Unassuming and soft spoken, Janie Ledlow Shores exudes both Southern charm and gracefulness — something you would expect from a woman who grew up in the South.
What is unexpected is the directness and passion she displays when speaking about her career as a lawyer, and ultimately, the first woman to be elected to Alabama's state supreme court — an accomplishment of which she is very proud.
Janie was raised in Robertsdale. Her parents never finished high school; however, they did educate her in many ways. Before her father went off to the second World War, he had a talk with her and her sister.
“I remember him telling me that it didn’t much matter which church I went to, so I might as well go to the one closest to my home,” Janie said. “And then my Dad added with a smile, ‘Don’t worry, God will find you.’ I took that advice.”
After graduating high school, Janie went to work for Vincent Kilborn Jr., a prominent lawyer in Mobile. After a couple of years, Vincent discovered that because she had taken a dictation class, she had learned quite a bit about the law. He suggested she might consider going to law school, which was unheard of at the time for a woman.
But it was not too big of a challenge for Janie.
With determination she attended college and eventually entered the University of Alabama’s school of Law.
“It was pretty much a man’s field back then,” she said. “I was only one of five women who were enrolled in the law school.”
She became editor of the law review and graduated top in her class.
She moved to Selma with her husband, where she opened a small law practice. However, the politics of the area did not resonate with her.
“Back then I was asked by my father-in-law to join a group who wanted to promote and continue segregation. I refused,” she said. “He told me that I could no longer be part of the family, which included his son. The next day I left Selma and my husband.”
Moving to Birmingham, she was met with more roadblocks.
“All of the big law firms I interviewed with said they would have no problem with a woman as a lawyer, but their clients would. Although I didn’t believe it, there was simply nowhere I could practice in a law firm as a woman.”
She was eventually hired by an insurance company as in-house council. Years later, she was approached with an offer to become the first female law professor for Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, where she taught for 10 years.
“That was a wonderful time in my life,” she said. “I was able to both help guide the curriculum of the school and the careers of hundreds of future lawyers.”
But this was not to end her career of ‘firsts.’ Her true grit, matter-of-fact approach and Southern determination were still rooted deeply within her.
Being a life-long Democrat, she decided to run for political office — and not just any political office either. She set her sights on the highest political office in the state of Alabama.
“The first election for the Supreme Court in 1972, I lost due to dirty politics being played based on my name being similar to a civil rights lawyer,” she said. “It was heartbreaking. Yet I did not give up. The next election cycle in 1974, I doubled my efforts and won the seat."
During her tenure there, she was on President Clinton’s short list for the United States Supreme Court. She lost out to a colleague, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Janie continued to serve on the state court for 25 years and retired in 1999.
She is now committed to Impact 100, a charitable group that has funded more than $1 million to date. In the past five years, the local chapter of Impact 100 has donated $100,000 each to groups such as the James H. Faulkner State college foundation for a performing arts pavilion and to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations. She also spends an active retirement gardening, volunteering for local projects like the Fairhope Film festival and still meets with groups hoping for a resurgence in Democratic politics.
A book titled ‘Women of True Grit,’ written by Edie Hand and Tina Savas, includes her life story along with Meredith Viera, Joanne Carson, Maya Angelou and dozens of others.
“I really never doubted I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to,” she said. “That determination was instilled in me by my parents.”
And, her directness and southern charm are still there.
“I also remember my dad suggesting that my sister and I not drink,” she said with a smile, “but if we do drink, make sure it the best scotch money can buy … “I took that advice too.”