Nina Miglionico (1913-2009) was an early activist for women’s rights and to date is the longest-practicing female attorney in Alabama, practicing law for 73 years. She was also a Birmingham, Jefferson County, political leader who stood for racial equality and consistently voted to repeal the city segregation ordinances that led to the civil rights campaign of 1963.
Nina Miglionico Miglionico was born in Birmingham on September 14, 1913, to Joseph and Mary Miglionico, immigrants from Italy who owned a delicatessen and sundries store. She received her early education in the public schools, graduating from Woodlawn High School in 1930. She was the valedictorian of the Howard College (present-day Samford University) class of 1933 and completed law studies at the University of Alabama School of Law in 1936 at the age of 22.
Miglionico was an activist throughout her life, working with and heading numerous women’s organizations, including the Business and Professional Women’s Club, the American Association of University Women, the Alabama and National Association of Women Lawyers, and the Zonta Club, a national organization of professional women. She joined these organizations early in her career to be more active in civic life and remained a member until her death. Her political activism over the years included advocating that women be allowed to serve on juries in Alabama (the right was granted to African Americans as well as women in White v. Crook, 1966), improving the parole system and prison conditions, improving child labor conditions, revising the probate laws of descent and distribution to provide women with the same rights as men, and eliminating the poll tax. She also served nationally on the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and was a presidential appointee to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women that recommended passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1964 and other means to reduce gender bias in the workplace.
Nina Miglionico Statue In 1958, Miglionico ran unsuccessfully for the Alabama Legislature, but in 1963 she was elected one of nine councilors when Birmingham shifted to a mayor-council form of government. Miglionico, who supported racial reconciliation in the city and enjoyed biracial political support, worked with other like-minded members of the council to rescind Birmingham’s segregation ordinances following the demonstrations in the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. Because of her progressive position on race, she received phone threats and hate mail. In 1965, just prior to her first re-election to the council, a bomb was placed on her front porch but was disarmed by her father. In 1974, she was the first woman in Alabama to be nominated for a congressional seat by a major party—the Democrats—and a cross was burned in her yard. These acts were believed to be the work of the Ku Klux Klan. (She lost the race to the incumbent, Republican John Buchanan Jr.) Miglionico, however, would serve on the city council until 1985, retiring after nearly 23 years. She served as president of the city council from 1978 to 1981.
Miglionico received numerous awards and recognitions during her lifetime. In her later years, she chaired the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame selection committee. In 1996 she was recognized by the American Bar Association with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award as one of five outstanding women lawyers in the nation that year. In 2015, the city of Birmingham unveiled a statue of Miglionico to honor her; it now sits in Linn Park across from City Hall.
Nina Miglionico died on May 6, 2009, at the age of 95 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery. Her collected papers from more than 70 years of public involvement and community service are preserved at the Birmingham Public Library Archives and the University of Alabama School of Law Special Collections. She was selected as a 2011 inductee to the Alabama Lawyer’s Hall of Fame and was a 2012 inductee to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.
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———. From Power to Service: The Story of Lawyers in Alabama. Montgomery, Ala.: The Alabama State Bar and the Alabama Bench and Bar Historical Society, 2010.
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Toffel, Miriam Abigail, ed. A Collection of Biographies of Women Who Made a Difference in Alabama. Birmingham, Ala.: The League of Women Voters of Alabama, 1995.