Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz

By Ginsburg, Ruth Bader | Stanford Law Review, February 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz


Ginsburg, Ruth Bader, Stanford Law Review


WOMAN LAWYER: THE TRIALS OF CLARA FOLTZ.

By Barbara Babcock. ([dagger]) Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2011. xv + 392 pp. $45.00.

Called "Portia of the Pacific," Clara Shortridge Foltz, who lived from 1849 until 1934, was the first woman admitted to the practice of law in California, and achieved many other "firsts" in her long professional career. Famous as she was in her day, her name was little known when Barbara Babcock set out, in the early 1980s, to bring Clara Foltz, and the times in which she lived, vividly to life. Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (1) is the culmination of Babcock's quarter-century endeavor to restore Foltz to her rightful place in the history of women's struggles to achieve full citizenship stature. (2) It is a work of remarkable range and depth, a fitting tribute to a woman of unbreakable spirit who, time and again, refused to give way to despair or to take "no" for an answer to her pleadings.

In 1878, at the start of the new year, fewer than fifty women practiced law in the United States. Women could not vote in California or in the country generally, and California law allowed only "white male citizen[s]" to apply for admission to the bar. (3) In the course of that year, Clara Shortridge Foltz, a twenty-nine-year-old mother of five children, the eldest age twelve, relentlessly lobbied for legislation opening the practice of law to "any citizen or person" in California. (4) That mission accomplished, Foltz became, well before the year's end, the first woman admitted to the California bar. Woman Lawyer relates in enlightening detail the trials and travels of Clara Foltz as she fought to gain recognition in a profession fiercely resistant to relinquishing its masculine cast.

Babcock tells the story of Foltz's life in two parts. The first four chapters are chronological. They proceed from Foltz's early days and her successful quest to become a lawyer, through her efforts to earn a living in law practice while simultaneously promoting women's rights and criminal process reform, to her attempts to establish herself in New York, Colorado, and finally back in California, where she was eventually named the state's first woman deputy district attorney. The book's last three chapters are thematic, concentrating first on Foltz as a public thinker, then on her work to achieve political equality for women, and finally, on her invention of the office of Public Defender. Necessarily, this bifurcated arrangement involves some twice-told incidents. But the presentation helps the reader to appreciate in full measure Foltz's large contributions to the causes and movements she strived to advance.

Babcock faced a formidable challenge in constructing an account of Foltz's life: most of Foltz's papers--her case files, scrapbooks, personal letters, and appointment books--did not survive, nor did pictures and souvenirs she kept as treasured possessions. (5) The loss or destruction of these uniquely valuable materials is a fate shared by other pioneering women of Foltz's time and their modem biographers. At the turn of the century, few libraries collected women's papers, and family members apparently discarded correspondence, diaries, and documents that might have been illuminating. (6) Limited largely to public records, contemporaneous media coverage, and Foltz's published commentary, Babcock assembles an impressive amount of information about Foltz's work and days, the places and societies in which she moved, her allies, and her adversaries. Yet despite Babcock's long and careful research, more than occasionally, she can only speculate about Foltz's reasons for acting as she did and her role in movements and events described in the book.

Laudably, Babcock persevered in getting to know Clara Foltz intimately. With the understanding of a good friend, Babcock tells the story of a brilliant, courageous, and extravagantly ambitious pioneer in law and women's rights.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?