The Women of Harvard Law's Class of '64:

A Review of Judith Richards Hope's Pinstripes and Pearls


Friday, Mar. 28, 2003

Judith Richards Hope, Pinstripes & Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law School Class of '64 Who Forged an Old-Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations (Simon & Schuster 2003)

In her recent book, Pinstripes and Pearls, Judith Richards Hope chronicles the lives and careers of the fifteen women who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1964.

It was an extraordinary class of women. It included, for instance, Pat Schroeder, a future twelve-term Congresswoman, and Judith Rogers, a future judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

It also included the author herself, who served as a domestic policy adviser for President Ford, was a successful trial lawyer, and ultimately became the first woman on Harvard's governing board. (The men weren't too shabby either: future Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, to take just one example, was among them.)

Meanwhile, the Harvard Law class immediately ahead included former Attorney General Janet Reno, and the class immediately behind included now-Senator Elizabeth Dole. Future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had graduated a few years earlier from Harvard Law, as well.

Many chapters revolve around a list-like summary of what (if anything) happened to each of the women in the class during that particular "life stage." This structure is ultimately frustrating, since the commonalities of the women's individual experiences do not always come through (even though there surely were many), and the differences are made to seem idiosyncratic.

Nevertheless, the reader who perseveres will be glad she did. Pinstripes and Pearls serves as a potent reminder of the significant changes to legal education and the legal profession that have come to pass in the four decades since Hope and her classmates graduated from Harvard.

The Experience of Early Women at Harvard Law

The book is at its best in its revelation of the obstacles faced by women at the beginning of an uneasy transition to co-education. Their day-to-day experiences in the utterly male institution of Harvard Law School were so overtly oppressive as to be almost unimaginable to those of us who obtained our legal education in the last decade.

It went without saying that these women did not have the opportunity to learn from female professors, to learn alongside a critical mass of female classmates, to take classes on feminist theory, or to work on a feminist law journal.

Nor did the Law School even afford women such basis practical necessities as a bathroom in the main classroom and library building. (Anyone who has taken a time-pressured law school exam can appreciate the undue stress that would come from having to walk to a different building to take a bathroom break, when male classmates can just go across the hall).

But these sins of omission were coupled with some very serious sins of commission. Consider traditions like "Ladies' Day," a designated day when Professor W. Barton "Pappy" Leach would, in lieu of calling on them on other class days (as he did for men), put all the female students on a stage and drill them about cases involving stolen underwear or other subjects clearly calculated to embarrass them.

Meanwhile, Dean Erwin Griswold -though he had ostensibly supported the proposal to admit women - held an annual dinner for the female students in each class during which he asked each to account for themselves: "Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?" (The best answer to this no-win question came from Ann Dudley, who reported that she came to Harvard because she was turned down by Yale. This reportedly infuriated Griswold more than any other answer he received.)

A Forced Choice: Practice Law in A Man's World, Or Become Wives and Mothers

Thus, the story of the women's first year is followed by a chapter on "departures," which describes the experiences of the five women who were part of their entering class but left after the first year. Two married, and, as was expected of them, immediately dropped out to start families.

Metaphorical "departures" continued throughout their women's lives. Despite their talents, almost all of the women in Hope's class encountered difficulties in their attempts to forge both careers and families.

To begin, they had difficulty entering the profession at all. There were still a significant number of employers that openly refused to hire women altogether. And, once inside the profession, they had difficulty managing the unforgiving demands of law practice, while at the same time, trying to be good wives and mothers.

Many opted out of the workforce for periods of time to focus on family life. Some left the law entirely. Others struggled to establish part-time careers, though for many those efforts were ultimately unsatisfactory.

Hope herself spent some years almost entirely out of the workforce, but over time seemed more willing than most of the women she chronicles to pursue career opportunities even if they made family life difficult. But her choices did not come without a cost: Her grown daughter admitted to spending many years believing she "needed a mother, not a trial lawyer." "Mom's evil job," her daughter explained, "gave birth to . . . a woman too invincible, too pushy, too isolated, too sedentary, too tired."

