Indiana’s first female federal judge knows what it feels like to go it alone. Sarah Evans Barker was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1984, and ever since has served on the U.S. District Court for Indiana’s Southern District, including six years as chief judge and now as senior judge.
“I think I figured out pretty early on, before there were a lot of role models, how to meld the various parts of a person’s life into a central system that creates a whole person,” she said.
During her career, Barker has issued rulings related to immigration, voting, abortion and other red-hot issues. And she presided over a 10-year legal battle involving Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Products that included 800 lawsuits.
But she may be best known in the legal community for mentoring women.
“Judge Barker knew she had a responsibility,” Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Vaidik told The Indiana Lawyer in 2014. “She told me she knew if she screwed up she would set back other women. Her most lasting legacy is not the cases and not [being] the first woman. It is her generosity and mentoring of other women in her own funny, smart, lady-like way.”
Over the decades, Barker has lent her talents to a plethora of civic organizations. But she’s particularly proud of helping to create the Gathering, an informal group of professional women who come together to socialize and network. It began in the early 1980s, when there weren’t many female professionals. The Gathering continues to offer chances for mutual encouragement and friendship. Today, about 150 members get together four times a year.
“That’s really one of the most meaningful and pleasurable activities in which I’ve played a role,” Barker said. “It’s a delight to come together, be with each other and share friendship and observations.”