Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / Wisconsin women, graduate school, and the professions
Doyle, Ruth B.
Chapter 7: Women and the law school: from a trickle to a flood, pp. 65-73 ff.
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 I
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