The Massachusetts Bar Association, which was formed in 1910
and incorporated in 1911, celebrates its centennial anniversary
with a number of events this year. As part of that observance,
Lawyers Journal and e-Journal will highlight past presidents,
interesting MBA trivia and list upcoming centennial events.
Material from Fiat Justitia, A History of the Massachusetts Bar
Association 1910-1985, by Robert J. Brink, was used for this story.
Compiled by Megan Griffith and Bill Archambeault.
MBA created during difficult times for the legal
The Massachusetts Bar Association was formed in 1910, and
incorporated in 1911, amid a time of "genuine turmoil for the
nation's legal profession," according to Fiat Justitia
author Robert J. Brink, director of the Supreme Judicial Court's
Historical Society and the Social Law Library.
Among the association's original 619 members were such legal
luminaries as Louis D. Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who
both went on to serve on the Supreme Court, and Moorfield Storey,
an American Bar Association president and the first president of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Brandeis chastised the profession in 1905, "We hear too much of the
'corporation lawyer' and far too little of the 'people's
There was also a crisis of faith in the standards for, and
perception of, the legal profession. The Legislature in 1876 had
eliminated the "traditional provision" that required three years of
law office apprenticeship," and regional bar associations
like the Franklin County Bar and the Essex Bar association had
disbanded in previous decades.
The MBA was also formed with a strong concern about including a
diverse membership. The American Bar Association, which was
established in 1878, had excluded black lawyers.
Storey, who served as president of the MBA from 1913-14, noted
that "It is a monstrous thing that we should undertake to draw a
color line in the [American] Bar Association."
Women also found themselves less than welcome in the legal
profession. In 1881, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Lelia
J. Robinson's Case, that an unmarried woman was not entitled
to be examined for admission to the bar.
The MBA, which is credited with being one of the first bar
associations to welcome women, admitted its first woman member,
Mary A. Mahan of West Roxbury, in 1913.
Brandeis, who came to be labeled as "the people's lawyer" and "a
Robin Hood of the law," fought against large corporate interest. He
advanced the "right to privacy" concept in an 1890 Harvard Law
Review article he co-authored. And his nomination to the
Supreme Court in 1916 was so controversial that it led to public
hearings in the U.S. Senate.
Holmes, who also served as chief justice on the Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court, is one of the most frequently cited Supreme
Court justices; he became famous for his frequent dissents and use
of phrases like "clear and present danger," in regards to
government control of free speech during war. He was an influential
supporter of the concepts of "legal realism" and "common law."
As first MBA president, Olney focused on improving
Richard Olney stepped forward as the first president of the
Massachusetts Bar Association at a time of growing commercialism in
the legal field. A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law, he
expressed concern at the worsening reputation of lawyers in the
United States as their numbers swelled. These problems led Olney to
open the MBA's first meeting in 1910 by encouraging members to help
police the profession, reform the law and improve the bar's
At the MBA's first annual meeting, in 1910, Olney argued that a
strong state bar association was "imperatively required" to help
combat falling standards in the profession.
Olney came into the legal profession through his father-in-law's
Boston practice, and his strong legal reputation earned him a seat
in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. President Grover
Cleveland later appointed him as U.S. attorney general and then as
U.S. secretary of state. Olney utilized these positions to take on
important legal questions facing the nation in the last years of
the 19th century.
As attorney general, Olney set the precedent for "government by
injunction," so district attorneys could prevent strikers from
committing acts of violence. Then, as secretary of state, he took a
strong position on the Monroe Doctrine and its place in
international law during a territory dispute between the United
Kingdom and Venezuela.
After Cleveland's term, Olney returned to private practice in the
Boston area, where he worked with other lawyers to found the MBA.
He later turned down opportunities to run for president, to become
U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, and to join the Federal Reserve
Board as its governor, citing old age. Olney's influence, public
service and dedication to legal ethical standards set an example
for other members and future leaders of the MBA.
The MBA turns 100
Historical nuggets from the Massachusetts Bar Association's
100-year-old history as told in Fiat Justitia, A History of the
Massachusetts Bar Association 1910-1985, by Robert J. Brink.
Compiled by Megan Griffith and Bill Archambeault.
- Before the Massachusetts Bar Association was started in
1910, an attempt at forming a state bar association failed
in 1849. The Massachusetts Bar Association held its first
organizational meeting on Dec. 22, 1909 at the Hotel Somerset in
- For the MBA's third annual meeting, a group of
50 members symbolically recognized the association's statewide
membership by traveling from Boston by "special train." The group
was joined in Worcester, and was finally met in Springfield by a
delegation of the Hampden County Bar. President Charles W. Clifford
announced that this "annual meeting in this beautiful and busy city
… emphasizes the fact that it is a state and not a local
organization."Within five years of its formation, 33 of the MBA's
55 members practiced law outside of Boston.
- The MBA, which is credited with being one of the first
bar associations to welcome women, admitted its first woman member,
Mary A. Mahan of West Roxbury, in 1913. The legal
profession was not an easy one for women at the time. The Supreme
Judicial Court ruled in Lelia J. Robinson's Case, in 1880,
that an unmarried woman was not entitled to be examined for
admission to the bar. That restriction was removed in 1882.
Portia Law School, which catered exclusively to teaching women,
opened in 1908, but gains for women in the profession were slow to
follow. By 1920, there were 47 women lawyers out of 4,850 total in
- When the MBA was founded, judges in the commonwealth
were not required to be lawyers. Considering the
faultiness of the bench to be detrimental to justice, the MBA
established a standing Committee of Judicial Appointments in 1910
and lobbied against an elective judiciary in order to maintain a
high bench standard.