PORTLAND, Maine — Caroline Duby Glassman, who rose to become the first woman on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after starting her climb to the top of the male-dominated legal profession during the 1950s, has died. She was 90.
A role model for women in Maine’s legal profession, Justice Glassman was appointed to the state’s highest court by Governor Joseph Brennan in 1983, two years after the death of her husband, Harry P. Glassman, also a state Supreme Court justice.
She died Wednesday at Maine Medical Center.
‘‘Justice Caroline Glassman was a legal force of nature,’’ Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, the first woman to lead the state’s high court, said Thursday. “She broke the glass ceiling on the bench with such style, grace, and passion that she carved out a path for so many of us that followed.”
Saufley, who was appointed to fill the vacancy created on the Supreme Judicial Court by Justice Glassman’s retirement in 1997, described her as a ‘‘role model, a mentor, and a good friend.’’
Justice Glassman ‘‘could be tenacious to the point of being stubborn,’’ but never gave in on issues of justice, Saufley said, even working in retirement on sentencing reform.
‘‘Many of us have lost a good friend, and [the] world has lost a stalwart supporter of individual rights,’’ Saufley said.
Justice Glassman began her practice as a title attorney in Salem, Ore., and then as a trial attorney in San Francisco. In Maine, she launched a legal practice in Portland, earning a reputation as a hard-working, detail-oriented attorney.
Colleagues described her as a hard-working, no-nonsense lawyer.
‘‘She had this steely look in her eye, that she knew what she was going to do and she was going to do it,’’ said retired Chief Justice Daniel Wathen, who met Justice Glassman in the 1960s and later served with her as associates on the Supreme Judicial Court before he became chief justice. “She was respectful of the judge and the jury but she also wasn’t going to be pushed around.
‘‘Her strong suit on the court was that she prepared really heavily for every case,’’ he said. “She was really detail-driven. She knew the record. She knew each and every thing to know about each and every case.’’
Although she was the second Glassman to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court, she earned her appointment in her own right for her achievements, said Attorney General Janet Mills.
‘‘When Governor Brennan appointed her, he remarked that there was no question about who the first woman on the Maine Supreme Court should be,’’ Mills said. ‘‘She earned it.’’
Born in Baker City, Ore., Justice Glassman grew up on a cattle farm and attended classes in a one-room schoolhouse before entering Willamette University School of Law over the objections of her father, Mills said. Later, her law school dean suggested that she find another profession because she would be alone in a man’s world, she said.
Justice Glassman’s legal career led the Maine Bar Association to create an award in her name that is given each year to a woman who has worked to remove barriers in the legal profession, acted as a role model to women, or worked to educate people about women in the legal profession.
Mills was the recipient of the award in 2009.
‘‘She was like a mother to us, the women in the bar,’’ said Mills, who became emotional talking about Justice Glassman. ‘‘ . . . It’s hard to believe she’s gone.’’
Much attention was placed on her for being the first woman on the court. But she did not make a big deal about it, instead focusing on going on about her work.
‘‘She cast the die,’’ Wathen said. “If someone became a judge, you didn’t think about whether they were male or female. You just thought whether they were a good judge.’’