Law.com, Wanted ASAP: Pioneering Women Law Profs for Oral History Project:
With interviews completed of more than 40 women law professors who entered the legal academy in the 1960s and after, the Women in Legal Education Oral History Project is seeking additional subjects in order to capture the voices of the first true generation of women professors.
When Herma Hill Kay made the faculty interview rounds at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 1960, the school was looking to replace its sole female faculty member and the first woman to be tenured at a major law school, Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong. Berkeley wanted another woman.
Kay aimed to look her best on that warm spring day, pulling on white gloves and donning a suit and beige cloche-style hat that swept low over her face. She interviewed with professor after professor, all male. Meanwhile, the phone in Armstrong’s office kept ringing throughout the day. Armstrong eventually revealed the problem.
“You’re going to have to take your hat off,” Kay would recall Armstrong saying, more than five decades later. “The men want to see what you look like.”
For Kay, abandoning the hat was a nonstarter, given her hair’s lack of cooperation with the weather that day.
“Barbara gave me a stare and said, ‘All right, but when you come for your second day of interviews, can you wear a smaller hat?’” Kay recounted. “I said, ‘Sure, but I didn’t know there was a second day of interviews.’ Barbara said, ‘There will be now.’”
Kay’s story, which underscores how the first generation of women legal professors had to struggle to be taken seriously and establish a foothold within the male-dominated academy, is captured in a video interview she conducted with the Women in Legal Education Oral History Project several years ago. Kay, who served as dean of Berkeley Law from 1992 to 2000 and became one of the biggest names in the academy, died in 2017.
The project seeks to collect the stories and wisdom of the academy’s female pioneers and preserve those insights for current and future law teachers. Despite Kay’s impressive credentials, which included graduating third in her class at the University of Chicago Law School and clerking for a California Supreme Court justice, her appearance was still of utmost concern to Berkeley’s decision makers at the time. ...
Five of the completed videos are currently available on YouTube [Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joan Howarth, Mary Kay Kane, Carrie Menkel Meadow, Margaret Jane Radin, while many others are in various stages of production. The AALS plans to create a website that will make all the videos available in one place.
The American Bar Association is pursuing a similar but separate project dubbed the Women Trailblazers in the Law Oral History Project, which includes oral histories with more than 100 women lawyers, judges and law professors. Stanford Law School’s library is hosting the interviews on a website.