TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Christel Marquardt admits it might be hard for young women today to understand the challenges she endured as a female entering the law profession.
Unfortunately, she says, they likely will encounter the same gender discrimination at some point in their careers.
Marquardt was honored Tuesday as the 2014 Woman of Distinction. The annual award is given by the American Business Women's Association Career Chapter. Marquardt retired last year from her seat as a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Marquardt was a teacher and secretary when she suddenly found herself divorced and raising four sons. She went back to school, earning her law degree from Washburn University School of Law in 1974 at the age of 39.
She was one of six women in her class. Despite her performance in school, she says she found that no one wanted to hire a woman to join their practice. Even as her career progressed, Marquardt said she continued to face discrimination in other ways. For example, all the professional clubs and organizations were exclusive to men. Marquardt recounted one judge telling her how he settled more classes at the club than in the courtroom - a club to which Marquardt was not allowed to belong.
However, she says, she found support in other ways. She sought out organizations for women to connect, including the ABWA. She also had support of family and friends.
Marquardt was the first woman to serve as president of the Kansas Bar Association and has received numerous awards and honors. She was appointed to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 1995, retiring in January 2013.
Despite how far women have come, Marquardt says her story remains relevant. She says a lot of discrimination still exists, especially in the legal profession. She says the ABWA honor is a chance for her to thank everyone who supported her and all the women who came before her.
This was the 32nd year for the luncheon, which raises money for scholarships to Washburn University.