When the Federal Bar Association (FBA) was created almost 100 years ago in 1920, popular phrases included:

  • Togged to the bricks (i.e., dressed to the nines)
  • Ground grippers (i.e., sneakers)
  • Know your onions (i.e., be knowledgeable)
  • Now you’re on the trolley (i.e., now you understand)
  • Let’s blouse (i.e., let’s get moving!)

The Roaring ’20s were a transformative time of growth and change in American history. Long before computers, transatlantic flights, and television, the FBA existed to support federal practitioners and the judiciary.

The FBA has been a pillar for federal practitioners and the judiciary for 100 years despite countless changes in society, politics, and technology. The organization has endured throughout many different eras in our country’s history, which is a testament to its relevance, strength, and fluidity. In honor of the FBA’s milestone anniversary, let’s review the experiences of our members and the history of our country during the FBA’s first 100 years.


The FBA was created in 1920 and had 11 members. The early years of the FBA were a time of remarkable growth and change for the United States— much like today. World War I had recently ended in 1918, the cost of a Model-T Ford car was $260, more people became city dwellers, flappers wore shortend skirts and cut their hair into bobs, swing dancing was born, and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was released as a silent horror film. Woodrow Wilson was president, and Prohibition began on Jan. 16, 1920, with the Eighteenth Amendment coming into effect. A few months later, on Aug. 26, 1920, the enactment of the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. The National Football League was founded in September 1920. In November 1920, the first commercial radio station broadcast the results of the presidential election, unifying the nation with the receipt of the same news at the same time. Arguably, it was also the first time that the United States had its first female president, since President Wilson’s wife, Edith Boling Galt Wilson, became de-facto president after President Wilson suffered a blood clot that caused paralysis and other health issues.


The 1930s brought the Great Depression, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Radio was still the main source of entertainment, which became increasingly available to Americans. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was also officially named the national anthem of the United States.


The ’40s brought World War II, the jitterbug, the baby boom, the completion of Mount Rushmore, and the widespread use of antibiotics.


The Fabulous ’50s were about Elvis Presley, rock ‘n’ roll, sock hops, black-and-white television, and the creation of the “Peanuts” comic strip. “I Love Lucy” was one of the most popular television shows of the decade. “Perry Mason,” one of the first legal dramas, was released.


The 1960s were about the Beatles, the publishing of To Kill A Mockingbird, the Vietnam War, civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr., walking on the moon, and Woodstock.


The 1970s brought polyester, bell bottoms, “Star Wars,” and the rise of disco.


The 1980s brought the appointment of the first women to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Pac-Man,” Chernobyl, the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, fax machines, and MTV. Legal shows also gained in popularity with “The People’s Court,” “Night Court,” and “LA Law.”


The dot-com bubble, grunge music, the internet, pagers, the beginning of electronic court filing, and Y2K marked the end of the 20th century. “Law and Order,” “Judge Judy,” “Ally McBeal,” and “The Practice” joined “LA Law” as popular legal shows in the 1990s.


The 2000s brought the Sept. 11 attacks, widespread use of mobile phones, reality television, and texting.


Our current decade has focused heavily on technology, with Instagram, iPads, drones delivering packages, the popularity of hybrid vehicles, selfie sticks, cryptocurrency, and all federal courts accepting electronic filing.

Due to its devoted members, the FBA has prospered for 10 decades of societal change. The FBA grew from just a few founding members to a thriving organization spanning the nation. Today, the FBA has over 100 local chapters across the country and in Puerto Rico with just under 19,000 members.

