Gail Laughlin was born Abbie Hill Laughlin in Robbinston,
Maine. The eighth of nine children raised by a widowed mother she vowed "to study
law and dedicate my entire life to the freeing of women and establishing their
proper place in this 'man's world.' " She made that vow at the young age of only
twelve! She spent the next seventy years living up to it. She rewrote old laws,
submitted new ones for passage and wiped out legal barriers to woman's emancipation.
In 1886, she graduated from Portland High School with the Brown Medal for the highest grades in her class. Spending the next four years working as a bookkeeper for a china importer, she saved enough money to enter Wellesley College. During her freshman year there she started the Agora Society to promote the study of politics and served as president for four years. Just before her graduation, she gave a speech on tariffs which brought her an offer from the Home Market Club of Boston. They wanted to print 100,000 copies. She received an A.B. in 1894 from Wellesley, and started writing for the American Economist. She earned enough money there in two years to enroll in law school at Cornell. 1898 brought her an LL.B. degree. Passing the New York Bar exam in 1899, she established her first office in New York City.
Laughlin was appointed an expert agent for the United States Industrial Commission in 1900. While there, she made a report on domestic service which included statistics on black, rural and immigrant women employees in private homes. The report documented their tiny salaries and the unreasonable demands made upon them. Two years of research there convinced her to forego the law practice and give all of her time to the cause of women. From 1902 to 1906 she lobbied for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, lecturing, organizing, and getting women to demand that men consider their opinions.
In 1906, she returned to law practice in Denver. (Colorado women were enfranchised) Admitted to the bar there, she opened her second office in 1908. From 1911 to 1914, she served on the State Board of Pardons. In 1912 she served also on the Mayor's advisory Council and from 1912 to 1914 on the state executive committee for the Progressive Party. This work brought her to the realization that she needed to add the cause of jury duty for women to her "to do" list.
In 1914, Laughlin moved to and opened her third office in San Francisco. during the following ten years she was on the Republican State Central Committee, a judge in police courts, founded and was director of the state branch of the National League for Women's Services, and joined the National Women's Party. She wrote a law to allow women to serve on juries in the state of California and saw its passage.
Laughlin founded and attended the first convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women in St. Louis in 1919, to which she was elected the national president. In its first year the federation's membership grew to 26,000. There were 287 clubs in 47 states. In 1920, she spoke to the New York state Convention and declared "Our ultimate goal.......is the absolute elimination for the consideration of the sex of the person in occupation or opportunity or remuneration....We must establish in the mind of everyone that women have an absolute right in industry, in business and in the professions...The work belongs to the one who can do it best-be that one man or woman." (published in Independent Woman, February 1920)
By 1924, she had returned to her home in New England and shared an office in Portland with her younger brother, also an attorney. In July 1927 as vice-chairman of the National Woman's party, Gail Laughlin led a 200-car motorcade thru dirt roads and 5 states to pay a visit to Calvin Coolidge in South Dakota, where he was vacationing in the Black Hills National Forest, and beg support in passing the ERA during the next session of Congress. For this feat, she received National publicity. She ran and handily won a bid for the state legislature in 1929 and served for three terms. She became a part of the State Senate in 1935 and served there until 1941. Following her term in the Senate, she was the first woman recorder of Supreme court decisions until 1945.
Gail Laughlin also enjoyed fishing and golfing and was an active member of her local community, where she served on many different boards and committees. In 1948, she suffered a minor strokeand became semi-retired. She died four years later at her home in Portland.