NEWS RELEASE, 02/24/98

First-ever reunion of women graduates from UC Berkeley's 104 year-old law school to be held Feb. 27 - March 1

by Gretchen Kell

BERKELEY -- The University of California, Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall), which has admitted women since its founding in 1894, will hold its first-ever women's reunion this week.

Of the law school's nearly 3,000 living alumnae and 400 women students, some 200 of them - the oldest from the classes of the 1930s, the youngest from the Class of 2000 - will gather at UC Berkeley Feb. 27 through March 1 for a weekend of reminiscence and discussion about professional and personal issues.

The women's reunion is believed to be the only such event to be held by a law school on the West Coast.

It is unique that the law school has admitted women since its establishment 104 years ago. Today, women students comprise more than half of the entering class.

A few of the graduates who became well-known pioneers for women in the legal field are California Supreme Court Justices Rose Bird and Kathryn Werdegar as well as Zöe Baird, an attorney for a private law foundation who once was associate counsel to President Jimmy Carter and senior vice president and general counsel for Aetna Life & Casualty insurance company.

"I've wanted to hold this reunion since I became dean," said Herma Hill Kay, dean of Boalt Hall for the past five years. "Throughout my 38 years as a faculty member here, I have actively encouraged women to come to Boalt Hall and study law. This reunion is like a celebration."

The reunion will honor a long list of "firsts" by Boalt Hall women including:

  • The first woman to become a professor at a major American law school. Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong, a member of the Class of 1915, was a faculty member at Boalt Hall from 1919 until 1957.

  • The first woman to edit a law journal at an American university. Esther Phillips, a 1917 Boalt Hall graduate, was student editor-in-chief of the California Law Review.

  • The first woman chief justice of the California Supreme Court. Rose Bird graduated from Boalt Hall in 1965.

  • The first woman dean of Boalt Hall. Herman Hill Kay, a leading family law scholar who in 1960 became the second woman professor hired at the law school, made national headlines in 1992 when she was named dean.

  • The nation's first law office devoted to legal issues concerning child care centers and family day care homes. The Child Care Law Center, in San Francisco, was co-founded in 1978 by alumna Lujuana Treadwell, who is an assistant dean at Boalt Hall.

  • The first non-profit organization in the country to provide legal advocacy for women involved in sexual harassment and sexual discrimination cases. Three Boalt Hall alumnae - Nancy Davis and Mary Dunlap and Wendy Williams - founded Equal Rights Advocates, in San Francisco, in 1974.

  • The nation's first organization devoted to ensuring the legal rights of lesbians. The Lesbian Rights Project was founded in San Francisco in 1978 by Donna Hitchens, a 1977 graduate of Boalt Hall. Hitchens, the first openly lesbian elected judge in the country, is now a San Francisco Superior Court judge.

From its founding in 1894 as the Department of Jurisprudence until the mid-1960s, UC Berkeley's law school each year had at least one or two women in its entering class. Since other law schools often excluded women from legal education during those years, "Berkeley was a leader in the legal education of women," said Treadwell, chair of the reunion committee.

The first woman to graduate from Boalt Hall was Emmy Marcuse, in 1906.

In 1915, a national survey listed UC Berkeley, with six women attending its law school, as tied for second place with the University of Washington for the largest enrollment of women law students. The University of Chicago took first place with 12 women studying law.

The first law building on the Berkeley campus - paid for by a woman, Elizabeth Jocelyn Boalt, in honor of her husband - included "an inviting little room...especially for them (the women students), and it is expected that it will furnish an incentive to ambitious co-eds who have up to this time hesitated to study law on account of the forced association with men," according to a Nov. 14, 1910, article in The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper.

At that time, many men were skeptical about women practicing law and especially about their ability to be trial lawyers.

Even a former dean of Boalt Hall, William Carey Jones, told The San Francisco Call newspaper on Oct. 13, 1913, that "women are almost too emotional to cope with criminal cases, and, in fact, I doubt whether women, as a rule, can ever argue a case in court successfully. I believe that women should take up property law and probate cases."

But during World War I, with many male students enlisting in the military, women enrolled at Boalt Hall in even greater numbers. The success of California women in politics helped make the presence of women at the law school more acceptable.

By the 1920s, the number of women at Boalt Hall had returned to pre-World War I numbers - about two or three per class. Still, the tradition of academic excellence among its women students continued. A 1928 newspaper article reported on their uniformly excellent performance:

"Husbands or juries - no one knows which will be yielding to the persuasive powers of the 20 girl barristers whose smiles brighten up Boalt Hall...But it is certain that someone will be yielding, for no 20 men in the legal school of 350 finished their term's work this spring with such brilliance or with so many honors as the lawyerettes," read a May 12, 1928, article in the San Francisco Enquirer.

