A Note from the Dean
Dear alumni and friends:
One hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified and added to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Like many institutions across the country, the Law School was planning to commemorate the centennial in a variety of ways, one of which was to dedicate this issue of the magazine to the pioneering role of our alumnae in advancing women in the legal profession and in society in general. Another was to hold an inaugural Women’s Summit in New York City on March 13.
However, by mid-March, all our plans for the spring semester had been completely upended by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Over the span of a few weeks, in-person classes were suspended, the Cornell campus was closed, the Law School transitioned to online instruction, and countless events were cancelled or postponed, including the Women’s Summit, now slated for March 2021.
Even our plans for the magazine were affected. While the overall theme remains the “Trailblazing Women Lawyers of Cornell Law School,” we have added two articles following this letter about how the Law School has responded to the current crisis.
The first article explains how we successfully transitioned to online instruction despite the enormous logistical challenges for everyone involved. Our students had to pack up and relocate on short notice and are now spread over a dozen time zones. Our faculty and staff had to learn new technologies, set up home offices, and navigate interruptions to their childcare and work routines. Everyone confronted these challenges while processing rapidly changing—and often alarming—news about a global pandemic. Fortunately, the Law School’s faculty, staff, and administrators ventured outside their comfort zones and job descriptions and worked together to ease the burden on our students. And, of course, our students have borne a tremendous disruption of their professional education with patience and grit.
Our second article describes how our legal clinics have continued running strong during this chaotic time, even while shifting their focus to helping individuals and businesses in the region impacted by the pandemic. Under the leadership of Beth Lyon, who in January was named associate dean for experiential education and director of the Law School’s Clinical Program, faculty and students in a range of clinics have been stepping up to meet the challenge. Working remotely from a variety of makeshift home offices, they have been helping small businesses access new benefits, supporting families in detention centers at risk for the virus, working with low-income residents remotely to finalize their wills, collaborating with the business school to create webinars for local small businesses, and much more.
Above all, Cornell Law School’s response to the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the powerful sense of community that has always defined this place. When we could have withdrawn from one another in resignation or fear or selfishness, members of our community have reached beyond themselves with generosity and good humor. Over these past few months, I have watched this community—over and over again—live up to A.D. White’s hope that Cornell’s lawyers would be “a blessing to the nation.”
Another defining feature of Cornell Law School is our especially rich history of producing pioneering women lawyers, which is highlighted in the theme of this issue. In the 126 years since Mary Kennedy Brown became the Law School’s first woman lawyer, there has been no shortage of notable women graduates who went on to remarkable careers, many despite, or because of, the persistent discrimination they faced. In the first two feature articles, the faculty essay by Cynthia Bowman, and the three Profile articles, we celebrate a truly remarkable group of alumnae who were—and are—trailblazers in law, business, and education.
In the first feature article, Kevin Clermont, the Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law—and the Law School’s unofficial historian—chronicles the lives of our first five alumnae. With courage, resolve, and belief in their own abilities, these pioneering lawyers helped pave the way for generations of women to enter the legal profession. The second feature article spotlights some of the Law School’s most notable female graduates of the past century, from Jane Foster (1918) to Connie Cook (1943) to Tsai Ing-wen (LL.M., 1980) to Sharice Davids (2010). I call your attention to the write up on Mary Donlon (1920), whose achievements are especially relevant to this issue. In addition to being the one-hundredth anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, this year is also the centenary of Donlon becoming editor in chief of the Cornell Law Quarterly (later the Cornell Law Review). In doing so, she became the first woman editor in chief (EIC) of a law review in the United States—decades before any other law journal elected a female to this post. In fact, three of the next four female editors in chief of law reviews were also from Cornell Law School as well.
The history of women at Cornell Law School, I should point out, is still being written. It is being written by the record number of women enrolled (e.g., the Class of 2022 is 52 percent women) and the record number of women assuming leadership roles (e.g., last year the Cornell Law Review became the first law review in the nation to elect a senior editorial board made up entirely of women). And this history is also being written by the Law School itself as we continue to research and discover amazing alumnae whose achievements have been overlooked or simply forgotten.
As we look back at our history, I take comfort in remembering that, in its 133 years, our Law School has seen plenty of challenging times, including two world wars, the Great Depression, and a flu epidemic. Like the past generations of Cornellians who experienced their own times of crisis, we will get through this one and come out the other side with a deeper appreciation of the blessing that this law school community represents.
Please continue to care for yourselves and for one another.
Eduardo M. Peñalver
Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law
Just ten days after classes across campus were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Law School launched virtual instruction on March 23.
Emily Van Dyne, a first-year law student, was expecting to return home to Brooklyn when Cornell Law School announced it would transition to online classes in mid-March. But after driving to her apartment in New York, she and her husband decided it would be safer to quarantine with her in-laws in Orlando.
Despite moving twice over a distance of more than 1,200 miles during spring break, Van Dyne did not miss a class at the Law School when instruction resumed online. “While it’s been a little difficult in terms of being able to focus and stay present,” she said, “I feel lucky, knowing that there are people who are in different time zones, that at least I get to be on the class live.”
Just ten days after classes across campus were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Law School launched virtual instruction on March 23. Faculty members who had never taught online quickly transitioned to classes on Zoom and turned to live-polling and virtual breakout rooms to keep students engaged.
Before online classes began, the Law School’s Academic Programs and Planning Committee (APPC) recommended that courses during the spring semester be graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory on a mandatory basis. After the faculty approved the recommendation, Cornell became the first top-ranked law school in the country to switch to a mandatory pass/fail grading system for the semester.
Thomas Chapman, a second-year law student and voting member of the APPC, said the committee wanted to address the diverse challenges students would face when they left campus. “There was a lot of concern about students going to unstable home situations,” he said. “There may be a lack of internet access or students unable to focus on their courses the way that they normally would because of family situations or a health crisis.”
As faculty began teaching online, they had to revamp some of the pedagogical techniques they had used in the physical classroom for virtual learning. In her Contemporary American Juries class, for example, Valerie Hans, the Charles F. Rechlin Professor of Law, split up the sixteen students in the seminar into breakout rooms to work on issues, such as negotiating a damage award, so they could have small group discussions.
“One of the shocks for the students is they’ve been part of the community at the Law School,” Hans said. “Now the students are all over the world—many across the United States and some in other countries. The opportunity to have some moments to connect one-on-one with other students is something that you can preserve, but you have to think about how to use the technology to facilitate it.”
In his Civil Procedure course, Kevin Clermont, the Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law, asked the sixty-five students to answer questions during class using a platform called Reef Polling. While the polling helped students stay engaged, Clermont said creating an interactive environment in a larger class on Zoom was a challenge.
Switching to online classes was less of an obstacle for students in the LL.M. in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship program at Cornell Tech. The students were already familiar with Zoom and many had participated in a multimedia classroom using videoconferencing with law students in Ithaca.
“These are students who are comfortable being in a technological environment,” said Matthew D’Amore, associate dean at Cornell Tech and professor of the practice. “I think they made the switch as seamlessly as they could have.”
While classes went online, students continued to participate in an array of organizations and activities at the Law School with Zoom. One group of students even offered a guided meditation class, which had been held on campus, to their classmates online.
“Their concern for their classmates is one of the hallmarks of Cornell Law School,” said Markeisha Miner, the dean of students. “This collegial community rose to the challenge, which was not surprising. It was incredible to see their concern for one another when they could have focused only on themselves. It demonstrated who we are as a community.”
