Tai-young Lee was the first female lawyer in the history of South Korea. She was also later to become the first female judge in South Korea. She was born in North Korea in 1914. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 84. She was also known as Yi T’ai Yǒng,
Her achievements in the legal profession, especially in those days for a woman in Korea, are impressive to say the least. Tai-young Lee took the bar exam in 1952. She passed what was considered an extremely tough task for a male in Korea back in those days. It is no doubt considered to be highly unlikely for a female to ever even be a candidate to take the test.
Throughout her career and her adult life, she was an activist for women’s rights. A legal aid center started to aid women in need of legal services was also a first in Korea. It was founded in Seoul by Tai-young Lee. It was after her second attempt that she became a judge, having been denied the first time. The initial denial was reportedly due to political reasons. She is said to have frequently spoke that,”No society can or will prosper without the cooperation of women.”
She attended Chung Eui Girls’ High School, located in Pyongyang. She also attended Ewha Womans University in Seoul. She graduated from the university with a degree in Home Economics. Later Tai-young Lee went on to attend Seoul National University, from which she graduated having achieved a law degree. These were turbulant years for the people of Korea in the 1950’s, set amidst the war torn years of the Korean War. Tai-young Lee started her law practice in 1957, after the war had ended.
Her father and her mother were Methodists, and it was her grandfather who founded the Methodist Church in their town. Tai-young Lee married a Methodist minister with whom she had four children. During the 1940’s, she had to take on several different jobs when her husband was incarcerated for sedition. For many years, she taught school, she sang on radio, and she also took on jobs sewing and washing clothes. She was a dedicated wife and mother, and she did all she could to support herself and her children.
Decades later in the mid 1970’s, she and her husband took part in the Myongdong Declaration for the cause of civil liberties rights for the Korean people. Because of her political views and activism, she was arrested. She was disbarred for 10 years, and she received a 3 year suspended sentence. Tai-young Lee also suffered the loss of her own civil liberties. She then continued her work in her organization known as the Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations. It was well received and serves many thousands of clients per year.
She has achieved a great deal of recognition in her life. Tai-young Lee received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. This renowned award is also named the Korean Peace Prize. She also was a recipient of an award from the International Legal Aid Society. Additionally, Drew University of New Jersey bestowed the distinctive honor of an Honorary Doctorate in Law upon Tai-young Lee. Another of her achievements was received in the form of the Conference Award from the World Peace Though Law Conference.