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Only Woman in 1940s Law Class Featured in Documentary Premiering in Vermillion

Image Grace Day Lawyer Grace Day, the subject of the documentary "Amazing Grace," which will premiere April 14 at the USD School of Law.

VERMILLION, S.D. -- USD will host the South Dakota premiere of "Amazing Grace," a 30-minute documentary exploring the life, challenges and success of a Missouri attorney who was the only woman in her class at the University of South Dakota School of Law.

Grace (Steinberg) Day, who graduated in 1949, was the daughter of Polish immigrants who grew up working in her father’s shoe store in Onawa, Iowa, and dreamed of something more. When she enrolled in USD School of Law, she was the only female student in an industry that did not welcome women.

“Amazing Grace” will be screened at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 14 in the USD School of Law courtroom. Day and the filmmakers will be present and there will be a Q&A session following the showing. A reception will follow the presentation in the Davenport Evans Student Commons. The event is open to everyone.

Former television news anchor and reporter Heather McMichael produced “Amazing Grace” after hearing Day share her stories. “When I learned Grace was retiring I thought it was important to document her journey for future generations,” said McMichael, who now works in legal public relations. “Today, women comprise 40 percent of law school students, but in Grace’s time, at this law school, she was it. It’s an incredible story of perseverance.”

McMichael and her co-producer spent two years following Day and interviewing numerous people in her life, including her adult children, who are also lawyers, along with Day’s colleagues and a woman Day mentored who is now the Denver managing partner of large law firm. One of the high points of the documentary includes a trip back to USD law with Day.

“I don’t want to share what happened because I don’t want to spoil the story,” said McMichael. “Grace has made a huge impact on the legal industry and personifies the true definition of a legal trailblazer. It is an honor to get to know her. She’s very smart and funny.”

Day, now 88, lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, and keeps busy as a court-appointed volunteer and travels frequently to visit friends and family. Even though she attended law school more than 65 years ago, the memories of what she went through as the only woman in a class of 175 men are still vivid today.

“I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to quit law school,” said Day. “Some of the men were nice guys but they just wanted to play dirty tricks and I can remember their antics just like it was yesterday.”

Day was featured in the most recent South Dakota Lawyer magazine.


USD’s Knudson School of Law prepares students for leadership in the administration of justice in South Dakota, including in rural areas where the demand is great, and for private practice, public service, business and other law-related endeavors anywhere. Its joint degree program allows students to also earn one of nine master’s degrees within the traditional three-year law curriculum, which includes course tracks in business, commercial, constitutional, criminal, employment, environmental, Indian, real estate and tax law as well as civil litigation and estate planning.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News