Lawyer, jurist. Toal was born in Columbia on August 11, 1943, the daughter of Herbert W. Hoefer and Lilla Farrell. She attended parochial and public schools before enrolling in Agnes Scott College. As an undergraduate she served on the Judicial Council National Supervisory Board of the U.S. National Student Association and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1965 she graduated with a degree in philosophy. Toal received her J.D. degree in 1968 from the University of South Carolina Law School, where she served as managing editor, leading articles editor, and book review editor of the South Carolina Law Review. Because of her high academic achievement she was a member of the Order of the Coif and Mortar Board. In 1967 she married her law school classmate William Thomas Toal. They have two daughters.

Toal became the ninetieth woman admitted to the South Carolina Bar on October 3, 1968. Professionally, she was first associated with the Haynsworth firm of Greenville. Toal then returned to Columbia, first as an associate and then as a partner in the firm of Belser, Baker, Barwick, Ravenel, Toal, and Bender. Here she gained substantial experience as a litigator in the state and federal courts. Toal represented the law student Victoria Eslinger in her effort to serve as page in the South Carolina Senate. Toal won the case when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the practice of hiring only males as pages was unconstitutional.

In 1975 Toal began thirteen years of service as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives representing Richland County. She was the first woman to be appointed chair of a standing committee and became a floor leader for legislation important to the judicial system. After working for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign, Toal was asked to consider a judgeship. Although she declined, she remained open to the idea, and on March 16, 1988, she was elected to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina. She was the first female justice, the first Roman Catholic justice, and the first native of Columbia to serve on the state’s highest court. While serving as associate justice, Toal maintained her interest in legal education, presenting over seventy professional lectures and papers on various topics of the law. With two of her law clerks, she authored a text on appellate practice in South Carolina. Toal became the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina on March 23, 2000.

Toal was awarded the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Outstanding Contribution to Justice Award in 1995. She has received honorary degrees from the University of South Carolina, Francis Marion University, the Citadel, Columbia College, and the College of Charleston.

Cupp, Ruth Williams. Portia Steps up to the Bar: The First Women Lawyers of South Carolina. Raleigh, N.C.: Ivy House, 2003.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Toal, Jean Hoefer
  • Author Ruth W. Cupp
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 10, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date June 28, 2016
  • Date of Last Update June 29, 2016