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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / Wisconsin women, graduate school, and the professions
(1980)

Doyle, Ruth B.
Chapter 7: Women and the law school: from a trickle to a flood,   pp. 65-73 ff.


Page 66

experiences of the graduates in the nineteenth century and the first half
of the
twentieth were - astonishingly - very much alike. For instance, it is only
in
recent years that women have attempted to enter the job market in any sub-
stantial numbers. Early graduates recall that as recently as 1950, none of
the
female students considered that the law school placement office was open
to
them. Women who graduated in the early post-World War II period sought
employment on their own, and usually wound up working for institutions
government, banks, insurance companies.
Until the last decade, they confronted a profession which appeared to
have no room for them. One of its most famous practitioners, Clarence Dar-
row, said to them, "You can't be shining lights at the bar, because
you are
too kind. You can never be corporation lawyers, because you are not cold-
blooded. You have not a high grade of intellect. You can never expect to
get
the fees men get. I doubt if you can even make a living."4
Many years after Clarence Darrow spoke, Mordella Shearer (class of
1943) visited Dean Oliver Rundell. At the time she decided to come to law
school, she needed the dean's approval to receive credit for the law school
courses taken as a pre-law student. The dean did not deny her admission,
nor
did he withhold the credit. But he gave her an argument: (1) as a lawyer,
she
would have to deal with indelicate subjects; (2) she would not be able to
compete with men; (3) she would have to seek male companionship in the
bar rooms. Nearly thirty years later, she recalls that she made no rejoinder
to
the dean, but that she was "appalled."
Profiles of the Century's Graduates
Nevertheless, a hardy little band - one or two each year - steadily and
bravely moved out into the wide world of indelicate subjects and coarse male
behavior. We don't know what happened to most of them before 1920. Pier
and her daughters practiced law in Fond du Lac and Milwaukee. Pier became
Circuit Court Commissioner. Mrs. McIntosh (the eldest daughter) argued cases
before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin and, in 1894, before the Federal Cir-
cuit Court of Appeals. She was admitted to practice in the United States
Supreme Court. Only twenty years earlier (1874), in a case upholding a state
law forbidding women to practice law, the U.S. Supreme Court had said:
"Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and
proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits
it for many occupations in civil life." Including the practice of law,
of course.
In her biography of her husband, Belle Case LaFollette (class of 1885)
seldom mentions herself. One of her rare personal comments follows:
Bob was the first to suggest that I take the University of Wisconsin law
course. It did
not require much urging to convince me I could do so without neglecting my
child and
other home duties. The course was then two years. I entered in 1883 and was
gradu-
ated in 1885, being the first woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin
law
school.5
Belle LaFollette worked closely with her husband when he was Dane
County district attorney. She wrote occasional briefs for her husband during
his few years of practice. Early in his career as Dane County district attorney,
LaFollette, when praised by the Chief Justice of Wisconsin for a brilliant
brief,
admitted to the court that it had been written from "start to finish"
by his
wife. She was a writer of great accomplishment, a leader of the suffrage
66
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