Faculty, students, and staff in the Law School's Clinical Program have been providing critical legal assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.
From dining-room tables and childhood bedrooms, faculty, students, and staff at Cornell Law School are responding to the coronavirus pandemic by helping businesses and workers in the region access new benefits, supporting families in detention centers at risk for the virus, and working with low-income residents remotely to finalize their wills.
The effort to address the legal implications of the crisis has been coordinated by the Law School’s Clinical Program, which works with clients who cannot afford legal services. Faculty leading seven clinical programs have counseled clients with the help of students working remotely from their homes.
“The clinical program is an entire, miniature law office imbedded in the Law School that has been running for sixty years, and within a matter of days, the Law School staff converted it into an online enterprise,” said Beth Lyon, associate dean for experiential education and Clinical Program director at the Law School.
As dozens of businesses in Tompkins County were forced to close or drastically reduce their operations, the Law School’s Entrepreneurship Law Clinic helped develop a series of eight webinars to educate local companies about how they could accommodate employees’ needs and comply with new state and federal laws. The webinars, which began on March 25, are cosponsored by Cornell’s College of Business and the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.
“There are businesses in Ithaca that have just been devastated by this,” said Celia Bigoness, associate clinical professor of law who directs the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic. “A lot of them don’t have in-house human resources departments to help them with their compliance, which under the best of circumstances is complicated, and now the federal government and state are enacting new regulations.”
A dozen students enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic helped research and write the content for the webinars, which are free and are accessible on the chamber’s website.
On April 13, students and faculty from the Law School’s 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic, taught by Professor Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, presented a webinar on “Immigrants, Public Benefits, and COVID-19.” Over 1,000 attendees tuned into the webinar from around the country to get answers to questions surrounding the “public charge rule” that took effect at the end of February 2020. First-year students Sarah DeYoung ’22 and Camilah Hamideh ’22 led the presentation, which also featured Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr ‘81, an immigration law expert.
In a rapidly moving case seeking a temporary restraining order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, three faculty members filed a friend of the court brief on March 30 supporting release of families held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. The brief was filed on behalf of nine public health experts, including Basil Safi, executive director of Cornell’s Office of Engagement Initiatives, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The continued detention of immigrant families is a recipe for a public health disaster,” said Ian Kysel, a codirector of the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic, who filed the brief with Lyon and Chantal Thomas, the Radice Family Professor of Law. “By the time the first cases are diagnosed in family detention, they will almost certainly have become COVID-19 hotspots.”
Also responding to this threat, Estelle McKee, a clinical professor of law who is codirector of the asylum clinic, is working with her students to secure the release of individual clients from federal detention centers.
Many of the clinics are pivoting in response to the pandemic. The Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic is preparing a best-practices document for remote representation for a national nonprofit, and the Gender Justice Clinic is addressing the impact of COVID-19 in Kashmir in a submission to the United Nations.
Meanwhile, as the state’s family courts began to shut down, Lyon and her students in the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic, over the course of twenty-four hours, developed and filed an emergency motion to appoint a guardian for a young farmworker who just lost his U.S.-based family.
Days later, a judge signed the order, giving the young man stability and putting him on a path to citizenship. “It’s a real turnaround in his life,” Lyon said.
Another clinical program, the Estate Planning Practicum, created a system for remote will execution with low-income clients in Tompkins County. The faculty who teach the practicum — Jill Miller ’91, Michael O’Connor, and Andrew Stamelman ’83 — are adjunct professors living outside of Ithaca, and many of their students had to leave town.
“They could have said, ‘Sorry, we can’t finish your will and we’ll call you when this is all over,’” Lyon said. “But they know that having a will is especially important at a time like this, so the faculty, students, and community partners are bending over backwards to get this done. As lawyers and lawyers-in-training, we have the privilege and a special responsibility to extend our efforts to mitigate inequality as this crisis unfolds.”
As to life for early women students at Cornell Law specifically, a close look at the lives of the school’s first five alumnae will give us some sense of their experiences. In what follows we shall chronicle the lives of these alumnae: Elva Hulburd Young, Mary Kennedy Brown, Helen Mae Colegrove, Frances Alice Kellor, and Abbie "Gail" Hill Laughlin.
Imagining the experiences of the early alumnae of Cornell Law1 would be difficult for any man or woman in the twenty-first century. Certainly, general studies of early women college students exist,2 including accounts with a focus on women students at Cornell University in its early years.3 The existence of the latter is not surprising, as Cornell was one of the first coeducational colleges in the United States, enrolling its first woman student in 1870 and considerably expanding its roster of women students after the opening of Sage Hall in 1875 as a residence for women. By 1895, 224 women were enrolled at Cornell University. Yet women students lived separate lives, and were opposed or ignored by most male students and some faculty.4
We begin with Elva Hulburd Young, even though she is the last listed. Although we know relatively little about her life, she left her impressions of women’s life at Cornell Law in a form preserved as history.
Elva Hulburd Young was born in Columbus, Ohio, on September 5, 1873, the first of two children of Charles L. Young (1850–1926) and Cora E. Richardson (1852–1908). On November 15, 1905, she married an 1897 graduate of Yale named Charles Thorne Van Winkle (1872–1954), who had taught for a few years at a private school in Ossining, New York, but was then working as a mining engineer in Silverton, Colorado. Elva moved to Silverton, and around 1910 she and her husband moved to Salt Lake City. They had four children: Elva (1906–1996), Charles, Jr. (1908–1974), Frances (1910–2006), and Richard (1913–1993). She died in Salt Lake City on March 31, 1951.
Elva came to Cornell Law with an 1896 B.A. from Wellesley College, where she was president of her class. (She also earned an M.A. at Wellesley in 1898, with a thesis entitled “The Influence of Seasons on Conduct.”) Students with a college education were then relatively rare at Cornell Law. Both Wellesley College and Cornell University offered four-year B.A. programs. Operating then as a separately administered undergraduate department of the university, Cornell Law was much less demanding. It had opened in 1887 as a two-year LL.B. program,6 and a student could skip the first year by passing an advanced placement examination.7 All that was required for admission was a “reputable” high school diploma or a successful oral entrance examination. This leniency resulted from competition with the then-predominant alternative route into the law: reading law in a law office.
Elva loved Wellesley, but Cornell not so much. In 1898 she compared the two experiences in an essay entitled “Coeducation and Education.” A brief summary of the essay with relevant quotations follows here:8
In the first sentence of the essay, Elva notes a circumstance of a Cornell professional school—“women are present only in ones and twos”—that surely colored her experience. In the next paragraph, she calls Wellesley “the College Beautiful.”
She observes: “In coeducation the girl is the co-ed. The man is educated; the woman is educated with the man.” Her analysis of the differences between her education at Wellesley and coeducation at Cornell concludes that the assumed benefits of coeducation are overstated, while the real costs are discounted.
Among the costs she tallies, coeducation reduces the opportunity for the woman to develop her own individuality: “[When college men and women] work together, the result is satisfactory to neither. Class banquets that are not class banquets,—the men going to a hotel, the women to their gymnasium; . . . class meetings where only men speak . . . ,—all this may be trivial, but it proves pleasant to no one.”
