At the Founders Circle Dinner in April, Judge Daughtrey was presented with the Distinguished Service Award.
Judge Martha Craig "Cissy" Daughtrey's career reflects a series of "firsts." After earning her J.D. at Vanderbilt in 1968, she became the first woman Assistant U.S. Attorney, hired by then-U.S. Attorney Gilbert S. Merritt Jr., Class of 1960, and the first female prosecutor in Tennessee. When she and Merritt left the U.S. Attorney's office after newly elected President Richard Nixon replaced Merritt with a Republican appointee in 1969, Daughtrey joined the Davidson County District Attorney's Office.
These firsts, Judge Daughtrey told an audience at the Founders Circle Dinner on April 8, "were attributable mostly to the fact that Tennessee was so behind other places in terms of women's progress in the professions. When I came to Vanderbilt in 1963, I had never laid eyes on a woman lawyer, and I ended up being the only woman in my first-year section."
Lured away from the D.A.'s office when then-Dean John Wade offered her a position as Vanderbilt's first tenure-track woman law professor in 1972, Daughtrey spent only three years teaching full-time before she was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. There, she became the first woman to sit on a Tennessee court of record. Daughtrey continued to teach on Vanderbilt's adjunct faculty until her election to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1990, where she was—once again— the first woman to join the five-judge panel. She was appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1993; she assumed senior judge status in 2009.
Daughtrey can now laugh about the difficulties she encountered in 1968, after graduating Order of the Coif, as she entered a job market previously closed to women, and she credits a number of Vanderbilt alumni with helping her break through what was then a glass floor to get her first job. "The Nashville firms were so small at the time that no one was willing to take on a woman," she said. "As time came for me to graduate, and I still didn't have a job, Aubrey Harwell was getting very nervous, and he took it upon himself to try to help me by giving me his endorsement. 'Well, she's small, and kind of thin and looks very young, but she's mean as a snake,' he said, and this was of course meant to help me. Ken Roberts tried to make a banker out of me; Gil Merritt actually hired me, and when I left the U.S. Attorney's Office, Jim Neal was kind enough to give me the only interview I ever had for a position in a private law firm in Nashville."
As it turned out, Dean Wade had approached Daughtrey about joining the faculty at about the same time that she interviewed with Neal, and he offered her a tenure-track position. Daughtrey, who taught criminal procedure, evidence, and family law, made it her mission to mentor the increasing number of women students and developed a Women and the Law course. "In 1973, there were 50 women at Vanderbilt, and Cissy was a mentor to all 50 of us," Judge Aleta Trauger, Class of 1976, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, recalled. "She helped us start the Women Law Students Association, which still exists, and spurred us on to start the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women. Despite her important role, she believed and instilled in us that supporting each other did not entail separating ourselves from the mainstream bar." Another former student and close friend, Bea Hubbard, Class of 1975, recalled, "I knew I could do anything because Cissy believed in me."
“I became a woman judge at a time when, in fact, I had never laid eyes on another woman judge.” However, Daughtrey's service on Vanderbilt's law faculty was cut short by a judicial appointment in 1975. Bill Willis, Class of 1954, a member of the judicial selection committee for the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, promoted Daughtrey as a strong candidate for an empty seat. "He was willing to sell the committee on the fact that it was time to have a woman on the bench," Daughtrey recalls. "I became a woman judge at a time when, in fact, I had never laid eyes on another woman judge."
After 15 years on the state's Criminal Court of Appeals, Daughtrey was elected to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Only three years later, Vice President Al Gore recommended her for a seat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, to which she was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Until she took senior status in 2009, her work involved a strenuous schedule of travel between Nashville and Cincinnati, Ohio, where the court is headquartered and the oral arguments are held. As a Senior Judge, she still handles a substantial caseload, but she is enjoying the freedom to spend more time with her husband, Larry Daughtrey, a former political columnist for The Tennessean who is retired from a career as one of the most well-respected political reporters in the state; her daughter, Carrie Daughtrey, Class of 1994, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who teaches on Vanderbilt's adjunct law faculty, and her two granddaughters, one of whom is her namesake, nicknamed Mattie.
Daughtrey's service to the legal profession extends far beyond her judicial work. She has served on the faculty of the Appellate Judges Seminar at New York University for almost 30 years, and has been a member of the American Bar Association's Judicial Division for more than 25 years, having served as chair in 1989-90. Her ABA work includes past service as a member of the House of Delegates, the executive committee of the Appellate Judges' Conference, which she chaired in 1985-86, the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal, and the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. She currently serves on the Council of the ABA's Section on Legal Education, which is the accrediting body for America's law schools. She participated in an ABA-sponsored delegation that consulted with the drafters of the new Romanian constitution in 1991. She has served as president of the National Association of Women Judges (1985-86), a director of the Nashville Bar Association (1988-90), and a board member of the American Judicature Society (1988-92). Recognition as a woman professional began early in her career, when she was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Women of America in 1976. Each decade brought new recognition: She was listed as one of "Thirty Women to Watch" by the Ladies Home Journal in 1984, recognized with the National Athena Program's Athena Award in 1991, and won the ABA's 2003 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, among numerous other honors.
"I can't think of anything that means more than being honored by your own," she said, adding, "To all the men in the room who helped make me what I am today, I'm grateful."