Las Vegas Legal Pioneer

Date of Birth: April 8, 1902
Date of Death: March 3, 2005
Place of Birth: Boston, MA
Arrival in Las Vegas: 1946
Work/Contribution: Legal
Date of Interview: 2000
Interviewed by: Joanne L. Goodwin
“A Thousand to One” – those were the odds that Emilie Wanderer faced to establish a law practice in Las Vegas. But she could live with those odds and succeed. Wanderer never shied away from a challenge. She became the first woman to open her own law practice in Las Vegas in 1947 and was a persistent advocate for the family court and juvenile justice.

Wanderer was born near Boston on April 8, 1902. She attended the Fordham Law School, but did not finish due to the Depression. However, Wanderer passed the New York State Bar Exam (one did not need a degree at the time) and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1933.

While en route to Phoenix in 1946 to seek a healthier climate for one of her sons, the family stopped in Las Vegas and decided to stay. A year later, she was one of three women who passed the Nevada bar exam, but she was the only woman to open her own practice. There were 26 attorneys in town at the time. During her first years in Las Vegas, she worked to establish a family court, became legal counsel for the Las Vegas NAACP, joined the Business and Professional Women’s Club, and ran for Municipal Court Judge. She maintained her professional connections with the National Association of Women Lawyers and served on several national committees concerned with family courts, juvenile justice, and probate law. She took a wide range of cases; some paid the bills while others satisfied her sense of social justice.

After a sojourn in Chicago of nearly a decade, Wanderer returned to Las Vegas, resumed her law practice, and began to advocate for a family court. When the state legislature passed the act to form such a court in 1971, Wanderer decided to run once again for office, this time for the bench of District Court Judge, Dept 8 Family Court. Only ten women attorneys practiced law in Las Vegas and the state had never appointed a woman as judge. As in the earlier contests, she lost the election, but not her point. Wanderer criticized the lack of women in the judicial system locally and nationally. Emilie Wanderer died on March 3, 2005 in Las Vegas.