Elva then went out in the world or, more precisely, back with her family who had moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1899 she was the first woman to win admission to the bar in western Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, she was appointed a special commissioner by Massachusetts governor Roger Wolcott. But making her way was not easy, as she recounted in a 1902 article entitled “The Law as a Profession for Women”:9
After noting that there were probably no more than 200 women in active practice in the country, Elva points out that popular prejudice still stands in the way. But most importantly, practicing law is likely not going to help one meet living expenses. The money lies in corporate and commercial work, wherein personal connections and business experience, a man has an advantage over a woman, “no matter what her experience or ability . . . . I also find that women do not, as a whole, prefer women as lawyers. In fact they quite prefer men . . . .”
Nonetheless, Elva closes on a more positive note: “However, outside of strict professional duties, there is unquestionably a real need for women with a legal education. All women need to know more of the law of contract and property; it is needed for the woman’s protection, it is needed for the good of the community.” Moreover, “when a woman is made to suffer unjustly, it is the woman attorney who has the most effective power to ask for a change. A tremendous power for good lies in her hands if she only have the preparation and courage to exercise it.”
Yet Elva dropped out of law after marriage. She continued to serve as bursar of the American Association of University Women from 1901 to 1915. She was head of the Utah Wellesley Club and gave a lecture in 1911 to the Ladies’ Literary Club on the topic “Education and the Higher Life.” The photo on the previous page from the 1928 yearbook for Salt Lake City’s West High School shows Elva—Mrs. Van Winkle—as a teacher of history and debate.
We know more about Elva’s predecessors’ lives than about their Cornell Law experiences. But their lives speak volumes.
Mary E. Kennedy10 was born on July 19, 1864, outside tiny Troy, Vermont, near the Canadian border, one of four children of Michael Kennedy and Amanda Melvina Webber. Michael was a first-generation Irish American and a farmer who grew hops and maintained a 400-tree sugar maple orchard on his 225-acre farm. One of Mary’s brothers, James Carroll Kennedy (1852–1924; B.C.E. 1879 Cornell), became a very successful mining engineer, working in Colorado and elsewhere in the West.
In 1884 Mary graduated from the “classical department” of St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont. She went to Colorado to teach, and also served as the first assistant principal, at Colorado Springs High School. She soon met and, about 1888, married Dr. Frank P. Brown (1857–1889). The newlyweds lived the high life, traveling throughout the United States and Europe, until Dr. Brown died, leaving his wife a large fortune. In 1890 Mary Kennedy Brown enrolled as a special student at Wellesley College for one year to study history and English literature.
Litigation over her own business matters, and presumably her brother’s Cornell experience, led Mary in 1891 to enter Cornell Law. Despite the demanding workload, she did well in the class of sixty-two students, writing her required thesis11 and receiving her LL.B. in 1893.12 Through competitive orations, she was selected as one of seven university students to deliver an address at Cornell University’s graduation ceremony.
After graduation Mary stayed on in Ithaca for a while, teaching a SUNY course entitled Evolution and Present Condition of the Laws Affecting Women. Mary then moved to Illinois, where she was admitted to the bar in 1894. She practiced in Chicago for three years, at the notable firm of Collins, Goodrich, Darrow & Vincent. In addition, she was active in Republican women’s groups and supported woman suffrage. From Chicago, Mary moved to Boston and practiced law there. In 1899, she married the well-to-do Lt. Alan Wyldbore Bosworth-Smith (1870–1901), heir to an English baronetcy, at Pembroke Church in Hamilton, Bermuda. Soon the couple moved to England, and Mary became a British subject. Soon thereafter, she experienced another marital tragedy when, in a North Sea storm, Alan went down with the ship he commanded. Yet Mary was to marry again. Her third husband was Count Dumolin of Munich. Mary moved to Germany, living for several years as Countess Dumolin in Munich and Berlin before the war.
However, it seems that Mary’s third marriage did not end well, for she returned to the United States, where she lived at a series of not-so-posh addresses in lower Manhattan. No longer a U.S. citizen, she could not enter the New York State bar. Instead, she took a clerical position at the American Book Company in Washington Square. Mary died on April 29, 1932, in her apartment at 223 W. 17th Street in New York City. She had been ailing for about a year. She had no children and lived alone. Her kindly landlady, Mrs. Nora Lamy, had been taking care of her but did not know what to do with the body. She contacted Mary’s lawyer, but he refused to take responsibility and “said to let the City bury her.”13 The Cornell Club interceded and tracked down Mary’s niece in Vermont to make final arrangements.
Helen Mae Colegrove was born in Salamanca, New York, on April 18, 1873, one of two children of John P. Colegrove (1833–1916) and Salina Parker, who were both doctors. She went directly from Salamanca High School to Cornell Law. While at Cornell, she engaged in all kinds of activities, including the Cornell Congress, the Cornell Chorus, the Sage Parliament, and the Wayside Club for women, and she also served as class secretary! She was a Delta Gamma sister. Her thesis was on trademark law.14
After graduation, Helen Mae returned to her hometown of Salamanca, and on April 19, 1898, married Buffalo native Walter Charles Nichols (1867–1965), who had come to her door as a door-to-door salesman. The couple moved to Buffalo, where they had two children: Phillips (Cornell ’23) and Helen (Cornell ’24).
Helen Mae was very active in Buffalo-area woman suffrage and political groups, serving as director of the Women’s Education and Industrial Union, a member of the Political Equality Club, chair of the Executive Committee for Woman Suffrage in Buffalo, and a charter member of Buffalo’s League of Women Voters. Helen Mae seemed to have some money;15 she and her husband would later spend summers and winters in Canada and Florida. In her last two years, Helen Mae was wheelchair-bound and lived across the street from her daughter in Waverly, Pennsylvania. She died on June 1, 1964.
Helen Mae certainly instilled Cornell loyalty in her family. Both her son and her daughter graduated from Cornell. Her daughter, Helen Nichols ’24, had three children, members of the Classes of 1950, 1952, and 1955 at Cornell; Helen Nichols’ husband, Cornell Class of 1923, was a famous architect who designed Lynah Rink. Helen Nichols and her daughter, Gretchen Von Storch also pledged Delta Gamma. Gretchen and her son, well-known architect Whitney Sander, describe this line of families as “matriarchal.” Helen Mae, whom they further describe as being modest, remained connected with Cornell until late in her life, through both the Delta Gamma sorority and the Buffalo Club of Cornell Women.
Frances Alice Kellor16, one of Cornell Law School’s first LGBT+ students, was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1873. Soon after her birth and her father’s abandonment, she and her mother moved to Coldwater, Michigan. As a child, “Alice” hunted with a slingshot and rifle and helped her mother, who was a laundress. When financial hardship forced Alice to drop out of high school to find a job, she became a newspaper typesetter, and then worked as a reporter. At sixteen, she moved in with the wealthy Eddy sisters, who were local social activists and took on the task of homeschooling her.
In 1895, she, and perhaps Frances Eddy, moved to Ithaca, where she enrolled in Cornell Law after passing an entrance exam. Now known as “Frances,” Kellor became president of the Women’s Debating Club. In 1897 she founded the Women’s Boating Club, which lasted until 1933, when it went into hiatus until being revived in 1974 and becoming a varsity sport in 1975. She got a shell and a boathouse built. Later, with a former girlfriend, Frances would coauthor Athletic Games in the Education of Women (1909), which championed the importance of physical exercise in the emancipation of women.
