Evelyn Wilson recalled being admonished in the early 1980s for occupying a position in Washburn University's law school that a young man informed her should have gone to a "qualified" male.
Wilson said she endured that type of gender prejudice by drawing upon God's wisdom, her father's encouraging words and sense of hard work and humility, and her mother's affinity for truth and independence to become managing partner of a law firm, to earn appointment as a judge in Shawnee County District Court and, in front of family, friends and colleagues Friday, to take a seat on the Kansas Supreme Court.
"What does that mean? It means that today I become a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court and 100 years ago I would not have had the right to vote because I'm a woman," she said.
Gov. Laura Kelly made Wilson her first appointment to the state's highest court, bringing current membership into gender balance. The seventh slot on the court is vacant, and the governor will choose from among three men nominated for the job. Wilson replaced retired Justice Lee Johnson and the remaining vacancy resulted from the retirement of Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.
Kelly said the court's latest addition possessed "common sense, intellect and personal skills" of the finest jurists. However, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Wilson was an "ultra-liberal" who would fit in with the majority of Kansas justices.
Wilson, born in Smith Center, earned a business degree from Bethany College in 1982 before enrolling at Washburn's School of Law. She worked 19 years in private practice at firms in Topeka and Oberlin. She served on the district court in Shawnee County from 2004 until departing for the Supreme Court. As a district court judge, she presided at more than 80 jury trials.
Natalie Haag, who graduated with Wilson from law school in 1985, offered personal remarks about the justice at the swearing-in ceremony in the Kansas Judicial Center. Haag said that on her first day of law school she was rescued from a broken-down car by Wilson.
"You know how it is when you first meet somebody, you think, 'Wow, this person is going to be somebody some day.' That isn't Evelyn," Haag said. "She's not gregarious. She's not one of these people that's flashy or in-your-face. Then time goes by and suddenly you realize, she's something I want to be."
Haag said Wilson had always dedicated herself to upholding integrity of the state's judicial system.
"She will be a formidable Supreme Court justice," Haag said. "We are proud."
With the addition of Wilson, four of six justices on the Supreme Court are graduates of Washburn's law school in Topeka. The other two emerged from the law school at the University of Kansas.
Chief Justice Marla Luckert, the senior member of the court appointed in 2003 by Republican Gov. Bill Graves, administered the oath to Wilson. Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was responsible for appointing Justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Eric Rosen. In 2014, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback selected Justice Caleb Stegall.