A VANISHING BREED
I am one of that vanishing breed among lawyers—a first woman. Soon all the first spots will be occupied. This has happened in record time—especially given the tradition -and rule- bound nature of the legal profession.
When I graduated from Yale Law School in 1963, four percent of the nation’s law students were women. I had never had a female teacher. The term sex discrimination had not been invented but the practice was very real and rank. My experience started with clerking—the vast majority of federal judges, including all the Supreme Court, were men who felt uncomfortable working closely with young women.
I clerked for Judge Henry Edgerton on the D.C. Circuit who hired the first woman clerk and the first African American—both before my time. For eight years I was a criminal defense lawyer, and became the first director of the Public Defender Service in Washington.
From that position at the instance of women students and some male allies, I was hired to teach the first courses in what we called “Women and the Law” at Georgetown and at Yale.
In the late sixties, due largely to the women’s movement, the number of women in law school had gone from four percent to twenty percent overnight, and the law schools were scrambling to hire some women law professors. Most of them had never had even one.
I saw this little window of affirmative action open and flew through it in 1972 to become the first woman on the regular faculty at Stanford Law School, where I taught the first courses on Sex Discrimination with Equal Rights Advocates and co-authored a text on the subject.
In the Carter administration, again as a direct result of the demands of the women’s movement, I was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division in the Department of Justice. When I came to Washington as one of the unprecedented number of women in high places, I was often asked how it “felt” to get my job because I was a woman. I always said: It feels a lot better than not getting it because I am a woman.
I have always told my students to stand proudly on the shoulders of the women who went before you. I have done that and have brought my own experiences to bear on the life of Clara Foltz, the first woman lawyer in the west, a suffragist and the first to conceive the idea of a public defender.