An Honor and a Privilege

It has been an honor and a privilege to be national president of the organization during such a special time in its history, and my term flew by in the blink of an eye. During my term, I attended and spoke at the Second Annual Paris Fashion Law Conference at the Sorbonne in Paris in October 2018. On Nov. 2, 2018, I had the privilege of making the opening remarks at the CLE program on Veterans and Military Law in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Nov. 8, 2018, I had the honor of representing the FBA at Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s investiture ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court. On Dec. 7, 2018, I had the honor of attending and speaking at the annual Federal Litigation Conference in Honolulu. On Dec. 11, 2018, I had the honor of being recognized by the Southern District New York Chapter, along with former Chief Judge Loretta Preska, to celebrate 100 years of women at Fordham Law School. It is a special, meaningful honor that I will always treasure and for which I am deeply grateful—along with all of the hard work and planning for the Annual Meeting and Convention that took place in New York City in September 2018. The next day, I flew to Tampa, Fla., to attend the Tampa Bay Chapter’s portrait unveiling ceremony of Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich in honor of her career achievements. On Jan. 10, 2019, I had the privilege of joining our executive director and other FBA leaders in New Orleans for ex officio Board Member and Fifth Circuit Vice President Barry Ashe’s investiture as a district judge. That was such a proud moment for our organization, and I was honored to attend on behalf of the FBA. I attended the Rising Professionals’ Symposium in Las Vegas on Feb. 1–2 and participated in a Jazzercise class in honor of the health and wellness initiative along with other FBA members and staff. On Feb. 6 and 7, I returned to New York City to speak at the Art Law Conference and the Fashion Law Conference, which were both hosted by the National Arts Club, which is a beautiful venue. I also had the pleasure of visiting the San Antonio Chapter on Feb. 12–13, where I spoke at their luncheon along with Judge Royce Lamberth. I represented the FBA at the American Civil Trial Bar Roundtable meeting, along with President-Elect Christian Adams, in Washington, D.C., on March 8–9. In celebration of International Women’s Day, I participated in a program on March 11 at Fordham Law School in New York City to discuss various issues impacting women in the law, women in the judiciary, women’s issues in immigration asylum proceedings, gender-based violence, and access to justice issues. On March 20-23 our organization held its inaugural Leadership Summit, in which we combined leadership training and Capitol Hill Day with our Mid-Year Meeting. We received positive feedback from our members about the combined programming, and we had a record number of attendees at this year’s Capitol Hill Day. During the morning of Capitol Hill Day, the executive committee, GRC leaders, and the executive director had the pleasure of meeting with Jim Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. We had a productive meeting in which we shared the FBA’s initiatives and offered our continued help and support to the federal courts. The next day, we held a reception at the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the first-place winners in the middle school and high school categories for our Third Annual Essay Contest. This year’s topic was cyberbullying and the First Amendment. We were deeply honored that Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke at the ceremony and presented plaques to our first-place winners. During the Leadership Summit, we also held a Town Hall Meeting to kick off a series of strategic planning sessions for the FBA to plan for the future of the organization.

In mid-April, I gave the opening remarks at the Indian Law Conference in Albuquerque, N.M. On May 1, I had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker in my hometown of Chicago at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’ 20th Annual Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Awards ceremony. I spoke about why pro bono work is so important and discussed the positive impact that pro bono work has on health and wellness, which is of particular concern for the legal profession. Statistics show that lawyers experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Research consistently shows that regularly practicing acts of kindness and helping others leads to greater happiness, which will ease depression, reduce stress, and reduce the likelihood of incivility.

The next week, I attended the 12th Annual Southern Utah Federal Bar Symposium in St. George, Utah, and was honored to make the opening remarks at the conference. For those that have never visited St. George, it is breathtakingly beautiful. The next morning, and in the spirit of health and wellness, I participated in “Zen in Zion,” which was a yoga class and breakfast with views of the red-rock mountains at Tuachan Center for the Arts. On May 20, I had the privilege of appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court to move for the admission of 29 members of our organization to the Court for the YLD’s annual program. We had representatives from 16 states and Puerto Rico. After the swearing-in ceremony, our group had the privilege of visiting with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On May 30, I returned to the U.S. Supreme Court with our executive director for the Capitol Hill Chapter Luncheon. Justice Gorsuch shared inspiring words with the group and answered questions from attendees. He commended our organization for our essay contest and for promoting civics education.

This article was due before the end of my term, but I had several trips scheduled at press time: Seattle for the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in July, a visit to the Alaska Chapter in August, Tampa for our Annual Meeting in September, and, to come full circle, Paris in October to speak at our Third Annual Paris Fashion Law Conference.

On behalf of our organization, I issued statements on the partial government shutdown and its impact on federal court, International Women’s Day, and the Dallas federal courthouse shooting. As only the 10th female president in the history of the FBA, we also celebrated women in the law through our programming. The importance of health and wellness has been highlighted throughout the year through healthy food choices at conferences, CLE programs, and fitness classes at our national meetings.

My term closed a few months before the FBA becomes a centenarian. In 100 years, we’ve come a long way. Here’s to the next 100 years of continued excellence.


Maria Z. Vathis

Immediate Past President

Federal Bar Association