Boalt Hall also was attracting national attention for being among the first American law schools with full-time women faculty members. On Feb. 9, 1926, the New York Herald Tribune ran the headline "California 'U' Has Corner on Women Law Teachers."

The accompanying story said that of the three women law professors in the United States at the time, two were at the University of California. It concluded that "...the West has set the pace for the rest of the country."

Women weren't necessarily comfortable at Boalt Hall, however. Through the 1920s and 1930s, it was not unusual for women students to drop out if their grades were not exceptional.

"As women in a male-dominated field," said Treadwell, "they feared they wouldn't find work without a perfect record."

Most male faculty members tolerated the presence of women students but made little effort to conceal their true feelings.

Professor Alexander Kidd told the San Francisco Recorder on Sept. 24, 1925, that "fewer women are found to be preparing for legal professions than in the past, because the life of a lawyer, instead of containing the elements of glamour and interest, is actually one of dull drabness and tedious routine."

These attitudes and numbers remained typical at UC Berkeley until the mid-1960s, when the number of women students at many American law schools, including Boalt Hall, began to increase dramatically.

In 1950, there were 14 women and 280 men in Boalt Hall's student body. In comparison, 22 of the 723 students at Hastings College of the Law were women and, at Stanford University, the 395-member student body included 16 women.

Not until 1968, when women comprised 11 percent of Boalt Hall's entering class, did the enrollment of women noticeably increase. In successive years, enrollment percentages grew - to 28 percent in 1980, 46 percent in 1992 and 52 percent in 1993.

"The women's movement and the activism of the '60s inspired many women to enter law school," said Treadwell, "and Boalt Hall actively encouraged women to apply. The Women's Association and women faculty and administrators made special efforts to recruit women."

As the numbers of women at Boalt Hall increased, so did the students' accomplishments. In 1967, for example, women held the top two positions in Boalt's graduating and second-year classes. The first place in the first-year class also was held by a woman.

The Boalt Hall Women's Association, which was formed to discuss and act on problems facing women at Boalt Hall and to encourage women to attend law school, was established in 1969, and the Berkeley Women's Law Journal was founded in 1985.

One member of the Class of 1977 helped draw even more attention to Boalt Hall as a mecca for women interested in law. "Doonesbury" cartoonist Gary Trudeau created a character named Joanie Caucus and enrolled her at Boalt Hall in the mid-1970s. A fictional, late-blooming feminist who left her husband and children for a new life at UC Berkeley, Caucus was adopted, in a sense, by the law school. The school started a file on the cartoon character in the admissions office, had Trudeau fill out her law school application and printed her picture in the yearbook.

Trudeau spoke at Boalt's 1977 commencement, at which a chair was set aside for Caucus and her name listed in the program, just a few lines below that of Zöe Baird.

In the 1990s, women often have comprised more than half of Boalt Hall's entering classes. The percentage of women in the first year class has fluctuated only slightly, between 51 and 52 percent. In 1997, women made up 51 percent of the entering class.

"These percentages, compared with those from the law school's past, represent a radical change, both at UC Berkeley and nationally," said Treadwell.

Today's 53-member faculty at Boalt Hall also includes 12 tenured and tenure-track women.

"Between the time Babette Barton joined the faculty as a lecturer in 1961 and the time Marge Schultz was hired as an acting professor in 1976, there were only two women - Babette and me - who were active members of the faculty," said Kay, Boalt Hall's dean. "Now we have 12 women on the faculty. That makes a tremendous difference, both in role models for women students and in faculty colleagues."

At the Feb. 27 - March 1 reunion, a banquet on Friday night will be followed Saturday by sessions on topics including women in the legal profession, women's health care issues, children and the law, the criminal justice system and its effects on women, public interest practice, family law, sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, diversity in law school admissions and enrollment, reproductive rights and domestic violence.

There also will be a plenary session that afternoon entitled "Women as Academics: Women as Students."

On Sunday, informal discussion groups will share experiences and offer support on issues including entering and thriving in the judiciary; glass ceilings; Boalt women not practicing law; children, motherhood and careers in law; women in government; women of color in the law; women as litigators and bias in the courtroom.

"I think this is going to be a very exciting weekend filled with fun as well as serious conversation," said Kay. "I'm really looking forward to greeting many of the Boalt women graduates."

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