Introduction of Barbara Babcock: Foltz remarks

Patience Milrod, author (with M.Schwartz and S. Brandt) of the article that launched Barbara Babcock on the Foltz biography (Clara Shortridge Foltz: Pioneer in the Law, 27 Hastings L. Rev. 545) gave this introduction at the Bell Tower Club in Bakersfield on April 17, 2012.

Reception Sponsored by Kern County Bar Association, Kern County Women Lawyers, the KCBA Criminal Defense Section, The Federal Bar Association—San Joaquin Valley chapter, The Law office of David A. Torrest, The Law office of H.A. Sala, and Gotta Go Bail Bonds

It’s 1974.  I’m a first year law student at King Hall, UC Davis’ law school.  My law school classrooms look very much like my undergraduate classrooms—definitely enough women to find comrades and colleagues—and co-conspirators.  We are almost 40% of our class—with good representation of Latinas, Black women, Asian women.

But only 10% of the classes just ahead of us are women.  Overnight, a huge shift is taking place, in response to passage of equal rights legislation and public pressure to make public universities reflect the population of the state. 

Not surprisingly, our sisters in the second- and third- year classes have had limited success in raising consciousness among the almost all-white-male faculty.  So in the classroom (among other things) we find ourselves having to insist that tort liability must be gauged according to a “reasonable person” standard.  We try to be tactful and are mostly successful, managing not to suggest that the term “reasonable man” is an oxymoron.  Outside the classroom, we seek each other out—in study groups, and gathering informally on Monday nights for coffee and mutual support. 

We begin to see that even our relatively progressive and open law school is teaching us about the culture of our new profession—and not in a good way!  It’s a culture that does not welcome us, and we begin seeing it needs to change.

It’s May of 1975.  I’m a scholarship student, and I have a work-study grant for the summer.  I’m assigned to the law librarian, Mort Schwartz.  I report that first summer morning to his office, and there’s my friend Sue Brandt.  Professor Schwartz doesn’t really have a specific plan for us, so he gives us a few things to look at and allows us to choose our summer project. 

I have no present recollection of what all he offers us—except:  one of the documents is a photocopy of what is clearly a very old transcript.  It turns out to be the oral argument at the California Supreme Court, in which Clara Foltz and Laura deForce Gordon argued their right to become law students at Hastings Law School.

Sue and I devour this transcript—we can hardly believe our eyes.  The year is 1879–Clara’s opponents are the elite of the California Bar, former supreme court justices.  And Clara is kicking their butt.  It is EXHILARATING!!

Over the course of that summer, every day, literally, brings us new thrills as we read and learn about Clara.  This is long before the internet, so we’re locating the books that compile short biographies of women lawyers, and the books that profile prominent Californians.  We’re scrolling through microfilm in libraries in Sacramento and Berkeley.  We’re reading transcripts of floor debates in the California legislature, and Clara’s autobiographical columns in one of the several magazines she published.  We cannot believe what we’re finding—how come nobody’s ever heard of her??

We learn that she invented the Public Defender concept and that by her own efforts she converted it from a concept to a reality.  We learn that she is our foremother as women lawyers, having drafted and lobbied to passage the legislation that opened the profession to women, and otherwise paving the way as a First Woman in many different spheres. 

It is January of 1976.  We have written an article about Clara, and the Hastings Law Review publishes it.  After it’s published, the Women’s Caucus at the Hastings Law School changes its name to the Clara Foltz Society.  We feel we’ve saved Clara from complete oblivion.

My summer with Clara was a life-changing experience.  She litigated, wrote and published, gave public lectures, lobbied legislatures, agitated, and advocated NOT as a “First Woman,” but as a full-fledged citizen.  At a time when women were literally irrelevant to public discourse—barred either explicitly by prohibitions or effectively by public scorn and personal attack—Clara simply WOULD HAVE NONE OF IT.  She lived as if the world were already what she was helping to remake it to be. 

Coming to know Clara taught me to “live out loud”—to have the courage to live by my principles, that the law is a tool for that important work, that I can say what I believe, that I can act and live without apology.  When the judge is angry that I’ve brought the motion or that I won’t sit down until he rules on my objection, when opposing counsel is offended that I’ve called his bluff, when my newspaper column triggers the ugly letter to the editor, it’s Clara’s voice in my ear, whispering “who cares what those staid old grangers think?  Do what’s right!”

It’s 2012.  In 1975 I would not have believed you if you had told me that someday people would gather to hear about Clara, that I would be standing on the same podium with Professor Babcock, and that what would bring us together is a full-length authoritative biography of Clara, as lively and compelling as she was herself. 

Professor Babcock has herself been a First Woman, including first regular faculty at the Stanford Law School.  I first knew of Professor Babcock when I was a law student, because she was the author of the first textbook on Sex Discrimination and the Law.

Her law school class was 4% women, and her experiences as a job-seeking new law graduate, even though Order of the Coif from Yale, were discouraging.  But she clerked for a federal judge, and then joined a highly prestigious law firm whose famous principal represented high profile criminal defendants. 

When it became clear the firm was unlikely to let her represent her own clients, Professor Babcock joined the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia—and when the Legal Aid Society became the Public Defender Service, Professor Babcock was its first Director.

She went on to teach at Stanford, winning accolades and awards as a particularly effective teacher of criminal and civil procedure, as well as courses related to women in the legal profession.  At one point, she took a leave to be assistant attorney general for the Civil Division in President Carter’s Department of Justice.

When she learned of Clara Foltz, Professor Babcock has said: “In a rush of inspiration and dedication I decided to try to establish her place in the legal pantheon as the founder of the public defender.  At first I thought I might find her papers with my lawyer investigator skills, but when I saw that they were irretrievably lost, I realized the magnitude of the task and that no one else was likely to take it up. I renewed my resolve to do a full-scale biography and tried to press ahead with it.”

This rush of inspiration and dedication to Clara’s cause led Professor Babcock to decline to be considered as President Clinton’s Attorney General (another First Woman job).  San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll didn’t get it.  He wrote: 

I think it’s a swell idea for a woman to be the next attorney general:  I am puzzled by the number of women who, sharing my opinion, nevertheless turn down the job.

Perhaps the most bewildering is Stanford Professor Barbara Allen Babcock, who said she would reject any offer because she was “committed to finishing a biography of Clara Shortridge Foltz.”

What? Is this the New Commitment we hear so much about?  Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for Clara Shortridge Foltz?

Professor Babcock has reported that the column “made me laugh though I also felt a little foolish.”  What Jon Carroll didn’t understand is that Professor Babcock’s fine scholarship and sparkling writing are not actually for Clara—though Clara, wherever she is, is dancing with delight to be recognized for her work, and for the sheer force and power of her personality and courage. 

Professor Babcock’s biography of Clara is actually for us—not only Clara’s daughters in the law, but all—men as well as women, lawyers as well as non-lawyers—who are strivers and reformers; who see the potential for a better world; who have ideas and yearn to turn them into realities.  As she has lovingly mentored her law students over many years, Professor Babcock lights a path for us when she gives us this story of Clara Shortridge Foltz.

It is my honor and privilege to introduce to you Professor Barbara Babcock.

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