Breaking Through: A Woman's Journey Through the Male Dominated Law Profession of the Mid-Twentieth Century

Rutgers Women's Rights Law Reporter

PUBLISHED ON: June 1, 2009

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I arrived at Rutgers Law School in September 1954, one of three women in a class of well over 100 students. I wanted to go to law school thinking it could be a tool for social change, which to some extent turned out to be so. I had been accepted at Rutgers, Columbia and NYU law schools, the only schools to which I had applied. I think Harvard had just started taking women the year before and some other schools were still for men only. Columbia offered me a scholarship of $ 125, NYU $ 250 and Rutgers $700 (tuition at these schools was between $ 400-500 for the year if I recall correctly). 

I had waitressed all through my undergraduate days to pay my way and decided that if I took the Rutgers offer I could live at home in Union, New Jersey, commute and have money left over for books. In that way, I would only have to waitress summers and could devote full time during each semester to study. This luxury, one which I had not had since I was fourteen years old, seemed very appealing. I never regretted the choice and have never felt that my education was in any way inferior to any attorney with whom I interacted. 

In those days, Rutgers was not exactly welcoming to women. It was fortunate that I became close friends with one of the two other women in my class. We became fast friends during the three years and we are still close to this day. We learned to play poker with the guys, studied together and, through our mutual support, made the experience of being a "minority" more palatable. 

There were no bathroom facilities for women in the classroom building. After many trips through the rain, cold and snow, to the Ladies' Room in the distant Administration building, my friend and I learned to take turns standing guard outside the men's room while the other went in. One day, she and I taped a piece of cardboard onto which we had written "WO" before the "MEN's" sign on the door. Would you believe that we were told by someone in the Dean's office to take down the sign and use the bathroom facilities in the Administration building? We took down the sign [*629) but continued to use the men's room until we moved to another building, in our second year. 

There were other reminders that women were not "welcome." One of the professors declared in class that he hoped I had not taken the place of a man who needed to support a family just so I could find a husband, have children, and never practice law. As it turned out, I did find a husband in the class ahead of me, married at the end of my second year, had three children AND practiced law from 1960 until today. 

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