Esther Rothstein, Class of 1949
First female president of the Chicago Bar Association
After graduating from Chicago-Kent in 1949, Esther Rothstein was one of only 150 women licensed to practice law in the Chicago area. In reality, only about twenty were actively practicing law at the time. She demonstrated exceptional competence in negotiating agreements, transactional work, and litigation, and was elected a partner in the firm of McCarthy and Levin in 1955, thereby becoming one of the first women in the country to become a partner at a major law firm. Rothstein dedicated her life to the law and to philanthropy, where she was one of nine founding members of the Women’s Bar Association Foundation, and soon after, its president. She chaired several Chicago Bar Association committees and was elected to the Chicago Bar Association Board of Managers in 1965. Her crowning achievement was in 1977, when she was elected the first female president of the Chicago Bar Association, likely the first woman in the United States to lead a major bar association.
Rothstein was also the first female director of the Illinois Bell Telephone company, the first woman on the Chicago-Kent Alumni Board and the Chicago-Kent Board of Overseers, the first female chair of a standing committee of the American Bar Association, and the first female member on the Illinois Institute of Technology Board of Trustees. She also served as director of several centers and institutes, including the Illinois Pro Bono Center, the Lawyer’s Trust Fund, the Illinois Humane Society, the Youth Justice Institute, and the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education. Her awards and honors include induction into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989, the Chicago Volunteer Legal Service Award, the Midwest Women’s Center Lifetime Achievement Award, the Woman’s Bar Association Myra Bradwell Award, and the Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women Founders Award in 1998. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 86.