Frances wrote an impressive senior thesis at Cornell,17 which argued for incorporating the lessons of the new social science of criminal anthropology into criminal law. The die was cast. Although she would use her legal training on a daily basis, she would not be a practicing lawyer. Instead, she was off to the University of Chicago for graduate studies in sociology. There she would rail against the genetic theory of crime being pushed by the dominant Italian school of criminal anthropology. Frances’s field studies in local and southern prisons yielded her first book, Experimental Sociology (1901), which stressed the socioeconomic influences on crime. She lived and worked in Hull House, the famous settlement house founded by Jane Addams. She also earned extra money as a gymnastics instructor and basketball coach at the university.
In 1902 Frances moved to New York City, a permanent change of location, for further studies at what is now known as the Columbia University School of Social Work. She lived and worked at the Henry Street settlement house. In 1904 she began her lifelong partnership—passionate, playful, and mutually supportive—with the well-to-do progressive Mary E. Dreier (1875–1963). A happier personality emerged after she moved in with Mary, but Frances remained the same brusque, independent-minded, persistent, pragmatic, down-to-earth, and modest person.
Frances moved into hands-on social work and eloquent social advocacy on behalf of the oppressed—blacks, women, migrants, domestic workers, immigrants, the unemployed, prostitutes, prisoners. She wrote dozens of books and uncounted articles—including classics such as Out of Work (1904, revised 1915), the first empirical (and undercover) study of unemployment and labor conditions in America. And having a gift for organization, she started movements—as director of the new Inter-Municipal Committee on Household Research, as the first executive secretary of the National League for the Protection of Colored Women (one of three organizations that later consolidated to form the National Urban League), as secretary and treasurer of the New York State (NYS) Immigration Commission, as chief of the NYS Bureau of Industries and Immigration (first woman head of a NYS bureau), as managing director of the North American Civic League for Immigrants, and as chair of the National Service Committee of the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party. Indeed, she became part of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Female Brain Trust,” with Jane Addams and Florence Kelley. It is notable that her heavy political involvement preceded women’s right to vote. Roosevelt admitted in his autobiography: “I always favored woman’s suffrage, but only tepidly, until my association with women like Jane Addams and Frances Kellor, who desired it as one means of enabling them to render better and more efficient service, changed me into a zealous instead of a lukewarm adherent of the cause . . . .” Later Frances chaired the Women’s Committee for the National [Charles Evans] Hughes Alliance, directed the National Americanization Committee, ran the Inter-Racial Council, and was president of the powerful American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers.
In addition to her service-based work and legislative reform on behalf of immigrants, Frances shifted the focus of her scholarship, which culminated in Immigration and the Future (1920). She was identified with “Americanization,” meaning assimilation and protection. Today that might be controversial, but there is no doubt as to the goodness of her intentions. In fact, her aim has been better called Multicultural Nationalism. She was concerned with the material well-being of immigrants and believed that they could better fight against exploitation and for their economic interests once they adopted some aspects of American life. More specifically, she provided newly arrived immigrants with leaflets and brochures in their native language informing them about the associations and networks that they could rely on to start their new life in America, encouraged immigrants to learn English and civics, and fought prejudice and sought cooperation and understanding between immigrants and long-term Americans.
In the early 1920s, as Congress stopped the inflow of immigrants, she again shifted her main attention to a newer passion: arbitration. In 1926, she would be a founder of the American Arbitration Association, effectively running the organization as its first vice president under male figureheads for the rest of her life. She worked tirelessly to educate about arbitration and to expand its use as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism in the new industrial society, for labor and international conflicts but also for all disputes as a matter of peaceful self-regulation. As part of this work, Kellor shepherded the publication of the Code of Arbitration Practice and Procedure of the American Arbitration Tribunal (1931).
Frances died in 1952 in New York City. As a New York Times editorial then put it, “She could look back over long years of life and feel sure that civilization in this country had grown more humane and intelligent during that time; she could feel sure, too, that she had had a part in making it so.”
Abbie “Gail” Hill Laughlin was born in Robbinston, Maine, on May 7, 1868, next to youngest of nine children of Robert C. Laughlin (1820–1876) and Elizabeth P. Stuart (1829–1899). Gail’s family was poor, especially after the death of her Irish-born, ironworker father. At the age of twelve she supposedly vowed to commit her life to the cause of women’s emancipation. She served that cause until her death on March 13, 1952, in Portland, Maine.
Gail came to Cornell Law after graduating first in her class at Portland High School in 1886 and then earning a B.A. from Wellesley College in 1894. Registered at Wellesley, over her objections, as “Abigail” rather than “Abbie,” she began to be called Gail by friends and soon after took Gail as her legal name. As a first-year student at Wellesley she founded the Agora Society for the study of civics and politics, then served as president all four years of her college career.18 To pay for her education, Gail worked for four years as a bookkeeper at $4 a week before entering Wellesley, and for two years after college graduation as an editorial writer for the American Economist.
Admitted to the New York State bar in 1899, she opened a law office in New York City to deal specifically with women’s issues. That venture was unsuccessful, so she moved on to the U.S. Industrial Commission from 1900 to 1902 as an expert agent conducting research on the working conditions of women in domestic service. She spent 1902 to 1906 campaigning for the National American Woman Suffrage Association as a “gospel laborer.” In 1906 she moved to Denver, where women had the right to vote and where she opened a law office and assumed several political offices. In 1914 she moved with Dr. Mary A. Sperry (1863–1919) (pictured above) to Mary’s hometown of San Francisco, where Gail opened another law office. There she continued her activism, inter alia drafting the law that allowed women to serve on California juries and defending it in the state supreme court,19 and also serving as a judge in the police court. After Dr. Sperry’s death, Gail became homesick and moved in 1924, with Mary’s ashes, back to Portland, where she practiced law with her younger brother, Frederick. In 1929, she was elected to the first of three terms in the Maine House of Representatives, followed by three terms in the Maine Senate. During her years in office she worked ceaselessly and effectively for women’s rights; for example, she passed bills raising the minimum marriage age for girls from thirteen to sixteen and preventing the commitment of women to mental institutions on their husbands’ say-so. During her last two terms in the Senate, she was chair of the Judiciary Committee, the first woman to hold that position. Afterwards she served as Maine’s first woman Reporter of Decisions. In 1931, a visiting Cornell University alumna described her as being “very successful” and living well.20 Her career, which also included being vice chair of the National Woman’s Party and the founder and president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, warranted her induction into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame. On the side, she was an avid golfer and angler.
The big picture here is that Gail was a very significant figure, nationally and in Maine. She characterized her lifelong work as being for “absolute equality in custom and law.”21 After all her successful work for suffrage, she turned her attention to the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in Congress in 1923. A highlight was her leading, as vice chair of the National Woman’s Party, a 200-car motorcade in July 1927 from Kansas to South Dakota over dirt roads in order to corner President Calvin Coolidge where he was summering in the Black Hills National Forest and to beg his support in passing the ERA. She advised the president that if he wanted his name to rank alongside Lincoln’s, he should back the proposed amendment. Referring to the fact that many women opposed the amendment out of fear of losing legal protections, Coolidge condescendingly reassured her that when most women unmistakably supported eliminating all legal differences between the sexes, they would prevail: “Men have a habit of giving women what they want.” Nonetheless, her protest garnered a massive amount of attention in the media. In sum: “The colossal feats and deeds of Gail Laughlin with regards to women’s emancipation and enfranchisement need no introduction. As an attorney-at-law, suffragist, legislator and feminist, Gail Laughlin has earned a monumental standing . . . . She pioneered the worthy crusade for equality for women and inspired them to take up challenges hitherto confined to men alone.”22
Did traditional marriage or children mesh with a legal career in the old days? The answer is no, and this answer seems not an imagined effect of those life choices. A study of thirty early women students at Cornell Law shows that 43 percent never put their degree to use.23 Of those women, all but one were married. Of those who did use their law degree, 65 percent were married,24 but “there was a tendency to discontinue practicing before or after the birth of their first child.” Moreover, “it was found that the women who remained single and practice[d] law had the most successful careers in law” among their women law peers.
