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6

| SOUTH DAKOTAN LAWYER

BRIEFS

The youngest of three children, she

was the only one to attend the University

of South Dakota. Admitted to law school

with a scholarship, she was the only woman in her class.

Becoming an attorney in 1950, she was the only female

attorney in St. Joseph, Missouri. In every stage of her life,

Grace Day has broke down barriers.

Day, originally a Steinberg, was part of the only Jewish

family in Onawa, Iowa. Her father emigrated there from

Poland before the start of World War I and waited four years

before he sent for her mother to join him; there, together, they

started and raised their family.

In her father’s shoe store, Day grew up sewing shoes until

leaving for college in the late 1940s. Both her older brother

and sister had relocated to Sioux City for the synagogue, but

she made the college move to Vermillion for the USD School

of Law.

A female attending law school was relatively unheard of

when she arrived. Being the only woman in her class was never

easy, she admitted. Fellow students and professors alike would

tease her, counting on her to drop out. She never gave in,

though, and saw her education through to the end.

Along the way, she encountered a man by the name of

Milton Day – one who proved that not every male was waiting

for her to give up. Grace and Milton met in class and were

married on Dec. 25, 1949, just after their graduation. The two

then relocated to Milton’s hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri,

where Mrs. Day got her first job doing secretarial tasks for $50

per month.

Employers still did not take her seriously as an attorney

despite having all the credentials, but losing heart wasn’t her

style. Instead, in 1950, Day began her own practice as a court-

appointed attorney for indigent clients. At first approached by

only female patrons, the bold attorney decided to specialize in

family law and make herself a voice for women in a time when

they were barely allowed to have a voice of their own.

She handled divorce cases until her reputation grew and

her area of expertise encompassed representing male and

female divorce cases, custody and paternity matters. However,

20 years passed before a male finally hired her. Having heard

of her success in the courtroom, the first man to seek her aid

did so only so that his wife could not.

The ‘70s brought about more female attorneys, giving this

legal “first lady” an opportunity to help those who were just

starting out; she sent some of her own cases to the beginners,

helping them get familiar with the field.

Quitting was never an option for Day, a trait that

defines her personality and career. At age 69, rather than

retire from her own practice, she joined Polsinelli Shugart in

St. Joseph and practiced there for another 18 years. She has

been rewarded with numerous successes and honors; she

became the first female president of the St. Joseph Bar

Association in 1973, was named Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s

“Woman of the Year” in 2011, and has been honored with

a lifetime achievement of the YWCA’s “Woman in the

Workplace” award.

This experienced attorney practiced her passion for 63 years

– 45 of which were spent in her solo practice – and fulfilled

many roles throughout that time: student, professional,

mentor and friend. Mrs. Day retired in 2013 and after 64

years of marriage, Milton passed away in late 2014. She stays

highly involved with B’nai B’rith Woman (BBW), a Jewish

advocacy group.

In a tribute to Day and her service to Polsinelli Shugart,

coworkers referred to her as an icon – the likes of which they

will never see again. As someone who was never expected

to get far in the field, Grace Day has set the bar high for

future attorneys.

The School of Law will host a screening of a 30-minute

documentary about Grace Day, titled “Amazing Grace,” in spring

2016, with the date to be announced.

Grace Day

Setting

the

Bar