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50There's nothing noteworthy about being a female student at Harvard Law School today: About half of the students are women. Of course, that wasn't always the case. Indeed, because of the gender disparity of the past, fewer than one out of five living HLS alumni are women. But they are remarkable in ways far disproportionate to their number. The 7,200 alumnae have sought justice, tried cases, drafted legislation, built businesses and taught attorneys-to-be. In honor of Celebration 50, we highlight 50 of the many alumnae who have used their HLS education to take them to extraordinary places.

Charlotte ArmstrongIt wasn't easy for the first women students at Harvard Law School. But in a way, the women of that era were accustomed to that, said Charlotte Armstrong '53. "It was a totally male world, but that was the world we grew up in," she said during Celebration 45. Indeed, despite the difficulties of the experience, Armstrong became one of HLS's and Harvard University's (she graduated from Radcliffe in 1949) most loyal and active alumni. A former president of the Harvard University Board of Overseers, Armstrong also served as president of the Harvard Law School Association, the second woman to hold that post, and vice president of the Harvard Club of New York City. In her professional career, she worked as a litigator with the U.S. Department of Justice and in employee compensation and benefits in the private sector. When she was a student, Armstrong said, she never realized the importance of breaking the gender barrier at HLS: "You just put one foot in front of another, and then it turns out that you are a trailblazer."

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Frederica BrennemanFrederica Brenneman '53 will forever be identified with the TV show that in part portrays her life on the bench. Some may see that as a simplification of a longtime career in juvenile court. But she sees it as an opportunity.

For Brenneman, the CBS series "Judging Amy," starring her daughter Amy Brenneman, educates the public about "the enormous importance and complexities that are confronted daily by those of us whose professional lives are devoted to improving the lives of neglected and abused children," she said. Appointed a Connecticut juvenile court judge in 1967 (only the second woman in Connecticut judicial history at the time), Brenneman has been a passionate advocate for improving conditions in the juvenile justice system, promoting the principle "First, do no harm" in the name of child protection. In addition to her judicial work, she has been active in training judges, social workers, lawyers and others to respond to child abuse. She has also served as an adviser for her daughter's show and is a passionate advocate there too, ensuring that the issues she cares about reach millions every week.

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Ruth AbramsThe Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the oldest continually operating court in the Western Hemisphere, a functioning body since 1692. But it took nearly 300 years before the court included its first female justice. That was Ruth Abrams '56, a woman accustomed to breaking barriers as a member of one of the first classes at HLS to include women.

Abrams, appointed to the court in 1977 by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis '60, retired in 2000 after a judicial career in which she was known as a supporter of gender equity and minority rights. "Many of the opinions I wrote sort of put out a helping hand to people who find themselves in situations that are not right for them," she said in 2001.

Formerly an assistant district attorney, division chief in the Massachusetts attorney general's office and superior court judge, Abrams "devoted her entire life to law and the legal system through public service," HLS Professor Arthur Miller '58 told the Associated Press. "I have never really met anyone more dedicated to her job and to doing it right than Ruth."

Abrams hopes that it is easier for women lawyers to become judges today, she said. Thanks in part to her efforts, it is.

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Lila FenwickGeorge Lewis Ruffin 1869, who was Massachusetts' first African-American judge, became the law school's first African-American student shortly after the Civil War ended. During the era in which Thurgood Marshall argued against "separate but equal" in Brown v. Board of Education, HLS accepted its first female African-American student.

Lila Fenwick '56 remembers the day the Supreme Court decision came down in 1954. "I was delirious," she said in an interview during the September 2000 Celebration of Black Alumni. At the time, she lived in housing reserved for black students. Later, she would walk among world leaders as chief of the human rights division of the United Nations. She never doubted that she would achieve professional success, despite the racism she grew up with and the sexism she encountered in school and beyond. "I knew I was going to be a lawyer when I was a little girl," she said. "It never occurred to me that there were going to be any obstacles." With that determination, she has helped tear down obstacles for generations of students at HLS.

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Ruth Bader GinsburgLong before anyone could have imagined her in her current job, Ruth Bader Ginsburg '56-'58 got some advice: "My mother told me to be a lady," she said. "And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent."

The second female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ginsburg has long exerted her independence as a powerful voice on the Court and, previously, as an appeals court judge, practicing attorney and law professor. From the beginning of her career, she advocated for women's causes, eventually arguing six cases on sex discrimination before the Supreme Court. She was the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School, where she obtained her law degree, and the first director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. After Ginsburg served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit, President Clinton nominated her for a seat on the Supreme Court in 1993. Known as a liberal on the Court, she nevertheless has pleased--and angered--both sides of the aisle with her opinions and is one of the most publicly outspoken of the justices. Her mother would be proud.

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Rita HauserPeople at Harvard Law School say her name every day. That's because her name, along with her husband's, Gustave '53, is attached to HLS's newest campus building, Hauser Hall. But while the donation for the building was considerable--$13 million during the law school's previous fund-raising campaign--it's just one of many contributions Rita Hauser '58 has made, both in philanthropy and in international politics.

Most recently appointed to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for the Bush administration, Hauser has focused on international legal matters since being named the first woman partner of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York City. She served as the U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, was an adviser to President Nixon, and met with Yasser Arafat and helped persuade him to renounce terrorism publicly and recognize Israel. As president of the Hauser Foundation today, she contributes widely to academic institutions and other causes, something she urges more women to do. Philanthropy, like everything else, is not just for men anymore.