At the time, a mother’s place in society was fixed, and largely incompatible with a law-based career. Even the interim goal of more equal educational opportunity awaited substantial social and legal evolution.
Helen Mae Colegrove and Elva Hulburd Young made their mark outside the law, and their lives as mothers were just as meaningful as the others’. The entire Cornell Law School family owes an eternal debt to each one of these five trailblazers—our first five alumnae.
Trailblazing Women Graduates of the Past Century
Jane Foster ’18, for whom an addition to Myron Taylor Hall, a scholarship, and an endowed professorship are named, was one of two women in her graduating class, having served as an editor of the law review and having been awarded the Order of the Coif. However, no law firm would hire her as a lawyer. The only offer she received upon her graduation was a job as a legal assistant with the New York City firm of Davies, Auerbach, and Cornell. Foster worked at the firm from 1918 to 1929, helping to restructure companies, and developing expertise in that area.
When Foster left Davies, Auerbach in 1929, Dean Charles Burdick, who had been faculty editor of the Cornell Law Quarterly when Foster had served on its editorial board, offered to help her find a job as a lawyer. He contacted law firms, banks, and the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C., on her behalf, but to no avail. One response, from a prominent New York City firm, was typical: “Here in this office we have steadfastly refused to take women on our legal staff, and I know that we will continue to adhere to that policy.”
With no prospect of advancement, Foster dropped out of law and put her business and financial skills to work elsewhere. Foster had invested wisely, though; she held stock in companies such as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company—the company that was to become IBM. She continued to live in Brooklyn Heights, and focused her considerable legal and business skills on the affairs of her friends, her community, Cornell Law School, and her own growing financial interests. In the 1950s, she returned to the family home in Portsmouth, Ohio, to care for her ailing mother. She lived there until her own death in 1993.
The Foster Professorship was first held by Peter Martin, who joined the faculty in 1972 and served as dean from 1980 to 1988. In a biography that appeared in an issue of the Cornell Law Review dedicated to Foster in 1995, Martin wrote: “By the time of her death in 1993, a week shy of her one hundredth birthday, Ms. Foster had done more to support legal education at Cornell than any other person in the school’s history—despite a career scarred and shaped by overt and ugly discrimination that most of us may like to forget, but she never could. . . . In life, she was uncomfortable with public attention, but she was proud of what she was able to do for legal education at Cornell.”
At the dedication of the Jane Foster addition to Myron Taylor Hall in 1989, then Dean Russell K. Osgood said “This house . . . built with the generosity of a careful, humble woman, to whom many opportunities were closed because of her sex . . . will remind us that our society, and our legal system, are not built and should not operate to confirm the powerful in their privileges, but to empower all people, to unlock the potential in the mass of us, to do something and to do it well.”
Mary Donlon ’20 was the first woman to be editor in chief of a law review in the United States, decades ahead of any other claimant to that honor. Even more impressive, she was the first woman to become a partner at a Wall Street law firm. Donlon’s credo that every successful woman should provide “a strong pair of shoulders” on which other women could climb was expressed through her personal example, her active encouragement of other women, and her constant campaigns on behalf of the women of Cornell.
Donlon was born and grew up in Utica, New York, and graduated from the Utica Free Academy. She was clearly an outstanding student in her four-year program at Cornell, and was elected to Mortar Board, the senior honor society, based on grades. Most unusual of all, after two years of service on the Cornell Law Quarterly, she was elected editor in chief, the only woman on a board of fourteen editors and the only woman elected editor in chief at any law school in the United States prior to World War II. Other schools were slow to follow, with the first woman editor in chief at Columbia in 1952, at Stanford in 1964, and at Harvard in 1977. Cornell Law School stood out in 1920 as very much ahead of its time.
Donlon’s story is even more remarkable because she found employment as a lawyer upon graduation from law school at the Wall Street law firm of Burke & Burke. Women law graduates at that time were largely frozen out of the market for attorneys in New York City. Moreover, in 1928 Donlon was made a partner, becoming the first woman partner at a Wall Street firm. This distinction has almost universally been attributed to Soia Mentschikoff in 1944, followed by a long hiatus. Most Wall Street firms did not have a single woman partner until the late 1970s and early 1980s, and women are still underrepresented in this role.
Donlon worked at Burke & Burke for almost twenty-five years and was the only woman attorney at the firm during that entire period. Her work there apparently included serving as counsel to a number of foreign corporations and their American affiliates and handling legal matters concerning importation of goods to the United States.
Donlon remained very involved in Cornell after her graduation and was elected to the Cornell University Board of Trustees in 1937 and 1942 and was the only woman on the board until 1944. Moreover, she was the only woman later to be reelected by the board itself, and she served in this capacity from 1946 to 1966. She was the first woman chosen to be on the Executive Committee and served for a time as its vice chair.
Donlon also played an active role in the Republican Party of New York State, serving as a delegate to the national party convention numerous times and as a New York member of the Committee on Resolutions that drafted a national party platform. She was the first woman to head a resolutions subcommittee at a Republican National Convention.
Because of her Republican Party connections and service as a Cornell trustee, Donlon was instrumental in the establishment of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The idea of starting such a school at Cornell was conceived by Donlon’s friend Irving M. Ives, at that time the majority leader in the New York State Assembly. Donlon acted as an intermediary between Ives and Cornell president Edmund Ezra Day and helped Ives convince members of the board of trustees to establish the ILR School.
In 1944 New York governor Thomas E. Dewey appointed Donlon chair of the New York State Industrial Board, and a year later chair of the New York State Workmen’s Compensation Board, in which capacity she served until 1955. Dewey would later proclaim that “few women, and, indeed, few men, have done as much for government as Mary Donlon.”
As one of only three women in the New York State Assembly from 1962 to 1974, Connie Cook ’43 led extraordinary efforts—against the odds—to create change within a male-dominated government. As a Republican assemblywoman for New York’s 125th district, she fought for women’s rights and authored legislation in 1970 that decriminalized abortion in New York State, which paved the way for Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Cook’s groundbreaking tenure in the state legislature wasn’t the first time she was in the vanguard, and it wouldn’t be the last. She was one of only three women in the Cornell Law School Class of 1943. After graduating, she worked as one of the first female lawyers in a New York City corporate firm, at a time when such firms did not even have women’s bathrooms.
She went on to serve as confidential legal aide to New York governor Thomas Dewey and as legislative and administrative aide to R. Ashbery, state representative from New York’s 125th district. When Ashbery retired, Cook ran for his seat, taking on a four-way Republican primary before facing and defeating her Democratic opponent. This was the first of multiple trailblazing campaigns for public office that Cook undertook over the course of her career. In 1974 she became the first woman in her district to run for U.S. Congress. Though she lost then, and in a second campaign in 1980, her efforts set a precedent.
