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Boalt Hall's Influence on Women, Law Celebrated

March 04, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

UC Berkeley's law school, known as Boalt Hall, hosted 200 of its 3,000 living women graduates over the weekend for a reunion to celebrate the school's weighty influence on women and the law.

Founded in 1894, Boalt Hall was one of the first law schools to admit women--at a time when most competing schools feared that they were too frail or emotional.

This past fall, women made up a majority--51%--of Boalt's entering class of 268 students. And Herma Hill Kay, Boalt's current--and first--woman dean used the reunion to spotlight a long list of other "firsts" claimed by the school:

* First woman professor at a major American law school. Nachtrieb Armstrong, 1919.

* First woman to edit a law journal at an American university. Esther Phillips, 1917.

* First woman to become California chief justice. Rose Elizabeth Bird, 1977-1986.

* First nonprofit legal foundation to focus on sexual harassment and sexual cases. Founded by Boalt alums Nancy David, Mary Dunlap and Wendy Williams, 1974.

* First legal organization devoted to rights of lesbians. Founded by Donna Hitchens, 1978.

Boalt Hall, of course, also had the first woman graduate who was a . . . cartoon character.

Doonesbury's Joanie Caucus, a late-blooming feminist, "graduated" in 1977. When cartoonist Garry Trudeau spoke at the commencement, the school set aside a chair for Caucus and printed her name in the program, a few lines

below that of Zoe Baird, who went on to become President Clinton's first choice for U.S. attorney general--until her nomination was derailed because she failed to pay Social Security taxes for her nanny.

Then there's the first first at Boalt Hall. Four decades before the school's current home was built in 1951, its first building was paid for by a woman, Elizabeth Jocelyn Boalt. She did name it, though, in honor of her late husband, John, a prominent San Francisco attorney.

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