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Tenacious Lawyer Paved the Way for Women in Kansas City

Mary Tiera Farrow to be inducted into Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women, preserving the history of their accomplishments and inspiring women everywhere. Tiera Farrow (1880-1971) is one of the outstanding women being honored in the 2019 class of inductees.

Farrow embodies a number of ‘firsts’ on a local and national scale, as founder of the first organization to welcome women in the legal field in Kansas City, the first female judge in the City of Kansas City, the first woman in the U.S. to defend a woman on trial for murder and the first woman to argue before the Kansas Supreme Court.

From a young age, Farrow was determined to be a lawyer. At the time, women lawyers were rare. She entered business school first to become a stenographer before getting into the Kansas City School of Law (now UMKC School of Law) in 1901. She became president of her class and graduated in 1903 with a bachelor’s in law. She soon after discovered that her fiancé only wanted her to work as a clerk, not a lawyer, so she promptly ended the engagement. She found work with other male attorneys, albeit with a meager salary, and through the opportunity was the first woman to argue a case before the Kansas Supreme Court. In 1907, she was also the first female treasurer elected to serve the city of Kansas City, Kansas.

“She was forward-thinking and pushed the boundaries for women’s rights, both in and out of the legal community.”
– JoEllen Flanagan Engelbart, Association of Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City

After traveling abroad, she and fellow Kansas City School of Law alumna, Anna Donahue, opened the first women-owned law practice in Kansas City. After Donahue left the firm, Farrow got one of her most famous cases defending a newly divorced wife and mother who murdered her ex-husband on the steps of the courthouse after she was denied custody of their child. The case received national media attention because Farrow was the first woman to defend a woman on trial for murder. She earned credibility in the legal community after she successfully defended her client, who was charged with first-degree murder but escaped the death sentence with a second-degree murder conviction and two years in prison.

“She was tenacious and driven, bent on finding her way as a respected and equal lawyer to her male counterparts before women even had the right to vote,” says JoEllen Flanagan Engelbart of the Association of Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City. “She was forward-thinking and pushed the boundaries for women’s rights, both in and out of the legal community.”

Even with Farrow’s success, she was barred from joining the all-male Kansas City Bar Association, so she and 20 other women co-founded the Women’s Bar Association of Kansas City in 1917. The Missouri Women’s Bar Association was opened in 1918. She returned to UMKC to earn her juris doctor degree. Then in 1925, after the passing of the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, she and fellow Kansas City School of Law graduate Louise Byers opened The Women’s Law School to educate non-legal women in their newly acquired legal rights.

She was appointed to the Kansas City Municipal Court in 1928, becoming the first woman judge in Kansas City. She later served women and veterans during and after World Wars I and II and retired after many years in the Legal Aid in the Kansas City Welfare Department. Fondly remembered as the “Dean of Women Lawyers,” Farrow’s legacy lives on in the women whose careers were made possible by her trailblazing advocacy.

About the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizers, from yesterday and today, both famous and unsung. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live.

The Hall of Fame honors their legacies by sharing their stories to encourage and inspire women everywhere. A permanent display honoring these women is open to the public on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The Hall of Fame is named in honor of Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues and women’s rights. The Hall of Fame is made possible through the Starr Education Committee, Martha Jane Starr’s family and the Starr Field of Interest Fund through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

Published: Mar 12, 2019

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