Cook challenged the status quo not only as a political representative and candidate but also as a litigator. In 1976 she represented Rev. Betty Bone Schiess, one of the first female Episcopal priests in the United States. When the Central New York diocese refused Schiess a license, Cook brought suit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC ruled in Schiess’s favor, compelling the Episcopal Church of the United States to allow the ordination of female priests nationwide. This was the same year that Cook became the first female vice president of Cornell University; she presided over land grant affairs from 1976 to 1980. In 1987, she joined the Ithaca firm of True, Walsh, and Miller, where she worked tirelessly until her retirement in 1992.
In 2015, Ithaca-based filmmaker Sue Perlgut released Connie Cook: A Documentary, which celebrates Cook as “a woman ahead of her time.” The fifty-five-minute, interview-driven documentary focuses principally on Cook’s fight to decriminalize abortion and includes a diverse cast of politicians and Cook’s family, friends, and colleagues, along with archival footage of Cook’s life and work.
Although Mary Donlon ’20 was the first woman to head a law review, she was followed by the third, fourth, and fifth “first” women editors in chief in the 1940s, long before most other law journals got around to electing a woman to this post. In the spring 2014 issue of this magazine, Cynthia Bowman, the Dorothea S. Clark Professor of Law, recounted the rich lives of three of these women—Doris Banta Pree ’46, Elizabeth Storey Landis ’48, and Jean Ripton Peterson ’49—and the challenges they faced as they pursued careers as lawyers. All of them went on to employment as lawyers for their entire working lives and succeeded at a time when women lawyers were not welcomed into the profession.
Doris Banta Pree practiced with a St. Louis firm and its successor for thirty-five years, although she was not made a partner until the early 1960s, almost twenty years after she’d started there. Initially, the firm would not put her full name on the firm stationery, referring to her as D. J. Banta. It also regularly held meetings in men-only clubs, some of which would not allow women even to come in for a meal. Although she had gone into law because she was interested in trying cases, she spent most of her career doing appellate work, with very few trials in lower courts on the side, while she watched young male associates get assigned to work on litigation. In 1980, Banta—now Doris Banta Pree—left the law firm to become vice president and general counsel at the St. Louis Water Company, a client for which she had worked at the firm. She worked there for eleven years.
Elizabeth Storey Landis ’48 dedicated her life’s work to African law and independence. Throughout her career, Landis, who died in 2015, was a consistent supporter of the Annual Fund and made a bequest to the Law School in her will. In honor of that bequest, the Law School’s newest and largest lecture hall was renamed the Elizabeth Storey Landis Auditorium in a ceremony on March 24, 2017. To mark the historic occasion, Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, unveiled a portrait to be hung in the auditorium. In spite of her qualifications, Landis faced a problem many women law school graduates encountered in the 1940s: she couldn’t find a job. Instead, Landis earned a doctorate in law from the University of Lyon, and began work on a project to codify the laws of Liberia, which was adopted by the Liberian legislature in 1956; the following year, she was awarded the Liberian Humane Order of African Redemption. In the 1960s, she began to publish widely on law, human rights, and southern Africa, and remained closely connected to liberation struggles in Africa, working for the United Nations Council for Namibia as its senior political affairs officer from 1976 to 1981.
Following graduation, Jean Ripton Peterson ’49 went to work at the Buffalo law firm of Stanley Falk, who had become a mentor to her during summer internships. Following the birth of Peterson’s first of eight children, Falk, who was on the New York State Board of Law Examiners, hired her as an assistant law examiner to write exam questions and grade exams, a job that could be done from home. Peterson worked at this job from 1951 to 1981, when her youngest child was in middle school. From 1977 until 1984 Peterson also served as the chief attorney for the Erie County Court, and from 1984 to 1988, she was the attorney for the Town of Hamburg. She also served as counsel for the New York State Industrial Development Agency, in Hamburg, from 1984 until 2001, when she finally retired from the practice of law.
In a landmark election in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, LL.M. ’80, was elected president of Taiwan—the first woman to hold the island nation’s highest office. In January 2020, Tsai was reelected in a landslide victory that was widely interpreted as a protest against China’s attempts to exert control over the island.
After receiving her law degree from National Taiwan University, Tsai earned her Master of Laws degree at Cornell Law School. While the LL.M. program is one year, Tsai stayed at Cornell for two years, before earning a doctorate in law from the London School of Economics.
Tsai was one of the prime negotiators for Taiwan’s membership in the World Trade Organization in the 1990s, and she once served as national security adviser to President Lee Teng-hui, Ph.D. ’68, the first Cornell alumnus elected Taiwan’s president, who served from 1988 to 2000.
Upon Tsai’s reelection, Dean Peñalver noted that “the Law School cannot realistically claim any credit for President Tsai’s tremendous success leading Taiwan for the past four years. That said, Tsai Ing-wen stands out among an illustrious list of Cornell Law School alumni who have gone on to distinguished careers in public service.”
In November 2018, Sharice Davids ’10 made history when she became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress and the first openly gay representative from Kansas. A Democrat and member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Davids defeated four-term incumbent Republican U.S. representative Kevin Yoder in Kansas’s 3rd district, which includes the Kansas City area.
At a ceremony on March 30, 2019, in New York City, Davids received the Steven W. Siegel ’68 Award from Cornell’s LGBT Alumni Association, CUGALA. The annual award recognizes an individual who has made a significant impact in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Last year, we reset expectations nationally around politics,” she told the audience. “In the 116th Congress, there are more women and more people of color than ever before. Our members come from different religious backgrounds and different socioeconomic situations. . . . We are people who understand the everyday lives and struggles of our constituents. Because we are living them ourselves.”
Davids shares the distinction of becoming the first Native American woman elected to Congress with Debra Haaland, another Democrat who won a House seat, from New Mexico’s 1st district. Both were part of a record number of ninety-eight women who were elected to the House of Representatives in 2018.
Raised by a single mother who was an Army drill sergeant, Davids attributes her success to hard work and a focus on education. Davids was in training to be a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter while attending the Law School and would drive to Cortland and Syracuse to train with coaches. She later became a professional MMA fighter and traveled around the country competing in the women’s division.
Jack Barceló Retires after Fifty-One Years
Jack Barceló, who led the International Legal Studies Program for more than forty years, was the longest-serving faculty member in the history of the Law School.
Preparing for the final lecture in a fifty-one-year career, John J. Barceló III thought back to his student days at Harvard Law School.
“It was our last class in Conflict of Laws, which I knew I’d be teaching at Cornell the following spring,” says Barceló, who retired at the end of 2019. “In the middle of the lecture, the professor referred to a case and mentioned that the judge who wrote the opinion had been in his first law class. ‘And you,’ he said, ‘are in my last.’ That was it. I thought that was so elegant, I might try something similar. So I said, ‘Professor Hillman is retiring today. He was in the first class I ever taught. You are in my last.’ And I enjoyed that last class as much as I enjoyed the one before that and the one before that.”
Barceló arrived at Cornell Law School as a twenty-eight-year-old in 1969, having earned a J.D. from Tulane University, spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bonn, and completed course and research work for an S.J.D., which he received from Harvard Law School. He started as an assistant professor, probably the first entry-level professor in Cornell Law School history, and joined a small, close-knit international and comparative law faculty led by Rudolf Schlesinger and Robert A. Anthony.
