Clara Shortridge Foltz – First Woman Deputy District Attorney

Even though she was born in the middle of the nineteenth century, Clara Shortridge Foltz’s life may not have been dissimilar from some women today. She was a mother and career woman; she ignored barriers; and she had the courage to achieve in areas where there were no models for her to follow.

Born in Indiana, she moved with her family to Iowa during the Civil War. When she was fifteen, she eloped with a man who had difficulty supporting his family. He took her to Portland, then to San Jose. She kept body, soul, and family together by writing letters to The New Northwest and articles for the San Jose Mercury. Her husband finally deserted her and she became the single mother of five children.

In order to support her family, she gave public lectures about women’s suffrage, one of the few avenues for women to earn an income in that time and place. She also “studied” law in the office of a local judge, but when she went to take the bar exam she discovered that the California constitution specified one qualification for admission to the bar that she could not meet. She was not a “white male.” Not one to be deterred, she promptly used her legal training and drafted an amendment to change that language to “person.” She persuaded the legislature to pass the amendment, and became the First Woman admitted to the bar in all of the Western United States.

Wishing to perfect her skill, she applied to Hastings College of the Law, along with her friend Laura de Force Gordon, but they were denied admission. Although they did not have law degrees, they had studied enough law to bring a legal case against the school. They wrote the brief and argued the case all the way to the California Supreme Court. And they won.

In 1893 Foltz spoke to the Board of Lady Managers at the Chicago World’s Fair and proposed a new position for the legal system, that of public defender. This novel idea of providing legal assistance to the indigent is now practiced throughout the country. She also advocated for the separation of juvenile offenders from adults. That same year she organized the Portia Law Club with other women lawyers in San Francisco. Seven years later, in Los Angeles, she became the First Woman deputy district attorney.

In addition to being the First Woman admitted to the bar, and the First Woman deputy district attorney, she also held the following firsts in California:

–the First Woman clerk for the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee,

–the First Woman appointed to the State Board of Charities and Corrections,

–the First Woman licensed Notary Public,

–the First Woman appointed as director of a major bank, the United Bank and Trust Company of San Francisco, and

–the First Woman to run for Governor of California. (She was 81 years old at the time.)

While not busy racking up firsts, she also founded and published the San Diego Daily Bee, and the New American Woman Magazine. She wrote a monthly column for the magazine until her death at the age of 85.

The women of Hastings College of the Law organized in 1991, and compelled the college to honor Foltz with a Doctor of Laws degree, fifty-seven years after her death. In 2002, the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building was renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, a visible tribute to a legal dynamo.

Lives of Passionate Dedication

When First Women leave us, it is worthwhile to pause and learn what their lives taught us. Louise Slaughter served in Congress until the end of her life; Jeannette Woldseth fought to save lives as she was losing her own. Both show how a passion for others can fill a life.

Louise Slaughter (1929-2018)

Louise Slaughter was a U.S. Representative from New York, the First Woman to chair the House Rules Committee. When she died in March of this year, she was the oldest member of Congress and the last member of Congress who had been born in the 1920s.

While living in the Kentucky coal mining region, her sister died of pneumonia, firing an interest in health issues for Slaughter. At the University of Kentucky she earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a master’s in public health.

It is no surprise that she was responsible for securing funding for the first time for breast cancer research at the National Institutes of Health (an earmark of $500 million) and worked for other health issues. She co-authored, along with Senator Joe Biden, the Violence Against Women Act. She later worked with Senator Christopher Dodd to establish a Woman’s Progress Commemorative Commission to monitor historic sites dedicated to women.

Jeannette Woldseth (1953-2018)

Jeannette Woldseth was the First Woman full-time paid firefighter in the state of Washington. She was 23 in 1977 when she joined the Bellevue Fire Department, after serving as a volunteer firefighter there. Her father had also been a volunteer firefighter and her grandfather had driven horse-drawn wagons to fires in Seattle during his career as a firefighter, so her choice was clearly in her blood.

She progressed to captain and was known for her precision and focus. When she first got breast cancer, she had a double mastectomy. When it recurred and had metastasized, she began fundraising money for other cancer victims, knowing the funds would not benefit her. Even as she was dying she focused on saving the lives of others.

First Women from a British Fashion Magazine

Searching the airport magazine rack, on my way to Dallas, I spied a magazine with an intriguing promo on the first page. “Incredible Women” it shouted in letters only slightly smaller than the name of the magazine, Porter. I didn’t know the magazine (turns out it’s like Vogue and other high-end fashion magazines only it’s British and you can shop right off of its pages). One issue was $10, so I hesitated, but the subtitle, “The voices inspiring change in 2017” drew me in. I plopped down my money, certain the magazine would yield some First Women in its pages.

