ST. JOSEPH, Mo.. -- Grace Day, the only woman in her University of South Dakota School of Law class in the 1940s, died Wednesday, July 13, in St. Joseph, Missouri, where she practiced law since 1950.
“Grace Day was a pioneer for women in law and had a notable legal career. USD law is very proud of Grace and her life,” said Thomas Geu, dean of the USD law school.
Day, who died at age 89 after a brief illness, was featured recently in USD’s South Dakota Lawyer magazine and in the documentary “Amazing Grace” about her life and the challenge of being the only woman in a law class of 175 men.
“I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to quit law school,” Day told USD in 2015. “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.”
When she started practicing, she was the only female attorney in St. Joseph. Originally Grace Steinberg, she was also a member of the only Jewish family in Onawa, Iowa, where she was born in 1926 and grew up. Her father emigrated from Poland before the start of World War I and waited four years before he sent for her mother to join him.
Grace Steinberg married Milton Day, who also attended USD, after their graduation on Dec. 25, 1949. The two relocated to St. Joseph, where she initially did secretarial tasks for $50 per month. She began her own law practice in 1950 as a court-appointed attorney for indigent clients. Day decided to specialize in family law and become a voice for women when at the time, they were barely allowed a voice of their own.
Day practiced law for 63 years, with 45 of them in solo practice. At the age of 69, she was still eager to continue to work, so she joined a firm and practiced for another 18 years. She was the first female president of the St. Joseph Bar Association in 1973, was named Missouri Weekly’s Women of the Year in 2011 and has been honored with a lifetime achievement of the YMCA’s Women in the Workplace award.
Day retired in 2013. Milton Day died in late 2014.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting's "Dakota Midday" interviewed her in 2016 and posted it online.
Download a high-resolution photo: Grace Day talks with students at the University of South Dakota School of Law in 2015.