Rose Zetzer, 94, founded 1st all-female law firm in Md.


Rose S. Zetzer marched with suffragettes as a child, founded the first all-female law firm in the state and was the first female member of the Maryland State Bar Association.

Ms. Zetzer died Sunday of heart failure at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. She was 94.

The Northwest Baltimore resident, who retired from her law practice in the early 1990s, was inducted into the Baltimore City Hall of Fame in 1990.

Ms. Zetzer was born in East Baltimore, the daughter of Russian immigrants.

While attending city schools, she recalled, she experienced the awakening that would later define her life's work.

"I remember when I was in the eighth grade, and we had a discussion on 'Shall women have the right to vote?' I made up my mind then to be a lawyer and everybody said, 'Who ever heard of a woman lawyer?' " she said in a 1970 interview in The Evening Sun.

"Marching with the suffragettes demanding the vote became a cause celebre for her. She wasn't a liberal but rather a lifelong advocate of women's rights," said a nephew, Robert S. Zetzer of Baltimore.

After graduating from Eastern High School, she attended the Johns Hopkins University and earned a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1925.

She began practicing law rather than doing what a woman was supposed to do -- "nice household chores," she said in an interview.

In 1927, she began her quest to gain admission to the Maryland State Bar Association.

Admitted in 1946, she noted that Maryland's bar was the last in the country to admit women.

She claimed that the reason women were excluded from the organization was because male lawyers liked sitting around with their feet up, smoking and telling stories.

Acknowledging that she wasn't fond of criminal cases, she said that she found certain cases benefited from having a woman lawyer handle them, such as divorce suits.

Ms. Zetzer lobbied for women jury members and rejected the explanation that they couldn't fulfill the duty because the courthouse had no bathrooms for women.

The efforts of Ms. Zetzer and others on behalf of women jury members culminated in 1947 with the passage of a partial women's jury service bill by the Maryland General Assembly.

In 1940, she formed Zetzer, Carton, Friedler & Parke, a unique law firm composed entirely of women. With offices in the Munsey Building, the law firm's clients, it was said, were primarily men.

"We were all practicing law together in the Munsey Building and then decided to go together and establish a firm. That's how it started," said Lottie Friedler, surviving member of the firm, which was dissolved in the 1960s. She now practices in Northwest Baltimore.

Ms. Friedler described Ms. Zetzer as "an old-time suffragette. A pioneer."

"She was very smart, outspoken yet kind. She was totally for the young women lawyers so they would have an opportunity to get a break in life," she said.

Ms. Zetzer "made a difference for not only women in the law but for all women in Baltimore," said Jeanette R. Wolman of Baltimore.

Mrs. Wolman, 95, who graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1924, recently retired from the practice of law.

Former Circuit Judge Robert B. Watts said of Ms. Zetzer, "She was in the forefront of progressive legislation and stood firmly for civil rights for blacks."

Ms. Zetzer was a trustee of the Marjorie Cook Foundation, which aids women who encounter discrimination.

"She was feisty to the end and was honest, decent, kind and committed to helping not only women but poor people. Not a rich woman, she gave her money to help the unfortunate," said Ms. Fr)edler.

Ms. Zetzer was a member and former president of the Women's Bar Association; a lifetime board member of the Jewish Big Brother and Sister League; and a member of the National Association of Women Lawyers and the National Women's Party.

Services were held Tuesday.

Other survivors include her sister, Hilda Kaminkow of Baltimore; a niece, Lois E. Zetzer of Baltimore; several nieces and nephews; and five great-great nephews.

Pub Date: 4/09/98


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