A Pioneering Woman Lawyer


Publish Date:
April 25, 2011
Publication Title:
National Law Journal
Op-Ed or Opinion Piece
  • Barbara A. Babcock, A Pioneering Woman Lawyer, National Law Journal, April 25, 2011.


When I went to Yale Law School in the early 1960s, we women (less than 4% of the nation’s law students) faced outspoken prejudice, so raw it seems almost comical now. Our classmates pointed out that we were taking places from men who needed law degrees to support women like us. A close friend, a very intelligent man, told me that women were not cut out to be lawyers, as proven by the fact that despite their hundred years in the profession, they had not yet produced a single great female advocate, famous judge or brilliant scholar.

To myself, I thought that there probably had been some great women lawyers, but that they had been lost to the history written by men. I did not say what I recognize now, that sex discrimination stood in their way. Back then, I didn’t even know the term, or understand the concept, and wouldn’t until the modern women’s movement started a few years later.

At the end of the ’60s, a wave of women poured into law schools; overnight they were 20% of students, and today the percentage hovers around half. These were a new breed of women, not like my generation, who had sought to assimilate and not cause trouble. They came from the civil rights movement; they had demands, and they organized to pursue them.