Raising the bar: Naples' first woman attorney and judge
Lynn Hixon-Holley takes the oath as Collier County's first elected female judge. In March 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."
Although there was no Twitter or Facebook then, Mrs. Adams' sentiments permeated the consciousness of women in this new America. While the 19th Amendment was not passed until August 1920, women did foment a rebellion of the "mind kind" and laid the groundwork for the gentler persuasion to enter the field of law. In 1889, the historic founding of the National Association of Women Lawyers led to the American Bar Association, in 1918, electing (but not necessarily welcoming) the first two women into its membership: Mary Belle Grossman (1879-1977) and Mary Florence Lathrop (1865-1951).
Long before the establishment of the informal Naples women's bar association and the official Collier County Women's Bar Association in the 1980s and '90s, Naples made "law history" in 1949, when the first full-time law firm with a female attorney opened its doors. That woman was Lynne Hixon-Holley.
The road to the bar
Ms. Hixon-Holley was born in St. Petersburg, Fla., and attended law school at the University of Florida, which is where she met her husband, William "Billy" Hixon, who had recently returned from the war. After graduation, she held the position of Assistant Attorney General in Florida for three months before moving to Naples with her husband, who had also completed his law degree. Not long after the young couple hung up their shingles, they realized that one of them needed to get a "real job."
The mayor's wife, who was also a school board member, drafted Ms. Hixon-Holley to teach first grade. As she had no experience in the classroom, Ms. Hixon-Holley received a crash course in teaching — and also in manners for teacher — from Lillian Barnes, the county's supervisor of teachers. (Ms. Barnes had actually given up playing tennis, which she dearly loved, because it wasn't proper for a teacher to be seen out in public in shorts.)
A classroom with no air conditioning was just one of the challenges the newbie teacher faced. She countered this inconvenience by taking her charges outside after lunch and reading the classics to them as they all sat in the shade of a big banyan tree.
The next year she advanced to second grade and team-taught a group of 60 boys and girls with Opal Storter. After her second year of teaching, an opportunity to join The Collier County News as a columnist came along. For more than a year, Ms. Hixon-Holley wrote "The Naples Notebook" for the paper.
But after a few years away from her first love, the law, she went back into practice. Her husband's office, originally located behind the offices of Bob Benson Insurance and John Pulling Real Estate, was too small for two attorneys, so they opened their practice behind the old Rexall Drug Store at Eighth Street South and Sixth Avenue South.
Raising the bar
Ms. Hixon-Holley raised the bar for women when she became Collier County's first elected woman judge, serving from 1966-1975. Before becoming a judge, however, she decided Collier County needed its own professional bar association. When she approached her husband and Walter Sorokoty, the town's only other fulltime attorney at that time, to make her case, they said sure — an acknowledgment that she later recalled translated to something like this: "Lynne, go on and draft the bylaws and make all of the necessary arrangements for the birth of the Collier County Bar Association and we'll be there." She served as the association's third president. Ms. Hixon-Holley is semi-retired now and spends her time as a mediator and a researcher. She recounted to me her most recent search of a Supreme Court decision that a president chose to ignore:
"It is interesting to compare history to today's events," she said. "When the Supreme Court's decision came down declaring that the Cherokee tribe did not have to move off its land, Andrew 'Stonewall' Jackson said, 'Let the Supreme Court enforce it. I control the military — enlisted and reserves'."
When I asked her if this could happen today, she raised the bar by making me think.
She asked, "What do you think?" I'm still pondering that thought. Abigail Adams has been described as a woman of keen intelligence, resourceful, competent, selfsufficient, vivacious and opinionated — a formidable force. I say the same words can be used to describe our very own formidable force, Judge Lynne Hixon-Holley, who's still raising the bar for Naples.
Lois Bolin is the co-founder of Naples
Cultural Landscape, a fund at the Community
Foundation of Collier County. Naples Backyard
History is the fund's educational initiative.
For more information, visit the NBYH
Mini-Museum at 1300 Third St. S., call 594-
2978 or visit www.naplesbackyardhistory.org.