Elizabeth Virginia Hallanan, the first female judge in West Virginia, died on June 8 of complications related to emphysema. She was 79.
Hallanan earned a bachelor’s degree from Morris Harvey College, and a law degree from West Virginia University law school. After eight years in private practice, she served one term on the West Virginia State Board of Education and two years in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
In 1959, Hallanan became the first woman to be appointed to a judgeship in West Virginia when she was named to Juvenile Court in Kanawha County. She also was the first chairwoman of the state’s Public Service Commission.
President Ronald Reagan called Hallanan in 1983, and appointed her to the federal bench. Until her death, she worked as a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of West Virginia. A controversial jurist, Hallanan made headlines when she threw out the state’s mandatory school prayer law in 1984, stating that “a hoax, conceived in political expediency, has been perpetrated upon those sincere citizens of West Virginia.” She received more than 1,000 letters protesting her ruling.
In honor of her dedication to public service, the Sunday Gazette-Mail chose Hallanan as its West Virginian of the Year in 1997.