And it did—24 pages, with “50 global heroines in science, entertainment, business and beyond, who have spoken out and empowered us over the last 12 months.” The magazine was not current, it turned out, published early in 2017. This was before “Me, too” so the names might be different now, but the list did yield some interesting First Women:

Sarahal Suhaimi (photographed with hijab) – the First Women CEO of a Saudi investment bank, also the First Woman to head Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange.

Maria Balshaw – First Women to head the Tate Museum in England

Cressida Dick – First Woman head of the Metropolitan Police in London

Danny Cotton – First Women commissioner of the London Fire Brigade

Misty Copeland  also made the list, the First African-American Woman principal at the American Ballet Theater.

There were three First Women who surprised me:

Nita Ambani – First Woman member of the International Olympic Committee (Women have competed since 1900. What took so long?)

Barbara Jatta – First Woman to head the Vatican Library (Let’s hear it for Pope Francis!)

Jamie Kern Lima – First Woman CEO of L’Oreal (Really? This company was founded in 1909 in Paris to sell women’s cosmetics. Only now a woman is in charge?)

In general, a disproportionate number of women in fashion and related industries were in the list. Upon reflection, I wondered whether women might make faster progress in chipping away at glass ceilings if the women in industries that are generally considered “Women’s Work” spoke out more and pushed for change. Given the recent “Me, too” movement, perhaps they have.

The piece also pointed out the number of women who are still recognized as “The First Woman To. . .” In lists of men that appear in magazines, the words ‘the first man to. . .” rarely makes the page. Except for Neil Armstrong or some athletic records, the word “first” rarely appears for our masculine counterparts. I long for the day when women routinely participate in so many arenas that the word “first” does not have to be used to define a woman who succeeds.

 

 

Women Head Dallas Justice System

The justice system in Dallas, Texas is now headed by three women of color. All three have walked into messes but, being women, they can probably handle it.

Renee Hall is the First Woman chief of the Dallas Police Department, beginning her position in September, 2017. She walked into a department that loses officers so routinely they are short 10% of the officers they need. Pay is low; pensions are in trouble; morale is negative. The challenge is substantial.

However, Hall may well be up to the task. She assumes the job after a successful stint as Deputy Chief of the Police Department in Detroit. While there she developed neighborhood policing and mentorship programs that resulted in reduced crime rates, even homicide. Pay was also low; pensions were in trouble; Detroit went through bankruptcy. It seems Hall might understand what she is up against. The City Manager of Dallas said she was hired for her “infectious presence.” As the First Woman she will need buckets of presence to overcome entrenched attitudes.

Hall will join Lupe Valdez, daughter of migrant farm workers, former Army officer, and Senior Agent at the Department of Homeland Security, who is Sheriff of Dallas County. Her election was followed closely as she was not only a woman and Hispanic, but also an openly gay candidate. The Sheriff’s department, like the police department, suffered from low morale. The department was also struggling with corruption charges and failing state and federal inspections for its jails. Valdez turned things around and is now serving her fourth term.

            Another woman, and also a woman of color is District Attorney for Dallas County, Faith Johnson. Raised in the Jim Crow South, she was a Dallas County prosecutor and then a judge for 17 years. She has a degree in psychology which should be useful, as this department lacks public trust and need an overhaul. Known for her long hours, and tough attitude, she just might be up to the challenge.

More First Women on Jeopardy

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 4.45.02 PMA couple of weeks ago, Jeopardy included another First Women category in their show. Once again I have taken the names  used in their category and created a quiz.

Match the descriptions below (a through e) with the names (1 to 5). Answers appear at the bottom.

a. First Woman to win an Olympic Marathon (in 1984)

b. First Woman on the FBI’s most-wanted list (1968-1969)

c. First Woman in the United States to serve as a state governor (in 1924)

d. First African-American woman to win an Oscar for Leading Actress (in 2002)

e. First Woman (in fact, first person) to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel (in 1901)

1. Annie Taylor

2. Joan Benoit

3. Halle Berry

4. Ruth Taylor Ross

5. Ruth Eismann-Schier

Answers:

a-2 (she still holds some speed records); b-5 (for kidnapping an heiress); c-4 (in Wyoming); d-3 (for Monster’s Ball); e-1 (she was 43 at the time)