Over the next half century, Barceló taught nine courses— Administrative Law, Admiralty Law, Conflict of Laws, European Union Law, International Business Transactions, International Commercial Arbitration, Public International Law, Torts, and WTO Law—along with founding the Cornell-Paris I Summer Institute of International and Comparative Law, leading the Law School’s LL.M. and J.S.D. programs, and serving as an arbitrator under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law rules.
“Jack touched countless generations of Cornell Law students,” says Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “He’s one of the pillars of this academic community, a key figure for all of us, and it’s hard to exaggerate his impact. From the latter part of the twentieth century through the first two decades of the twenty-first, he carried the torch of international law at Cornell, taking a field we’d always been known for, creating new strengths, and building an international reputation.”
“Cornell’s international program is spoken of very highly around the world, and a lot of that credit goes to Jack,” says Muna Ndulo, who succeeded Barceló as the Elizabeth and Arthur Reich Director of the Leo and Arvilla Berger International Legal Studies Program. “Jack laid the foundations of the program. He carried on the spirit of his mentor, Rudy Schlesinger, and brought a new depth to comparative legal studies at Cornell.”
Looking to expand international opportunities for Cornell Law School students, Barceló founded the Cornell-Paris I summer institute, which led to dual-degree programs that now link Cornell to Paris I, Sciences Po, and Berlin’s Humboldt University. He coauthored International Commercial Arbitration: A Transnational Perspective (West), which remains essential reading in law schools around the world, and in 2012, in recognition of a lifetime spent working toward international cooperation, Barceló was inducted into France’s Legion of Honour, the highest award the nation gives to noncitizens.
At the time, Dean Stewart J. Schwab called Barceló “the center of the Law School’s growth in international and comparative law.” More recently, Chantal Thomas, the Radice Family Professor of Law, describes Barceló as a man of many accomplishments, singling out the summer institute as “one of his crowning achievements,” along with a talent for welcoming and supporting colleagues. For Mitchel Lasser, the Jack G. Clarke Professor of Law, Barceló’s legacy “is that he helped to construct one of the most internationally oriented institutions of higher legal education in the world. He’s an enormously important figure, a pioneer in international collaboration, but what’s less talked about is the graciousness, the elegance that continues to be an absolutely essential feature of who he is.”
For Barceló, who’s taught in Aix-en-Provence, Barcelona, Berlin, Bonn, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Munich, New Orleans, Paris, Tempe, and Turin, the most satisfying part of his career has been teaching students about the importance of the rule of law in advancing freedom across the globe. “I was in a good mood for that last class, and oddly, it was not a sad day,” he says. “I focused on substance, which is what has always been most fun for me. Now, many people might think international commercial arbitration doesn’t sound exciting. But for me, it always was. Because it’s closely related to globalization, to the idea of bringing people all over the world closer and closer together, of bringing nations together to focus on advancing human prosperity.
“Teaching that always had an extra level of excitement for me, and I loved it,” continues Barceló, who looks forward to spending his retirement traveling, researching, and lecturing. “I always loved it.”
“Reasonable Bob” Hillman Retires after Four Decades
Robert A. Hillman, the Edwin H. Woodruff Professor of Law and a 1972 graduate of the Law School, retired in June after thirty-eight years of teaching.
On the last day of Bob Hillman’s final Contracts class, his colleagues crowded into the classroom to wish him a happy retirement. Cornell Law School was losing an incisive legal mind and an engaging classroom teacher.
But for his fellow faculty members, the Law School was also losing a kind friend who would take care of you when you were sick. A genial regular at the lunch group who would regale you—repeatedly, it must be said—with the story about the time he was sued for reckless parking. The “soul of the Law School,” according to Professor Kevin M. Clermont.
“He’s certainly the most loved professor in the Law School,” said Clermont, the Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law. “We’re losing Norm from Cheers.”
“The ‘reasonable person’ standard is one that we use in a number of areas of law,” said Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “Bob is the most reasonable person I’ve ever met. And this is a commonly held view.”
“One of Bob’s Contracts classes felt that way as well. And as an end-of-semester gift, they presented him with a nameplate for his desk that says simply ‘Reasonable Bob.’”
Robert A. Hillman, the Edwin H. Woodruff Professor of Law, retired in June after thirty-eight years of teaching at Cornell Law School. A 1972 graduate of the Law School, he joined the faculty in 1982 after clerking for two federal judges in the Southern District of New York, working at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, and teaching for seven years at the University of Iowa College of Law. In the nearly four decades since he returned to Cornell, Hillman taught and conducted research on contracts and contract theory, the Uniform Commercial Code, and related jurisprudence.
In the classroom, Hillman used humor and a conversational touch, rather than dry lectures, to connect with students. “I used the Socratic method, which I’m a total believer in. But I wasn’t trying to scare the students to death. I was just trying to establish a dialogue, first with one student, and then get other students engaged and part of the discussion.”
Gregory S. Alexander, the A. Robert Noll Professor of Law, Emeritus, was one of Hillman’s close colleagues. Whenever Alexander’s specialties of property law and trusts and estates came up in Hillman’s Contracts class or vice versa, they would rib each other about supposedly not knowing anything about their own areas of study. But when Alexander actually had a question about contract law, he knew where to turn.
“Bob’s response never was, ‘I’m gonna have to get back to you,’” Alexander said. “Bob always had the answer off the top of his head. He didn’t have to look anything up, because he knew it already.”
In addition to authoring numerous articles in prominent journals, Hillman has written many books, including Contract and Related Obligation: Theory, Doctrine, and Practice, now in its seventh edition, with his mentor and fellow Law School professor, the late Robert S. Summers, and University of Pennsylvania law professor David A. Hoffman; the four-volume treatise Uniform Commercial Code, now in its sixth edition, with Summers and University of Michigan law professor emeritus James J. White; Principles of Contract Law, now in its third edition; and The Richness of Contract Law. Over the last decade, he has taken a particular interest in the law pertaining to software contracts, and was the Reporter for the American Law
Institute’s Principles of the Law of Software Contracts. In March 2019, Hillman received a lifetime achievement award for his scholarship at the International Conference on Contracts.
Hillman’s collegial nature also made him a natural fit for the administrative side of academic life. Hillman served as the Law School’s associate dean for academic affairs for seven years, as well as chairing the Appointments Committee three times and serving on two dean search committees, including the committee that interviewed and recommended Peñalver. “Bob Hillman was just incredible at getting in the middle and mediating things and keeping the Law School together” despite the sometimes fractious nature of academic politics, Clermont said. “Nobody ever wants to argue with Bob.”
Peñalver recalled how Hillman and his wife, Betsy, sold Peñalver on Ithaca as a place to live and raise a family, taking Peñalver and his wife, Sital Kalantry, out to dinner and regaling them with tales of time on their boat. “And so when Sital and I moved to Ithaca, our first house was over on the west shore of the lake,” Peñalver said.
In retirement, Hillman is looking forward to the snowbird’s life shuttling between Ithaca and Florida. He plans to spend his time enjoying the outdoors, serving on volunteer boards, and updating his books. He’s not ruling out teaching a class here or there, either. “Honestly,” Hillman said, “I am not completely sanguine about the idea of not teaching anymore.”
