Maine: An Encyclopedia

Laughlin, Gail

(1868-1952) was a prominent lawyer, legislator, and women’s rights advocate. She was born on May 7, 1868 as Abbie Hill Laughlin, in Robbinston. She graduated from Portland High School in 1886, receiving the Brown Medal for the highest grades.

Laughlin worked as a bookkeeper for four years before saving enough money to attend Wellesley College. She was enrolled as Abigail against her wishes. Her friends called her Gail and she took that name legally. She received her A.B. from Wellesley in 1894. She wrote for the American Economist to save enough money to enter Cornell University Law School from which she graduated in 1898 earning her LL.B.

Attorney Laughlin opened her first law office in New York City. In 1900 she was appointed as an expert agent for the United States Industrial Commission. During her tenure for the commission she gave up her law practice to devote more time to women’s causes. She then campaigned from 1902-1906 for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1908 Laughlin opened her second law office in Denver, Colorado because women were then given the right to vote. While in Colorado she served on the state board of pardons (1911-1914), Denver Mayor’s Advisory Council (1912), and the state executive committee for the Progressive party (1912-1914). While serving on these committees, her focus shifted to the injustice of all male juries and she adopted the cause of jury duty for women. During her time in Colorado she had a long lasting friendship and shared home with noted leader Doctor Sperry, daughter of a famous 49er Austin Sperry.

Laughlin moved to San Francisco in 1914 to open her third law office. During her time there she served on the Republican state central committee (1920-1922), sat as judge for the police courts, founded and directed the state branch of the National League for Women’s Services, and joined the National Women’s party. She drafted and successfully lobbied a law to permit women to serve on juries in California.

Laughlin traveled to St. Louis in 1919 to make the opening speech at the first convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women convention. The organization elected her their first national president. As a leading member of the National Women’s Party, Laughlin helped lead the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and led a 200 car motorcade from Kansas to South Dakota to lobby President Calvin Coolidge who was summering in the Black Hills.

In 1924 she returned to Portland to share a law office with her brother. She was elected to the Maine State Legislature in 1929 and served three terms. She submitted many bills that became law. Among them were a bill to raise the marriage age from thirteen to sixteen and an act to prevent husbands from committing their wives to mental institutions based only on the husbands’ testimony. She also helped to organize the State Department of Health. She served in the Maine State Senate from 1935 to 1941. An opponent of the New Deal, Laughlin became the first woman recorder of court decisions until 1945.

Laughlin was an avid golfer and fisher and served on numerous community boards. She suffered a minor stroke in 1948 which forced her into early retirement. She died four years later in Portland.

Additional resources

Sargent, Ruth. “Gail Laughlin.” Notable American Women, the Modern Period. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1980. pp. 410-411.

Sargent, Ruth Sexton. Gail Laughlin, ERA’s Advocate. Portland, Me. House of Falmouth Publishers. 1979.

Contributed by Shannon Landry, Topsham, Maine, 2008.

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This entry was last modified: May 06, 2012 11:02 PM

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