Herma Hill Kay to deliver lecture, “Celebrating Early Women Law Professors,” March 4

Lecture is part of the Women's Law Caucus' fifth annual International Women's Day celebration; MCLE credit available

Herma Hill Kay, the Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong Professor of Law and former dean at the University of California, Berkeley (Boalt Hall), will deliver a lecture on “Celebrating Early Women Law Professors” 9 a.m. March 4 in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom in Anheuser-Busch Hall.

Kay describes this group of inspirational women as “a small band of outsiders who braved rejection, isolation, and hostility to establish an initial foothold in legal education.”

The lecture will follow the Women’s Law Caucus’ fifth annual International Women’s Day Celebration at 8 a.m. in the Janite Lee Reading Room, honoring Kay, Washington University School of Law alumnae who graduated 50 or more years ago, and the law school’s first three tenured women professors, Susan Appleton, Kathleen Brickey, and Karen Tokarz.

The lecture and celebration are Washington University Sesquicentennial events focusing on “Historic Women in Legal Education: A Celebration in Honor of the First Women at Washington University.”

Washington University School of Law is believed to be the first law school in the nation to admit women students. In December 1868, the dean of the law school and the law faculty forwarded the following statement to the University Board of Directors: “If the question were left to us to decide, (we) see no reason why any young woman who in respect to character and acquirements fulfilled the conditions applicable to male students, and who chose to attend the Law Lectures in good faith for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the law of her country, should be denied that privilege.”

The Board agreed, and in fall 1869, the law school admitted its first women law students, Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Couzins. Barkeloo took the bar in spring 1870 and became the nation’s second woman admitted to the bar. Couzins graduated with a L.L.B. degree in September 1871 and became Washington University’s and the law school’s first woman graduate.

“Women law professors were a minuscule presence in legal education during the first half of the 20th century,” notes Kay.

Although women were admitted as students as early as 1870 at the University of California, for example, the Board of Regents was rumored to have had a rule prohibiting women from teaching law there. Three decades passed before the first woman was appointed a full-time faculty member.

Kay has been conducting an ongoing study of women who became law professors in the United States between 1900 and 2000. She has divided the study into two time periods: 1900-1959, when the first women began their careers as law professors, and 1960-2000, when, in more recent years, many of the barriers for women entering the profession had been removed or ameliorated. In the first 60 years, she identifies only 14 women who held tenure or tenure track positions at law schools that were approved by the ABA and were members of the Association of American Law Schools.

Kay explores why these early women decided to enter a male-dominated profession and how successful they were academically. She looks at hiring practices, performance, retention, and professional growth and recognition. She also examines the number of years between when a law school was founded and women were hired on the faculty, and the number of years between the first woman being hired and the second.

In general, law schools had decades-long traditions of all male faculties before the first women were hired, and in many cases, these women served alone without the benefit of any female mentors. These early trailblazers played a critical role in paving the way for future generations of distinguished female colleagues who have brought new insights into legal teaching, scholarship, and practice.

Kay’s own career is illustrative. She is past president of the Association of American Law Schools and was named among the 50 most influential female lawyers nationally by the National Law Journal. She is co-author of California’s no fault divorce act and co-author of casebooks on conflict of laws and sex-based discrimination.

An expert in family law, she has been a member of the Boalt Hall faculty since 1960. She was one of the first women deans of a major law school, serving as Boalt’s first woman dean from 1992 to 2000.

Kay is currently a member of the Council of the American Law Institute and the Board of Directors of the American Bar Foundation. She has received many awards, including the Society of American Law Teachers Teaching Award, the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation Research Award, and the Margaret Brent Award to Women Lawyers of Distinction from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

The lecture and celebration are free and open to the public. Part of the Public Interest Law Speakers Series, the lecture is eligible for one MCLE credit. Reservations for the 8 a.m. breakfast celebration are encouraged and can be made by calling 314-725-0209 or e-mailing lhdickie@wulaw.wustl.edu.