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.

Virginia Nordby – Rotarian, Attorney

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.44.08 AMWhile studying for my Ph.D. in higher education management at the University of Michigan I took a law course taught by Virginia Nordby. The first day I walked into her class, I thought she was another student. She sat at the round table in the classroom quietly smiling and looking like someone’s grandmother. She was a charming, graceful woman whose passions slipped through the cracks of her teaching but rarely distorted her presentations.

We studied legal cases in a style similar to, although gentler than, most law schools. After a couple of classes, when Professor Nordby asked a question everyone would freeze, because we knew that it wouldn’t really matter what answer we gave; she would take the opposite viewpoint, and persuasively so, whatever we said.

We learned how the case was made for segregation through a carefully constructed series of court cases. We dissected opinions that affected education and then, when we had exhausted the topic, our professor would tell us the how the personal lives of the judges had affected their decisions. Without ever raising her voice, she enlightened us about injustices in the system, but applauded its logic. She showed us how universities really ran, and how they were molded by the law. In my future career as dean and Vice Chancellor, it was the most useful class from my doctoral studies.

In a classroom, it is not unusual to learn about the life of a professor, but Virginia Nordby did not reveal much. We knew she was in the same law school at Stanford as Sandra Day O’Connor and that women were not called on in class. Little else was revealed. We gleaned her passions from the cases she presented to us and our knowledge about her work for affirmative action at the University of Michigan but, unlike other professors, she volunteered little else

I was delighted—and not at all surprised—to find, while working on this First Woman To. . .Project that Virginia Nordby was a first woman. I learned that she was the first woman delegate to Rotary International’s Council on Legislation. The Council met in New Delhi, India that year, fitting since India was the first country to petition the Council to admit women to Rotary. In July of 1995 she was one of the first eight women to become district governors of Rotary in the United States.

As I continued my research, I learned that she was the principal drafter of the Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Act, labeling rape as a violent crime and protecting the victim. The language she crafted became a standard, used for countless other bills. She also served on the Women’s Commission, which analyzed Michigan laws to study how they differed in application and language between men and women.

It is fitting that she received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the University of Michigan and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She is a model for all those women who quietly worked, and continue to work, for women’s rights. She is probably not atypical of women who do excellent work without bragging about their accomplishments.

 

Diane Humeweta – U.S. Attorney, U.S. District Court Judge

Diane Humeweta is touted as an example of bipartisanship, having been nominated by a Republican and a Democratic President to serve as the First Native American Woman in legal positions. However, the facts (see below) show that politics rules

DIANE HUMETEWADiane Humeweta received her law degree from the school named for the First Woman To. . .become a Justice of the Supreme Court: the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the University of Arizona. A member of the Hopi Tribe, she served as Tribal Liaison and Senior Litigation Counsel in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Later she headed that office when she became The First Native American Woman To. . .become a U.S. Attorney. She served in the District of Arizona from 2007 to 2009. Once again crossing paths with the Supreme Court Justice, her investiture was in the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix.

Support from Senator John McCain did not prove beneficial as she was removed from her position after Barack Obama defeated McCain for president. Earlier this year, however, President Obama named her The First Native American Woman To. . .be a United States District Judge. The vote to approve her in the U.S. Senate was 96-0 (a rare moment of unanimity in the governing body).

The twenty-one tribal reservations in Arizona are pleased to have a judge in the federal court who is a reflection of themselves. The workload is heavy as all felonies committed on reservations go to federal court. A national expert on Native American legal issues, Humetewa has instructed prosecutors and other law enforcement officials on the intricacies of this portion of the law.

It is interesting to note that, although Diane Humetewa is the first Native American in this position, she did succeed another woman, Mary Marguia. Marguia had been elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.