Wyoming Humanities is perhaps best known for public programming grants, digital media projects, preservation activities and publications. All of the grants are important investments in Wyoming’s cultural heritage. Some just take longer to come to fruition than others.
Earlier this month I went to the post office to collect Wyoming Humanities mail. In the stack of generous donations (thanks to all who have donated so far this year!), Mrs. Lucille Clarke Dumbrill of Newcastle, Wyoming sent a copy of her newly published book, Grace McDonald Phillips: Legal Pioneer. We get a lot of interesting mail, but this book is the coolest thing we’ve received since I’ve been with the organization. Not only is the book compelling, but the story behind the book makes my heart smile.
The book is about Grace McDonald Phillips, the first woman to practice law in Wyoming and the first woman to argue a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Dumbrill writes that Phillips was “something of a celebrity in her time. Her accomplishments and travels throughout the country were often front-page news, and her close association with the lucrative oil and gas industry earned her a special credibility and respect that few other lawyers (let alone women) could hope to attain in her generation.”
The story of Phillips is extremely interesting, as is Wyoming Humanities connection to the book. More than 40 years ago, Dumbrill had taken a history class from Mabel Brown at Eastern Wyoming College. Brown was a Wyoming historian, author, and storyteller; she gave an assignment to Dumbrill’s class to “find a subject that had not been included in the history books and write an essay on this new subject.” Dumbrill stumbled across articles about Phillips in old newspapers, and it became evident that she was a legal pioneer, politically connected, and nationally respected. Clearly, McDonald would be Dumbrill’s subject.
But how to write it?
That was in 1983. Dumbrill remembers, “My portable typewriter was difficult to use for compiling and writing about the different aspects of Grace’s story, and I had observed others at my husband’s office using a more modern form of typewriter, called a computer or word processor. I decided that I needed one of those, and I needed to learn to use it. I applied to Wyoming Humanities for a grant to continue my search for this elusive legal pioneer. The Council awarded a grant to purchase a computer and do some travel.”
Her research and writings were stored away in boxes under her sofa until recently. Inspired by a grandniece who had written a family history, Dumbrill pulled out the dusty boxes of research and essays and finally started her book in 2020.
Some 40 years after Wyoming Humanities’ grant money helped Dumbrill obtain a word processor, we now have an important contribution to the historical record of Wyoming’s women.
Her book ends with a chapter showing Phillips’ legacy in Wyoming. One of Phillips’ supporters was Judge E. C. Raymond of Newcastle, whose partner was Rodney Guthrie. Guthrie would later become a district court judge and then Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court. His daughters (both attorneys) are near-and-dear to Wyoming Humanities: sisters Mary and Nancy Guthrie. Both sisters served on the Wyoming Humanities’ Board of Directors until recently.
Dumbrill is a fascinating woman herself, fitting for a future biography. She was appointed by President Reagan to the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. She served as President of the Wyoming Historical Society and was on the Wyoming State Library, Archives and Historical Board. She has been active in Weston County’s history and historic preservation.
Congratulations to Lucille Clark Dumbrill for having the passion and fortitude to complete this book, celebrate this remarkable woman, and remind us that we are still connected to the past.