By Paul Kurtz

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Bar Association today honored the head of the nonprofit group that provides legal services to the city’s poor for a career devoted to justice and advocating for women’s rights.

Catherine Carr, the head of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, received the Sandra Day O’Connor Award, named for the first female Supreme Court justice of the United States.

Carr  has been at Community Legal Services for 31 years, the last 20 as executive director.   In accepting the award, Carr told her fellow attorneys that poverty is very much a women’s issue.

“About 60 percent of the poor in this country are women,” she noted.  “To rephrase that, there are 50 percent more women in poverty than there are men in poverty.  This statistic is borne out in our work at CLS, where almost two-thirds of the low-income people we serve are female.  So we see twice as many women as men.”

But, she added, progress has been made, pointing to the award’s namesake:

“This award, named after our first female Supreme Court justice, recognizes that change — that women are moving into leadership in a way that our foremothers could not have imagined.”

Carr says she found her passion in law school:

“I met young women with children whose partners had died suddenly and had no idea how to feed their children, to say nothing of continuing their own education.  I met women who were ill and alcoholic, abandoned by men or determined to safely stay away from one of them.  And all without a family safety net like the one that I got to grow up with.”

Today’s luncheon ceremony was held in the grand ballroom of the Bellevue, at Broad and Walnut Streets, in center city.