Rawalt, Marguerite Luella (1895–1989)

By: Gwendolyn Lockman

Type: Biography

Published: December 19, 2021

Updated: December 19, 2021

Marguerite Rawalt, attorney, feminist, co-founder of the National Organization of Women, and the first woman president of the Federal Bar Association, was born in Prairie City, Illinois, on October 16, 1895, to Viola Bell (Flake) Rawalt and Charles T. Rawalt. Rawalt’s family lived in Illinois, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas, before they moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1901, where Marguerite and her two younger brothers lived on a farm. She graduated high school from Bay View College, a boarding school located across the bay in Portland, Texas. In 1913 Rawalt attended the University of Texas for a year but left due to financial constraints. She lived in Lorena, Texas, from 1915 to 1917 and taught high school math. She then moved to San Antonio, where she attended business school and worked as a secretary.

During World War I, Rawalt met John “Jack” Tindale, a sergeant in the U. S. Army Air Service and a Scottish immigrant, in San Antonio. They married in a civil service in Bexar County on April 29, 1918, but divorced nine years later. After her husband was honorably discharged in January 1919, he worked as an auto mechanic in San Antonio. By 1922 the couple had moved to Austin. Her husband briefly attended the University of Texas, then worked as a manager of a hosiery company and a noted local singer. Rawalt supported her husband financially. She worked as an assistant secretary for Governor Pat M. Neff from 1921 to 1924. When she and Tindale divorced in 1927, Rawalt retook her maiden name and worked as a manager at a Chevrolet dealership.

In 1928 Rawalt moved to Washington, D.C., where she attended night school at the George Washington University Law School (GWU) and worked as a secretary for Neff while he served on the U. S. Board of Mediation. When Neff left the board and returned to Texas, Rawalt worked for his successor on the board, Oscar Branch Colquitt. Although GWU initially denied her admission to law school, she earned a law degree in 1933 and an LLM in 1936. While at the university, she was a member of Kappa Beta Pi, elected to the academic honor society Order of the Coif, and served on the board of student editors for the George Washington Law Review when it was first published in November 1932. Following law school, Rawalt took an appointment as an attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (later called the Internal Revenue Service or IRS). She married Harry Secord, an attorney with the U. S. War Department, in 1937. The couple, however, kept the marriage secret for three years because the federal government prohibited employment of more than one family member. Rawalt continued to use her maiden name in professional settings.

During World War II, Rawalt’s husband served as a major in the U.S. Army Air Forces, and she encouraged the sale of war bonds when she traveled for business or to visit her husband on military bases. She also served as president of the National Association of Women Lawyers from 1942 to 1943 and was elected the first woman president of the Federal Bar Association (FBA) in May 1943. That year, as a representative of FBA, she was the first woman delegate in the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. The FBA did not elect another woman president until 1993. She was also a member of the National Woman’s Party, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and Zonta International. In May 1945 Baylor University conferred upon Rawalt an honorary doctor of law degree in recognition of her achievements and distinction as a woman lawyer. She was president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s (NFBPW) Clubs from 1954 to 1956 and served as the first president of the organization’s foundation, which was created in 1956 and based in Washington, D.C. Four years later the NFBPW Foundation opened the Marguerite Rawalt Resource Center, which was later lauded as the oldest library in the nation to focus on economic issues for women and work and as the largest information center for such research.

In 1961 Rawalt served on President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, which was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson appointed her to the Citizens Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She also served on the District of Columbia Commission on the Status of Women. Her husband died on July 5, 1963, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Rawalt continued to work for the IRS until her retirement in 1964. Between 1936 and 1964 she had been passed up for judicial appointments five times. She decided to retire after she was informed that she would not be considered for the position of associate chief counsel due to her age, a cause for termination that she noted few men faced. While on Johnson’s Citizens Advisory Council, Rawalt partnered with Pauli Murray and Catherine East to lobby for the inclusion of “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1966 Rawalt helped establish the National Organization of Women (NOW) and served on NOW’s Legal Committee as its chair from 1966 to 1969. She was also an active member and served as president and the attorney of the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL). Rawalt established WEAL’s Legal Defense Fund in 1972, later renamed the Marguerite Rawalt Legal Defense Fund (MRLDF), to research and advocate protections from sex discrimination. Rawalt advocated the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment through these organizations as well as Women United, the ERA Ratification Council, and ERAmerica. She attended the International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City in 1975 and was involved in the planning of the National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, in 1977.

Marguerite Rawalt died in Corpus Christi, Texas, on December 16, 1989. She was buried at Rose Hill Memorial Park cemetery in Corpus Christi. Her papers were donated to the Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute Repository at Harvard University.

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Amarillo Daily News, May 14, 1943. Austin American, March 18, 1923. Austin Statesman, March 14, 1923. Corpus Christi Caller-Times, December 17, 18, 1989. Corpus Christi Times, June 5, 1945. Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), November 20, 1938. Marshall News Messenger, November 16, 1942. Judith Hillman Paterson, Be Somebody: A Biography of Marguerite Rawalt (Fort Worth: Eakin Press, 1986). Marguerite Rawalt Audiotape Collection, 1953–1979, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Marguerite Rawalt, A History of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. (Washington, D.C.: NFBPW, 1969). Marjorie J. Spruill, Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values that Polarized American Politics (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017). Sun Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), October 22, 1942. Susan Ware and Stacy Braukman, eds., Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 5: Completing the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2005). Washington Post, August 28, 1986.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Gwendolyn Lockman, “Rawalt, Marguerite Luella,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rawalt-marguerite-luella.

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December 19, 2021
December 19, 2021

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