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DoubleX Book Of The Week: "Woman Lawyer" by Barbara Babcock

Publication Date: 
February 11, 2011
Slate - XXFactor (Blog)
Dahlia Lithwick

Professor Barbara Babcock's book, "Woman Lawyer," is praised as the "DoubleX Book of the Week" in the following Slate article. Dahlia Lithwick filed the following story:

It’s easy to imagine that the whole subject of women as glamorous public intellectuals--balancing their fabulous public images against the demands of raising their children and the slights and slimes of gender stereotyping--was all an invention of the 2010 presidential election season. But long before Hillary Clinton’s tears and Sarah Palin’s hockey mom, savvy American women were fighting their way into the public sphere, with a burp cloth in one hand and a copy of the Constitution in the other.

Stanford Law School’s Barbara Babcock has written a wonderful biography of one of America’s forgotten “firsts.” The book is called Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz. (Disclosure, I was a student of Babcock’s, who was also one of America’s “firsts”--the first woman appointed to the regular Stanford faculty and the first director of the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C.) Babcock’s book is about Clara Shortridge Foltz, an undereducated farmer’s wife, and the abandoned single mother of five children, who managed to become the first woman admitted to the California Bar. California was changing rapidly in the 1870s, new ideas were everywhere; new characters could invent themselves overnight. And so Foltz managed to game the media, persuade all-male juries, and convince reluctant state legislators to listen to her. In so doing, she also managed to become a leading light of the women's equality movement, the suffrage movement, and the push for a public defender system, as well as an advocate of other important progressive legal reforms that are still with us today.