Thursday, September 04, 2008

Clara Shortridge Foltz and her Legacies

I was sitting in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center court house in downtown Los Angeles. I got called for jury duty. A responsibility that most upstanding Americans expended their most creative efforts to get out of serving. 300 of my fellow Americans failed to find that perfect excuse.

I personally don’t mind taking a few days from the Salt Mine but it is the feeling of being “recruited” that is uncomfortable. It is also the feeling that there is a story around every corner, that there are some nasty people in the world and there are some folks stories I’d just assume not to have stuck in my head.

But with every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The court had information books and brochures on Clara Shortridge Foltz. This was a phenomenal woman. In 1878 Clara was the first woman to be admitted to practice law in the state of California.  She was also the first woman to serve as deputy district attorney in Los Angeles.

Women's Legal History Biography Project

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Clara got married at 15 years of age, had five kids, husband leaves her for another woman, she has got to figure out what to do, decides on being a lawyer to pursue a dream and to provide for her children and is told she cannot because she is a woman. Phew!

That is just the warm-up. Clara first had to get the law changed so that she as a women could practice law. She then had to sue the Hastings College of Law who refused to admit her on the grounds that:

“Lady lawyers were dangerous to justice inasmuch as an impartial jury would be impossible when a lovely lady pleased the case of the criminal.”

Not only did she win her case and the appeal that followed; Clara went on to introduce all kinds of legal innovations such as establishing public defenders for poor and indigent people, the removal having prisoners placed in iron cages in the courtroom and to separate juveniles from adult prisoners.

So who are some of the beneficiaries of  Clara’s work. In the legal blogosphere there is actually too many to count but to give you a taste of the action:

Law School

  • PT-LawMom is doing the ultimate juggling act, full time employment, parenting and part time law school. (A) Non Token Law Student is taking you through her experiences starting law school from week one. Kel from A Women At Law School is right there paving a slightly different path.

Professional Paths

  • On the academic law side of the fence, Donna M. Byrne is the editor of the Food Law Professor Blog.  This deals with legislation related to food, a post on the FDA potentially placing nanotechnology into certain foods and links to post on how food producers market to children and teenagers.
  • Zuska at Balance of Power is a lawyer who writes about the demands of her profession and her family.
  • MS. JD, according to the web site “Serving women in law school and the legal profession, Ms. JD is an online community that provides a forum for dialogue and networking among women lawyers and aspiring lawyers.”
  • Marcia J. Oddi is at the helm of the Indiana Law Blog that focuses on that regions legal activities.

Jumping the Bar

  • Anastasia at Lawsagna is no longer a lawyer but using her J.D. skills to advise professionals on how to move forward in their careers.
  • Canadian Allison Wolf at The Lawyer Coach Blog gives newbies and established lawyers tips on business development, client relations, leadership and mentoring relationships.
  • In the U.S. Julie Fleming-Brown at Life At The Bar needed a way to create flexible employment for herself while staying in contact with the legal profession. She is also a professional legal coach.

For More Information on Clara Shortridge Foltz

  • Most of the information I found about Clara was located at Women’s Legal History Biography Project located at Stanford Law School. There you will find more information about Clara and the other women who were legal pioneers and innovators.
  • Barbara Allen Babcock has performed considerable research on Mrs. Foltz. In this article Barbara provides an overview of the historical context of the time, what was expected of women and how Clara defied the expectations.
  • At First Lady Sharon Avery has written a book about Clara and perform living history presentations as Clara. You can also check out the Journal of San Diego History article on Mrs. Foltz.
  • At My they also have a page about Clara as well as links to other inspirational people.

So, yes showing up and doing your civic duty is an educational experience.  Not necessarily fun but you do what you have to do.

This post was originally posted on BlogHer.

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