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A Woman's Place, continued

Charlotte Armstrong '53 accepts a Celebration 50 award from Judith Richards Hope '64.

Hope presented the Celebration 50 award to a member of that first class, Charlotte Armstrong '53, now a consultant who specializes in executive compensation.

Armstrong said she and her classmates hadn't thought of themselves as pioneers. And in retrospect, she says, what was most discouraging about their experience--more than their small numbers or lack of mentors, advisers or role models--were the low expectations from people at the school. Armstrong said she spoke on behalf of her female classmates (13, including two LL.M.s) when she said, "I think we have disproved their lack of faith."

During a panel discussion, "Advice from Famous Folk," alumnae reflected on the start of their careers and their sometimes difficult experience at Harvard Law School.

Ruth Abrams '56, a retired justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, said when she was a student, "you felt isolated, but you didn't have the rage." That came later, after she graduated and saw how unwelcoming the bar was. Today things are looking up, she said, but "women have to persevere and push to get the kind of life and profession they want."

Nadine Strossen ' 75, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, believes "what every law school should inspire in every student is [a] sense of justice," she said. "You owe it to yourself and to your community to take this wonderful privilege--especially Harvard Law School, which opens so many doors--and use it to implement whatever your view of the public good is, full time or as a volunteer."

During the panel, Hope mentioned that her children have only recently stopped being mad at her for working so hard while they were growing up. Several of the participants brought their children to the event, and balancing work and family in the legal profession was on people's minds and on the agenda. "We wanted to speak to people and have people speak to each other about the profound connection between their professional lives and their family lives, whether that includes children or parents, or community relations," said Elizabeth Stong '82, chairwoman of the Celebration 50 organizing committee and partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City.

During a luncheon on Saturday, two law school families reflected on the topic. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg '56-'58 shared the podium with her husband, Martin Ginsburg '58, and their daughter, Jane Ginsburg '80. Rep. William Jefferson ' 72 was surrounded by three of his five daughters: Jamila '97, Jalila '01 and Jelani '04.

Justice Ginsburg, who spent two years at HLS but received her law degree from Columbia, said that caring for her young daughter when she was in law school actually helped relieve the pressure. "Each part of one's life needs respite from the other," she said.

Jane Ginsburg, professor at Columbia Law School, said she is lucky that her husband, George Spera '80, is able to spend time caring for their children, but too many women in the legal profession have eschewed having children or waited a long time to do so because they feared discrimination at work. "It will be very important for that not to be an issue anymore, as much for men as for women," she said.

Justice Ginsburg said the world has changed a lot since she graduated from law school. "In the not-so-good old days, I would often say something at a meeting, and then a guy would say the same thing, and about five minutes later people would say, 'That's a good idea.' People were not hearing a woman's voice. Now they do."

Alumnae came away from the weekend feeling that their voices were heard.

Verna Myers '85, who runs her own diversity management consulting business in the Boston area, said, "I love the fact that the law school has started to recognize women and people of color as assets." In the past, the only time she'd come back to HLS was for the Celebration of Black Alumni in September 2000. Though she once had negative feelings about the school, Celebration 50 has made her want to renew her affiliation.

They also came away with a sense of renewed purpose. Jessica Neuwirth '85, founder of Equality Now in New York City, has attended all the women's celebrations since she graduated. "They've all been high-energy, but this one is even higher energy," she said. "There's a sense of urgency about lots of pressing issues of concern to women and a sense of commitment to try to do something and a sense of the need to try to be practical and strategic, which is all very good."

There was also joy. Judge Sondra Miller, a graduate of the first class of women, said, "It was just phenomenal for me to see all of the talented, successful young women who are here at the law school today and looking forward to a future with limitless expectations."

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