candidates. In 1923, when Delaware began allowing women to hold public office and practice law, Evangelyn Barsky and Sybil Ward applied for admission to practice and were both admitted to the bar. Barsky ran a law firm with her brother for over a decade before she was appointed assistant city solicitor in 1935. The following year, the entire city mourned when a car crash claimed her life.
The screaming headline on the front page of the Wilmington Journal Every Evening on Monday, September 14, 1936, bespoke Evangelyn Barsky’s importance to the city and state: “Miss Evangeline [sic] Barsky Killed in Automobile Mishap.” The forty-two-year-old assistant city solicitor of Wilmington, Delaware, was the first Republican woman appointed to a legal post and, with Sybil Ward, one of the first two women lawyers regularly admitted to practice in Delaware. When the car her friend was driving took a curve at high speed, skidded on a wet road, and crashed into a telephone pole, Barsky’s vibrant, successful life ended prematurely.
Born in Wilmington on March 31, 1894, Barsky was the youngest of four children and only daughter of Russian-born Nathan and Rose (Ostro) Barsky. As Nathan Barsky was a successful dry-goods merchant and realtor, the children did not have to struggle to obtain their education. Barsky and two of her brothers became lawyers. Her brother Joseph became a doctor.
Barsky went to Wilmington High School and then Goucher College, graduating with a B.A. in 1916. She continued at the University of Pennsylvania, earning an M.A. in 1918 and an LL.B. in 1922. During World War I, she was in the women’s motor car corps, driving trucks and ambulances. She also taught school in Wilmington. Politically active with friends in the Democratic and Republican parties, she campaigned for the Republican Party and worked for the advancement of women. In 1936, she attended the Republican National Convention.
Delaware’s progress in granting women equal rights was among the slowest in the nation. In 1920, the state did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment granting women suffrage, and the whipping post was still legal. Not until a new section was added to the state constitution in January 1923, barring sex as a disqualification from holding office, were women able to practice law in the state. Delaware was among the very last states to admit women to the bar.
In February 1923, Barsky and Sybil Ward applied for admission to practice; they were admitted, and took the oath on March 26, 1923. Barsky practiced law with her brother Victor from 1923 until she was appointed assistant city solicitor, taking office on July 2, 1935.
She was a member of the League of Women Voters, New Century Club, American Association of University Women, and the New Castle County, Delaware State, and American Bar Associations. Her parents were founders of Temple Beth Emeth and donors of a cottage to the Brandywine Sanitarium, and her mother was a founder of the Jewish Home for the Aged. Barsky took up where they left off by supporting these institutions.
This pioneer woman lawyer of Delaware, taken in the prime of life, was honored in death. Hundreds of people—family, ordinary citizens, and officials—led by Mayor Walter W. Bacon, attended Evangelyn Barsky’s funeral. Flags were flown at half-staff throughout the city. After funeral services at the home she shared with her brother, Dr. Joseph Barsky, she was buried in Beth Emeth Memorial Park Cemetery.
Frankel, Estella, and Mrs. Sigmund Schoor. Interviews with author, May 1958.
Thomas, Dorothy. Women, the Bench, and the Bar (forthcoming).
Wilmington (Delaware) Journal Every Evening, September 14, 1936.