Rosalyn Blake Bell

(1923 -  )


Judge Rosalyn Bell's achievements in justice and law have spanned 40 years. She is the second woman to ever have been appointed to the Maryland Court of Appeals. In both her personal and professional life, Bell has been a tireless advocate for women, both within the profession of law and as litigants and victims in the legal system.

Bell was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1923. After her parents' divorce, she spent most of her childhood living with her mother. Unusual for the time, her mother was a single parent and working women who owned her own business, a flower shop. Bell said her mother always wanted to have a career and it never occurred to her to deviate from this life course. 

After earning a Bachelor of Science from Simmons College, her employer, a lawyer, urged her to earn a law degree. In 1947, she and her husband of two years enrolled in law school at National University (now merged with George Washington University) in Washington, D.C. Even though her son was born after her first year of school, Bell continued her legal education at night and graduated with  honors.

Bell primarily cared for her home and family during the next ten years and did not return to full-time law until the early 1960's, after her family moved to Montgomery County, Maryland. There, Bell confirmed her leadership skills. She co-founded and still holds leadership positions in the Montgomery - Prince George's Continuing Legal Education Institute. In 1976, she held the first of two governorships of the Maryland State Bar Association. (The second  in 1989.) Bell was president of the Maryland Women's Bar Association from 1983-1985.

Bell's distinguished career as an attorney was recognized in 1978 when she was appointed to the District Court of Maryland, at a time when there were only seven other women judges in the state. She was elevated to Associate Judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit just two years later. In 1983, Bell became the second woman to ever be appointed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Throughout her years on the bench, Judge Bell remained an active women's rights advocate. Her initiative resulted in the establishment of the Montgomery County Spouse Abuse Task Force. This group has brought about many improvements in the legal system's response to victim's of domestic violence through public education efforts and legislative activities. She has led this task force since its inception in 1981. Bell was a leader in the gender fairness movement on both the state and national level. Her work with the Special Joint Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts, which relied heavily on a study conducted personally by Bell on alimony and financially dependent spouses in Montgomery County, resulted in improved handling of domestic cases in Maryland.
Last year Bell was named chair of the National Association of Women Judges National Task Force on Gender Bias in the Courts to be attended by over 140 judges, judicial educators and staff  in Williamsburg, Virginia this month. Also, in 1987,  Bell initiated a conference for training women lawyers in the judicial selection process, a conference so successful that it was repeated by the Maryland Women's Bar in 1990. Before the original conference, only 17 (8 percent) of Maryland's 214 appellate and trial judges were women. Now there are 32 women judges (15 percent), many of whom attended this program.

Bell currently serves on Governor Schaefer's Task Force of Family Law, established in January, 1991. This task force is charged with examining the current system of family law in Maryland in light of the magnitude of social and economic consequences of divorce and addressing the inequities that result from the current system. The task force delivered its report in October, 1992.

Rosalyn Blake Bell's personal and professional life has been devoted to making life better for women. In the words of her nominator, "Judge Bell does more than show the way; she takes the responsibility of reaching behind her to help other women along the path."


© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001