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Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys: 2023 Arabella Mansfield and Gertrude Rush Award Recipients

August 4, 2023

The Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys (I.O.W.A.) presented the Arabella Mansfield award and Gertrude Rush award at their annual gala in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, July 22, 2023.  

Jaki Samuelson, member attorney at Whitfield & Eddy Law in Des Moines, Iowa, received the Arabella Mansfield award. Established in 2002, the award recognizes outstanding women lawyers in Iowa who have promoted and nurtured women in the legal profession. The award is named for Arabella “Belle” Babb Mansfield, who was the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the United States. She studied law in her brother’s law office in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. She took and passed the Iowa bar examination and was admitted to the Iowa bar on June 15, 1869. She paved the way for other women to attend law school and be admitted to practice law in Iowa. 

Samuelson was the first woman attorney at Whitfield & Eddy Law where she established a successful labor and employment desk and litigation practice over four decades and served as practice group chair for many years. She is currently the firm’s general counsel and co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. Jaki has been a mentor to countless women attorneys in the firm, business community, government, and the Iowa bar. 

Samuelson was one of the founders of I.O.W.A. in 1984 and served as the first president of the 41 founding members.  She is also past president of the Iowa Academy of Trial Lawyers and past president of the Iowa Defense Counsel Association. She has served on the Iowa Judicial Qualifications Commission, Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission, and the Judicial Nominating Commission (Fifth Judicial District of Iowa), where she actively encouraged women to apply for the bench.

In one of her nominating letters, the author wrote, “for Jaki it never seemed to be about touting her position as the first woman to do something – it was more about doing an excellent job at her undertakings and thereby demonstrating not only her competence but also the competence of women in general.”

Deborah Petersen, attorney at Petersen Law PLLC, in Council Bluffs, Iowa received the Gertrude Rush award.  Established in 2003, the award recognizes a lawyer who demonstrates leadership in the community, the legal profession, and advocates for human and civil rights. The award is co-sponsored by I.O.W.A. and the Iowa Chapter of the National Bar Association. The award is named for Gertrude Rush, who is the first Black woman admitted to the practice of law in Iowa in 1918. When Rush and four other Black lawyers were denied membership into the American Bar Association in 1924 because of their race, they founded the National Bar Association. The National Bar Association will celebrate their 100th anniversary in Des Moines, Iowa in August 2025.

Petersen was one of two female attorneys in private practice in Council Bluffs when admitted to the bar. There were hurdles to jump, often being mistaken for the secretary or assistant rather than the attorney. However, anyone who knows her, knows that will not stop her. She has been a mentor to many young lawyers and offers her services to those with questions in the areas of real estate, bankruptcy, estate planning and probate laws as well as general office practices.

Petersen has been a leader in the Iowa State Bar Association, serving on the Board of Governors, the Real Estate Section Council, the Iowa Title Standards Committee, the Attorney Disciplinary Board and the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission.  

In the community, Petersen has been active with many nonprofit organizations.  She served on the Board of the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, the Alzheimer’s Association of Iowa, and Children’s Square, among others. Petersen recently received the Gary Wickland Lifetime of Service Award for her volunteer work with the Alzheimer’s Association of Iowa. In addition to being a community educator for the Alzheimer’s Association of Iowa, she is also a sponsor and volunteer for their annual signature fundraiser events, The Longest Day, and The Walk To End Alzheimer’s, which is on September 23, 2023. Petersen and her husband, Pete, are regular volunteers at local events.  

I.O.W.A. was founded in 1984 in Des Moines, Iowa to promote the welfare and interests of women lawyers. Additionally, I.O.W.A.’s mission is to maintain the honor and integrity of the profession of law and secure justice and equality for all persons within the State of Iowa. It provides a network of communication and support for members. I.O.W.A boasts a dues-paying membership of 150 lawyers and law students, and a listserv with more than 400 subscribers. Members provide continuing education, a membership directory, a listserv, assistance to law students, and assistance to new attorneys in Iowa. I.O.W.A. members will celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary in 2024. For more information or to join I.O.W.A., visit www.iowawomenattorneys.org.