Legal Matters: Two Historic Faculty Appointments at Stanford Law

Conversations with Barbara Babcock, the First Woman, and William B. Gould IV, the First African-American

Legal Matters: Two Historic Faculty Appointments at Stanford Law
Barbara Babcock and William B. Gould IV

Stanford Law School, circa 1972, was at a crossroads. Students had been protesting against the Vietnam War and agitating for civil rights. More women were enrolling, ticking up from 4.4 percent in 1962 to almost 16 percent in 1972. The first African-American graduate, Sallyanne Payton, JD ’68, had recently received her diploma and (now retired judge) Thelton Henderson had been recruited as assistant dean in charge of minority admissions. Yet the makeup of the faculty looked much as it had when the legal program at Stanford was founded in 1893—all white and all male.

That changed in 1972, with the appointment to the regular faculty of two firsts: Barbara Babcock as the first woman and William B. Gould IV as the first African-American.

“When I became dean, I knew my own priority was to change the sad reality that we had no women or people of color on the faculty. It was all white men. It’s hard to wrap your head around that now,” recalls Tom Ehrlich, SLS dean from 1971 to 1976, in the Babcock Remembrance. 

Both were unusual appointments for the time—neither aspired to the academic track, so didn’t have the usual credits of law review president and Supreme Court clerk. But they were outstanding practitioners in a legal profession still rife with prejudice, their accomplishments gaining national recognition and the attention of Stanford.

Gould began his career in law as an assistant general counsel with the United Auto Workers in Detroit and then as attorney for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). He was an associate with Battle, Fowler, Stokes & Kheel in New York where he arbitrated disputes in maritime, transit, and other industries and was named to the first fact-finding board established in 1967 under the New York Taylor Law. He was appointed to the faculty at Wayne State Law School in Detroit in 1968. Babcock began her career as an associate at Williams & Connolly before becoming a public defender and her subsequent appointment as the inaugural director of the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia. She was invited to design and teach a new class at Georgetown Law called Women and the Law—one of the first legal courses focused on women’s issues.

Both also were called back from teaching to government service. Babcock was appointed assistant attorney general for the Civil Division in the U.S. Department of Justice in the Carter administration, where she was tasked with increasing the number of women and members of minorities on the federal bench and lobbied for the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

President Clinton appointed Gould to become the first African-American chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (1994–98), where he played a critical role in bringing the 1994–95 baseball strike to its conclusion. He also served as special adviser to the Department of Housing and Urban Development on project labor agreements (2011–12) and was later appointed chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (2014-2017) by Governor Jerry Brown. 

Babcock taught and wrote in the fields of civil and criminal procedure and helped launch the clinical teaching program at Stanford. She was the first woman to hold an endowed chair at Stanford Law. A beloved teacher, she was a four-time winner of the Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching. She co-authored the landmark 1975 textbook, Sex Discrimination and the Law, as well as one of the first on civil procedure. But Babcock is perhaps best known for her book Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (2011), which uncovered the story of an historic pioneer of women’s rights who became the first woman admitted to the California Bar and the founder of the public defender movement. And the many students Babcock mentored and her colleagues in the academy and profession have read her own autobiography Fish Raincoats: A Woman Lawyer’s Life.

Gould, an influential voice in worker-management relations and sports law, has arbitrated and mediated more than 300 labor disputes, including the 1992 and 1993 salary negotiation between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee. He has published often and still does, including Labored Relations: Law, Politics and the NLRB—A Memoir, which explores his time as NLRB chair and the drama surrounding it, including the baseball strike, and Bargaining with Baseball, about his lifelong passion for the sport. Delving into his family’s history, he recounts his great-grandfather’s life as a slave who found freedom in Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor. While emeritus, he still teaches and writes—and his expertise is frequently sought by major media on issues of the day, from gig workers’ rights to the professionalization of amateur college athletics.

In the two interviews that follow, Babcock and Gould recall their careers, the challenges they faced, and their experiences as historic firsts in the legal profession and at Stanford Law.