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Gladys KesslerGladys Kessler '62 is part of a quiet revolution. As she noted 10 years ago during Celebration 40, women on the bench have changed societal expectations on issues such as child support, domestic violence, gender bias and access to justice. Their very presence in the judiciary, she said, has helped the system acknowledge the realities of women's lives.

Appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in July 1994, Kessler was part of the first wave of women to attain seats on the bench when she became an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in 1977. "Every single one of Judge Kessler's accomplishments [was] at the time groundbreaking," Judith Lichtman, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, told The Boston Globe last year.

Many of her cases are notable as well, including the government's suit to recover damages from tobacco companies, which she is scheduled to preside over next year. She also ordered the Justice Department to disclose the names of those detained after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Twenty years ago, Kessler said that women "have a responsibility to make a difference in the legal system and the administration of justice." She still takes those words seriously.

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Janet RenoShe is the most famous HLS alumna. The first female attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno '63 was a flash point for praise and outrage over the many contentious decisions of her tenure, which was the longest of any AG in the 20th century. "I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn't, and I was going to get criticized," she said in an interview with the Bulletin in December 2000. But beyond controversies like Waco and Elian Gonzalez, Reno emphasized reforming the criminal justice system, as she did when she instituted drug courts as state attorney for Dade County, Fla., and providing education and health care to children to stem violence in society. She also preached the need to serve the public. That's why she ran for office last year, for governor of Florida, after returning to her home state from Washington, D.C. She lost, but, as she told an audience when she accepted an award at HLS, "If people won't run for political office because they think it's beneath them, then democracy is at risk in this world." No one would criticize her for saying that.

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Judith Richards HopeJudith Richards Hope '64 has some kind of clout. Witness the guest list for a party earlier this year feting her book, "Pinstripes & Pearls." The parade of the Washington elite included Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer '64, Ruth Bader Ginsburg '56-'58, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia '60 and David Souter 66, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Solicitor General Ted Olson. A founder of and partner at the Washington, D.C., office of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Hope focuses her practice on issues relating to the federal government, such as privatization of government-owned entities. She served as vice chairwoman of the President's Commission on Organized Crime and was associate director of the White House Domestic Counsel. Once, as a female student at HLS in the early '60s, she was "taking the place of a man." Now, she has taken her place as one of the most influential attorneys in the nation's capital.

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Judith RogersMany people remember that President George H.W. Bush chose Clarence Thomas to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the nation's highest court. But fewer may recall the person who took Thomas' seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often viewed as the nation's second most important court. It was Judith Rogers '64, and her appointment was also a milestone: Rogers became only the second African-American woman to serve on a U.S. Court of Appeals. Previously, she served as associate judge and chief judge for the D.C. Court of Appeals and held several other public service positions, including corporation counsel for D.C., supervising an office of 200 attorneys.

In announcing her nomination to the Court of Appeals in 1993, the Clinton administration trumpeted Rogers' devotion to the causes of fairness to children, delay reduction in the courts and civil rights for all citizens. The Washington Post at the time called her "a diligent and highly competent centrist." And in her case, no one raised any objection to her nomination.

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Patricia SchroederWhen Patricia Schroeder '64 was first elected to Congress in 1972, people wrote to her about her clothes and hairdo. But she soon transcended the superficial attention and gained attention for her stands on issues such as abortion rights and military expenditures and her fight for the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act 10 years ago. Shortly after leaving the House of Representatives, she detailed her struggles and successes in "24 Years of House Work and the Place Is Still a Mess." Today, as president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, Schroeder advocates for protecting intellectual property and free speech rights. She also continues to champion women's rights. "The years of hard work and struggle have led to some triumphs," she said in a talk after leaving office, "but we also have to think about how far we have not come, and how much is left to do to improve the health, status and well-being of American women." If women don't do it, she has said, who will?

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Elizabeth DoleElizabeth Dole '65 grew up during a time when women were known primarily because of the achievements of their husbands. And she is certainly known because of her husband, former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole, the Republican candidate for president in 1996. But that, of course, is only part of the story.

Dole began on her own path of public service in 1969, when she served as deputy assistant to President Nixon for Consumer Affairs. Since then, she has been a member of the Federal Trade Commission, secretary of Transportation (the first woman to hold that post) for President Reagan and secretary of Labor for President George H.W. Bush. Outside of government, she served as president of the American Red Cross before running for the U.S. presidency. She would not become the first woman president, but she did become the first female senator from her home state of North Carolina, elected last year to succeed Jesse Helms. And now--like the man her husband ran against in 1996--her husband is known as the spouse of a senator.

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Elizabeth HoltzmanThe first impression many Americans got of Elizabeth Holtzman '65 was an indelible one. After beating an incumbent who had been in the House almost as many years as she had been alive, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress was thrust into the national spotlight as a leading White House critic on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings. Yet that experience only began a career of taking on difficult battles. Currently a counsel at Herrick, Feinstein in New York City, Holtzman served in Congress for eight years before being elected district attorney of Kings County (Brooklyn, N.Y.), where she prosecuted white youths for a racial killing and worked to protect the rights of rape and child-abuse victims. In 1990, she was elected comptroller of New York City, the first woman in that post, becoming responsible for the city's fiscal matters. She also worked to declassify the U.S. government's war crimes files as a member of a presidential committee on Nazi war criminals. Holtzman details the stands she has taken and the challenges she has faced in a book whose title could serve as a coda for her career: "Who Said It Would Be Easy?"

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