Insistent Cheeriness Despite a History That Does Not Justify It

Pinstripes and Pearls shows that the women of the Class of '64 were not, in any meaningful sense, able to create their own world--or their own profession. However, some of them were able to rise to great heights within the existing legal profession.

In comparison, the men of the Class of '64 --many of whom were less accomplished when they entered law school than the select few women who were allowed to enter the class - largely found that Harvard Law was their ticket to unfettered success in life.

Meanwhile, for the women, individual disappointments and injustices were rife. As Hope notes, "Candidly, most of us were a mess at one or another time in our lives. Among us, we have suffered through attempted suicide, serious depression, nasty divorce, life-threatening illness, and the loss of close family members. We have asked for child support and been denied because we had a good job. We have been double-crossed, sexually harassed, defeated, passed over, and fired. We have experienced searing religious, gender, and racial discrimination."

The reality of these women's lives and disappointments must be more complicated than Hope lets on. We may have to wait, however, for a memoir by one of the women who made a "departure," rather than soldiering on as Hope did, to learn just how complicated that reality was.

Harvard-Centrism Mars the Book, and Suggests Its Claims Are Overstated

The women profiled in Hope's book were clearly pathbreakers at Harvard Law - which had only begun to admit women a decade earlier and, by 1964, was still clearly in a transitional phase with respect to co-education. But though Harvard grads may often see themselves as the center of the legal world - consider One L and The Paper Chase - not all agree.

By 1964, in contrast, other law schools had been graduating women for decades (Yale Law had graduated its first woman more than 60 years earlier). And by 1964, more generally, the integration of the legal profession was already well underway. Indeed, the first woman - Belle Mansfield of Iowa - had been admitted to practice law in 1869, almost a century earlier.

As a result, it may not quite be true that, as the book's subtitle proclaims, the Class of '64 "paved the way for future generations." More likely, past generations substantially paved the way for them, and the Class of '64 extended the road. Thus, the book's claims for the impact of the women it profiles, though several of them proved to be remarkably talented and accomplished, may be somewhat overstated.

Rather than making extraordinary headway, the women of the Class of '64 may be more notable for encountering and overcoming some extraordinary obstacles. Harvard's bias against women was more entrenched than elsewhere.

For example, in 1869, the same year Belle Mansfield was admitted to the bar, the new president of Harvard, Charles Eliot, gave an inaugural speech reflecting its unfriendliness to women. Not only did he announce his plan to continue excluding women from Harvard College, he also commented, although it purportedly did not influence his decision, that the "world knows next to nothing about the natural mental capacities of the female sex." Women at Harvard thus had nowhere to go but up.

Hope is justifiably proud of her and her classmates' achievements in further eroding Harvard's obstinate resistance to women students, as well as of their individual professional accomplishments. But Hope's self-congratulatory style distracts the reader from the very real problems for women that remain.

Women Still Have Far To Go in the Legal Profession

Concrete obstacles have been removed from the legal profession as well. It is illegal to refuse to hire women. Sexual harassment is unlawful. Federal law guarantees women the right to take time off for childbirth and early parenting.

Yet many women lawyers today seem even more frustrated than the women in Hope's class. And that is a fact well worth examining. For all Hope's cheerfulness and stoicism, it is also a very worrisome and depressing fact.

Women have still not ascended to powerful positions in law firms and other practice settings in anything approaching equal numbers with men. Covert discrimination and sexual harassment are a regular part of women's working lives.

Meanwhile, the difficulty of balancing meaningful careers with family life remains unabated - a problem the women of today suffer just as the women of the Class of '64 did.. The difficulty of being a "woman" and a "lawyer" that plagued early women law pioneers, as Stanford Law Professor Barbara Babcock noted in an earlier FindLaw column, evolved over the last century. But though it now occurs in a slightly different form, it has proved intractable.

Now that the Class of '64 has had its day, it is left for us to see how the women - and men - of the law school classes of 2004 will confront the persistent problems the last generation can make only a partial claim to solving. Let's hope the classes of 2004 continue the work started long ago by Belle Mansfield and other women pioneers of the nineteenth century. It is work that remains far from complete.

Joanna Grossman, a FindLaw columnist, is an associate professor of law at Hofstra University, where she teaches Sex Discrimination Law, among other subjects.

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