• Luminarias Legal History Project


    The purpose of the Luminarias Legal History Project is to chronicle and celebrate the contributions of Luminarias through various projects and publications.


    Luminarias, Latinas / Hispanic females who were licensed during the first 100 years of the 20th century, represent a small percentage of the approximately 20,000 Latina lawyers in the country.  They were and are the country’s first Latina: 

    • Judges at all levels - from the municipal bench to the U.S. Supreme Court
    • State Attorney Generals and U.S. Attorneys
    • U.S. Ambassadors and Presidential Appointees confirmed by U.S. Senate
    • Law firm Partners and In-House Counsel
    • District Attorneys and Public Defenders
    • Civil Rights litigators and Legal Aid Lawyers 


    Collectively, very little is known about these Luminarias or their contributions to American society and U.S. jurisprudence.  While individual Latina lawyers have been cracking the glass ceiling since their entrée into the legal profession in the early 1900’s, minimal national interest and no historical research or documentation existed until the Primeras and Luminarias projects.


    Luminarias de la Ley | Luminaries of the Law Legal History Project emerged from the 1993 slide show researched and created by (then) practicing lawyer Atencio for the Hispanic National Bar Annual (HNBA) Convention in San Francisco at the suggestion of SF lawyer Mary Hernandez.  The program featured 21 of the country's earliest Latina lawyers and was converted a year later into a documentary, Las Primeras.


    Two events converged in 2009 that catapulted Latina lawyers onto the national consciousness:  the confirmation of Luminaria Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and release of the HNBA Latina Commission national study Few and Far Between:  The Reality of Latina Lawyers, spearheaded by Atencio as the Commission's first Co-Chair.   The obstacles documented in the Commission's study underscored to Atencio, the significant accomplishments of this super cadre of American women lawyers.


    In 2013, Atencio affiliated with the University of Denver to complete the research started with Las Primeras.  As Scholar in Residence, she and her students researched the first two written pieces on the history of Latina lawyers, Abogadas Primeras - Una Historia (The First Latina Lawyers, A History, 2013) and Salute to Latinas in the 50 States (2014), printed and distributed in partnership with the HNBA Latina Commission. 


    By the end of 2014, the project evolved into the identification and study of all Latina lawyers from 1880 through 1980, from Primeras to Luminarias.  In early 2015, Atencio became the first DULCCES Visiting Scholar to complete the work started in 1993.



  • Luminarias Album

  • Album (To view content, click on information icon in the upper-left corner of picture)
  • Depicted in majestic colors of blue and bronze and posed traditionally with the scales or luminarias of justice, Lady Justice was chosen to symbolize Luminarias - Latina lawyers licensed during the first 100 years of the 20th century - Illuminating the Way for future generations.  Special thanks to lawyers Mercedes Sellek (Miami), Mary Hernandez (San Francisco) and Denver teacher Simone Atencio-Ramos for their opinions and thoughtfulness in guiding the selection of this beautiful image.  Special recognition to Elizabeth Baldwin, founder of The Pickle Group, Los Angeles, for capturing the essence and beauty of these American pioneers.

  • Phase I: Identifying Luminarias, 2015-2017

  • For the past two years, the Visiting Scholar has conducted original research to identify the earliest Latina / Hispanic female law graduates and lawyers, examining hundred of archived materials from the 174 law schools in the study, national research institutions and bar associations. She also created the Luminarias Exhibit (see Exhibit Tab), the first exhibit on the history of Latina lawyers.  


    Currently, Visiting Scholar Atencio is completing analysis of the data and this fall, will write two law review articles about the research process and research results.  Planned scholarly works (starting 2018) include:

    • CURRICULUM UNITS for middle and high school students, intended to teach the history of these Luminarias and to expose students, especially Latina youth, to the legal profession as a career choice.
    • COLLEGIATE LEVEL HISTORY BOOK covering the role & contributions of these Luminarias to the Latino community and American society.
    • LAW SCHOOL CASEBOOK - containing an analysis of the collective legal work and contributions of select Luminarias to U.S. jurisprudence. 
  • Law School Album
  • Phase II: Oral History Project, 2018

  • Latina lawyers licensed in the 1960s, today, are in their 80s.  Half of the Latinas licensed in the 1970s are retired, with the remaining half in the last years of practice.  Over the past 10 years, Luminarias have passed without their contributions being documented or recognized beyond their local communities, to the extent they were known. Such Luminarias include, for example, the first Latina in the country elected District Attorney and the first and third Latina lawyers in the State of Texas.  


    Through the Oral History Project, Visiting Scholar Atencio will document the life stories and career accomplishments of 50 Latina / Hispanic women lawyers whose admission to the Bar and careers are historically significant.  Each videotaped Oral History is an individual educational unit; all 50 constitute a compedium of unique educational programming that will be made available to the public when completed.  The Oral Histories will form the basis for a future documentary.


    To become a sponsor of the Oral History project, donate through this website or to learn more, contact Visiting Scholar Atencio at 303.871.6572, datencio@law.du.edu

This portfolio last updated: 27-Sep-2017 2:43 PM