Owen Lubozynski prepared this summary of Cynthia Grant Bowman’s paper, “Women in the Legal Profession, 1920–1970s: What Can We Learn from Their Experience about Law and Social Change?,” 61 Me. L. Rev. 1 (2009).
Jane Foster, for whom a Law School building, scholarship, and endowed professorship are named, graduated from Cornell Law School in 1918, having served as an editor of the Law Review and been awarded the Order of the Coif. But no law firm wanted her services. She obtained employment not as a lawyer but as a legal assistant, a position she held from 1918 to 1929, with no prospect of advancement. Ultimately, she dropped out of law and put her business and financial skills to work elsewhere, amassing the fortune that made her benevolence to Cornell Law School possible.
Foster entered the legal field during a complicated period: the 1920s, and then through the 1970s, after women had been admitted to the bar in every state, but before the passage of the civil rights laws that forced law firms to admit women into practice on allegedly equal terms with men. What can we learn from their experience? Women’s experiences in law varied with the decade they graduated from law school.
The 1920s were the postwar era of optimism, the New Woman, and economic expansion. By 1920, all states admitted women to the bar.1 While women were admitted at a number of elite law schools as well, most attended part-time law schools for women, often at night. The top twelve law schools attended by women had 84 women students in 1920 and 370 in 1939.2 Yet these women found it virtually impossible to find employment in law offices. They took whatever jobs they could find, often working as stenographers or librarians in law firms; or they went into practice with their husbands or fathers in small local or ethnic firms; or, like Jane Foster, they got discouraged and dropped out.3
The situation worsened during the Depression, when women were made to feel guilty if they applied for positions that could go to a man with a family to support.4 The only bright spot was the New Deal, which created new bureaucracies and therefore a demand for more lawyers.5 Many women law graduates found employment with the federal government during this period, though typically in nonprofessional positions. A number of Wall Street firms hired their first women associates in the 1930s and 1940s, but a path to partnership remained effectively closed to them.6
During World War II, both law schools and law firms turned to women to fill the vacancies left by enlisted men. With the return of the veterans at war’s end, however, women saw their new opportunities at law firms evaporate. By the end of the decade, women law graduates were largely back where they had started.
In the 1950s, women continued to face discrimination at firms, where partners feared that women would leave when they had children or that clients would not want to work with them. The 1960s brought little improvement. New York University School of Law reported that 90 percent of the law firms contacting its placement office refused even to interview women.7
By the 1970s, women law students were fed up with repeated rejection. A women’s rights group at NYU Law teamed up with women from Columbia Law School and, under the supervision of Harriet Rabb, the new director of the Employment Rights Project at Columbia, gathered evidence about discrimination against women at New York law firms.8 In 1971, they filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights against ten major firms.
At this point, the persistence of some extraordinary women within the legal profession in the previous decades proved important. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a 1964 graduate of Yale Law School who was then chair of the Human Rights Commission, investigated the complaint. When her investigation confirmed a pattern of discrimination, the cases went to the federal district court, and the case against the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell was assigned, by the luck of the draw, to Judge Constance Baker Motley, a 1946 Columbia Law School graduate and zealous advocate for civil rights.
The hard-fought litigation, transformed into a class action, was settled by 1977, with the named firms agreeing to guidelines that would assure the hiring of women associates.9 The lawsuits in New York were accompanied by others throughout the country.
As a result of these developments, women poured into the legal profession. The number of women lawyers jumped from 13,000 (4 percent) in 1970 to 62,000 (12.4 percent) in 1980.10 The percentage of women in large law firms increased from 14.4 percent in 1975 to 40.3 percent by 2002.11 Still, partnerships remained elusive.
The trajectories of three women who joined the Washington, D.C., law firm Covington & Burling in the 1940s and 1950s convey some of the commonalities and differences of women lawyers’ experiences during this time.
Amy Ruth Mahin was the first woman hired by the firm, during the shortage of male lawyers caused by World War II.12 She was joined by eight other women lawyers during the war, but shortly after it ended, only she remained. She worked at Covington & Burling from 1942 until her retirement in 1974, but she never became a partner. Yet the firm’s history explains that it hired women later in part because of its experience with Mahin: “Steadily, reliably she had cultivated, among other things, a virtually autonomous practice in customs litigation and, generally, in Court of Claims work; she had especially won the confidence and respect of that court’s judges.”13
Dawn Clark came to Covington & Burling as its first female summer associate in 1951 and joined the firm full-time in 1952.14 During her first two years, she worked on major litigation that was on appeal before the United States Supreme Court, developed a subspecialty in immigration law, and became known for her ability to handle the “ogre,” a notoriously difficult partner at the firm. After two years, she left to clerk for a federal district court judge and eventually entered politics. She served for eighteen years in the Illinois Senate, was elected state comptroller, and was the first woman to run for governor of Illinois.
Virginia Watkin started at Covington & Burling as an associate in 1952 and became the first woman partner there in 1974.15 Unlike Mahin, who never married, and Clark, who married much later in life and never had children, Watkin married right after graduating from college and became a mother of four over the course of her career.
Watkin became friends with Clark, partly because of their shared refusal to be excluded from lunching with their male colleagues. Still, Clark had to navigate a male-centered culture where work events were sometimes held at men-only clubs, and partners were ignorant of the demands faced by working mothers.
After the birth of her fourth child, Watkin resigned, traveled to follow her husband’s career, and eventually began working for a Boston law firm, where she was made partner. Not long after, Covington & Burling offered her a position as its first woman partner, following a Washingtonian Magazine note highlighting sexual discrimination at the firm. Watkin believed that the firm waited until Mahin retired in 1974 before making its first woman partner, perhaps because Mahin “had a lifetime companion [a woman].”
When women began to flood into Covington & Burling in the 1970s, Watkin took the new arrivals under her wing, nurturing the women who are now power players at the firm.
The law has been extremely important to any progress women have made in the legal profession. Title VII, Title IX, and the lawsuits brought against law firms, law schools, and law school placement offices were central to breaking down the persistent barriers to women’s entry into the profession.
Historical, economic, and social conditions were equally, if not more, important. Women lawyers were accepted into the legal profession in the prosperous 1920s, sent home in the Depression, sought out during World War II when men were unavailable, and dispatched again when the veterans returned.
This process was also influenced by changing norms about the role of women in society, from the 1920s notion of the New Woman to the “We Can Do It” ideal of Rosie the Riveter. The lawsuits and breakthroughs of the 1970s and 1980s were powered by the reawakening of the women’s movement in the 1960s and the activism and feminist lawmaking of the 1970s. The role of media pressure—primarily by female journalists—should also be noted.
Interconnections among gender, sexual orientation, class, and race have also played crucial roles. The relationship between Mahin’s lesbianism and her career trajectory is obvious in retrospect. The close relationship between elite law firms and the elite law schools from which they preferred to recruit sustained racial and class homogeneity. Racism continues to be a barrier for women of color at large law firms. In 2004, minority women made up fewer than 1 percent of equity partners and 2.1 percent of income partners in sixty-four large Chicago law firms.16 Their attrition rate from large law firms has been reported to be as high as 100 percent after eight years.17
Numerous issues confronted by the women whose stories appear above are still with us. Law firms are a quintessential example of a male-structured working environment; they exist in a male-dominated society, and women are still required to fit into that model if they are to succeed. It has been worse in the past, however, and might still be if it were not for the incredible determination of these women who went before.