The Women Who Came Knocking
"I feel like Im home," Judith Richards Hope 64 told the audience when she opened the Saturday morning program in Ames Courtroom.
"The overall impression that we were beat upon, kept down, is not true," the self-proclaimed "old-timer" declared. "And its not true that Harvard Law School kept women out till 1950; the Harvard Corporation kept women out," said the Corporations first woman member. The door to HLS remained closed to women until 1947, the year Erwin Griswold 28 S.J.D. 29 appointed the first woman visiting professor. "Soia Mentschikoff marched into Faculty Club, sat at the main table, and, voila! the Faculty Club was integrated." The classrooms of HLS soon followed.
Hope drew laughter when she mentioned the notorious "Ladies Day" when women were called on in class, and the "toilet problem" that arose when the first female 1Ls arrived on a campus with all-male facilities. She also recalled the annual "Griswold Dinners," hosted by the late dean and Mrs. Griswold to welcome the newest tiny cadre of 1L women. Seated in a circle in the Griswold living room, each woman in turn responded to the deans question of why they were taking the place of a man. "It sounds awful," Hope said, "but I later received more than 100 rejections from law firms, all of which asked, Why are you trying to take the place of a man? Erwin Griswold prepared us for those questions."
Dean Clark and Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine reflected on the progress of women at Harvard and what still needs to happen, from their vantages leading the School and the University. When the dean took questions, Susan Estrich 77 raised an issue that was echoed throughout the weekend. "Are there any empirical studies of women grads tracking their progress" in terms of salaries, promotions, and other criteria, she asked, noting that "a substantial gap" between men and women opens up right after graduation. She urged the Law School to consider how it might play a larger role in the profession "to make womens achievement less rocky."
The dean agreed that more information and evidence about HLS graduates, men as well as women, is essential. He said the strategic planning committee examining the Schools connections to practice is addressing this issue in detail, and that he will be reporting its findings.
The clock then turned back to the 1870s, when Daniel Coquillette 71, a visiting professor to HLS and professor at Boston College Law School, talked about the early women who came knocking on the School door. (See sidebar.) "I am an historian. More than others I am aware of ghosts," he said. "Surely in this room with us today are the spirits of those brave women who tried and failed, who hoped and dreamed, and never saw the door open. Our job today is to make a Harvard Law School that is worthy of them."
Next Justice Alice Desjardins LL.M. 67, the first woman to serve on the National Board of Appeal in Canada, introduced Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who presented the weekend Welcome Address. Desjardins highlighted Ginsburgs precedent-setting contributions to countering gender stereotypes both in the Court and in her legal practice. She called Ginsburg "the legal architect of the modern womens movement," and said Ginsburgs role on the Court was "not to feminize the court, but to humanize it."
Although the associate justice is a 1959 graduate of Columbia Law School, she attended HLS from 1956 to 1958, in a class with nine women. "I rejoice in the changed complexion of the School from 1953 to 1998," Ginsburg told her listeners.
Ginsburg said her HLS Civil Procedure professor, Benjamin Kaplan, remains her model "of what a good teacher should be." Hart and Sackss Legal Process materials and course "guided my thinking about the law." She mentioned her husbands illness with cancer in his third year at HLS, when he could attend only a handful of classes and relied on classmates notes and bedside tutorials. "The myth of the fiercely competitive Harvard Law student does not describe our experience."
|"The atmosphere [at HLS] was not friendly to women, but it was challenging," said Ruth Abrams 56, associate justice on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. "My feeling of being an outsider later helped me as a woman prosecutor. I learned how to handle myself in a hostile situation, when the police were yelling, the judges and opposing counsel unfriendly."|
Janet Renos Sword and Shield
The weekends main event: U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno 63 was back on the Law School campus to accept the Celebration 45 Award.
Introducing Reno, Justice Ginsburg quoted from the attorney generals words of praise for Jamie Gorelick 75, her former deputy, and applied them to Reno herself: "She did not take high office to be popular, but she is popular nonetheless. She strives to do the right thing over the expedient thing."
Harvard Law School "has meant so much to me," Reno told her listeners. "It taught me to use law to help others. I loved the law when I graduated. But now, after five and a half years as attorney general, I love it even more. I am in awe of its magnificence, and alert to its vulnerability and fragility. People have talked about the discouragements of public serviceand these years have been extraordinarily challenging. . . . [Y]ou get cussed at, spoken to with contempt and disgust. Yet I wouldnt trade the experience for anything. I commend public service to all now at HLS: its a lot better than billable hours."
Reno touched on her experiences as attorney general, including collaborations with counterparts in emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and other struggling regimes. "I have new appreciation for how difficult it is to establish the rule of law and make it stick," she said.
|"Attorney general of the United States of America, passionate advocate for the rights and welfare of all the people; with fairness, objectivity, and integrity you serve the nation and uphold the rule of law, making you a shining example of the dedicated and principled public servant."|
But too often legal institutions exclude the poor, Reno said, and fail to address their problems. "We must make the law real for all Americans" by establishing "more effective legal structures." She proposed a program of community advocates to address tenant-landlord disputes and other local problems. Where the fabric of community is rewoven around troubled families and youths, she noted, "the lawyers are leading the way."
Reno also stressed the need "to end the culture of violence in this nation," citing stark data on gun homicides. "Ladies, lets lead the way to ensure an effective prosecution for every illegal use or possession of guns in this country." She called for teaching negotiation and ADR skills in schools and applying them in police stations.
Reno concluded: "We received at Harvard Law School a gift. We worked hard for it. I hope weve used it wisely. And we have more to do. We can never forget how important it is to be the sword and the shield."