Elsijane Trimble Roy was Arkansas’s first woman circuit judge, the first woman on the Arkansas Supreme Court, the first woman appointed to an Arkansas federal judgeship, the first woman federal judge in the Eighth Circuit, and the first Arkansas woman to follow her father as a federal judge.
Born on April 2, 1916, in Lonoke (Lonoke County), Elsijane Trimble was one of five children of Judge Thomas Clark Trimble III and Elsie Walls. Her father and grandfather were both attorneys in a law practice with Senator Joseph T. Robinson, and her father later became a federal judge. Trimble grew up in Lonoke attending local schools and was a star basketball player her four years at Lonoke High School, graduating in 1934 as valedictorian. After high school, she entered the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she was the women’s singles and mixed doubles tennis champion for two years. She completed undergraduate studies and law school in five years and was the only woman to graduate from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1939. At the time, she was only the third woman to graduate from UA with a law degree.
She was admitted to the bar the same year as graduation and joined the law firm of W. W. McCrary Jr. in Lonoke. Between 1940 and 1942, Trimble was a state attorney for the Revenue Department, and from 1942 to 1944, she worked in the Office of Price Administration, where she was the chief price attorney.
Trimble married a law school classmate, James Morrison Roy, on November 23, 1944, and moved to Houston, Texas, where he worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In December 1946, they had a son. The following year, the Roys returned to Arkansas, moving to Blytheville (Mississippi County). She and her husband returned to practice law for the firm of Reid and Evrard. By 1954, she and her husband established Blytheville’s first husband-and-wife law firm, Roy and Roy, which lasted until 1963. The firm was closed for personal reasons after both her husband and father were hospitalized in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Between 1963 and 1966, Roy was the law clerk for Justice Frank Holt of the Arkansas Supreme Court. She and her husband divorced on June 30, 1967.
In 1966, Roy became the first woman judge in Arkansas when Governor Orval Faubus appointed her as a justice for the Sixth District Court; she served from April to December. She served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Arkansas between February and May 1967. From May 1967 until 1975, with the exception of a few months in 1969–70, she served as a law clerk for Federal District Court Judges Gordon E. Young (1967–1969) and Paul X. Williams (1970–1975).
Governor David Pryor appointed her as the first woman judge on the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1975, where she served until 1977, when Pryor recommended her for a federal judgeship in the Eastern Judicial District of Arkansas upon the retirement of Judge Oren Harris. On October 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter nominated Roy to be the first woman federal district court judge in the Eighth Circuit, as recommended by Senators Dale Bumpers and John L. McClellan, and the U.S. Senate confirmed her on November 1, 1977. Roy occupied the position for twenty-one years, taking senior status in 1989 and retiring in 1999.
During Roy’s legal career, she garnered many honors, awards, and recognitions. In 1969 and 1976, respectively, she was named Woman of the Year, first by the Business and Professional Women’s Club and then by the Arkansas Democrat. She was awarded two honorary degrees: a Juris Doctor in 1969 from UA and a Doctor of Laws in 1978 from what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. She was a prominent member of Chi Omega.
Roy kept her favorite Bible verse, Micah 6:8, on her bench: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.” Her Arkansas Democrat Woman of the Year plaque inscription reads that “she has become a symbol of pride and inspiration to all women.” In its memorial resolution to her, the Eighty-sixth Arkansas General Assembly reflected upon her “commitment, hard work, dedication and service.”
Roy died on January 23, 2007, at the age of ninety, and is buried in Lonoke Cemetery.
(Courtesy of: Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Central Arkansas Library System)