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Portraits 1-10: Women at CLS

22 Portraits of Women at Columbia Law School: 1-10

Bella Abzug '44

A congresswoman from New York and an early champion of women's rights, Bella Abzug propelled New York City and national politics to new heights with a brashness and passion difficult to ignore or duplicate. Equally renowned for her courageous voice and her flamboyant, trademark hats, Ms. Abzug was hailed as a founding mother of feminism, a staunch supporter of gay and civil rights, and an international icon for human rights and world peace. A tireless fighter, campaigner, and agitator, she brought her voice to a variety of social and political issues such as protecting the environment, equal housing, increased employment opportunities and compensation, improved child and health care, and an end to the Vietnam War, and she was a co-sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

During her years as congresswoman for the 20th District of New York in the 1970s, she became an expert on parliamentary rules and laws, using her skills to advocate programs for her beloved city. She was one of only 12 women in the House at that time and served as chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Government Information and Individual Rights. In her 1972 memoir, Bella, she declared: "There are those who say I'm impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude. Whether I'm any of these things, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am - and this ought to be made very clear at the outset - I am a very serious woman." In 1990, she co-founded the Women's Environment and Development Organization, an international activist and advocacy network. As president, she became an influential leader at the United Nations and at U.N. world conferences, working to help women around the globe. Her legacy was lauded in a 1998 special presentation of a U.N. award for contributions to the United Nations and the NGO community in building peace.

Barbara Aronstein Black '55

Barbara Aronstein Black was the first woman to be appointed the dean of an Ivy League law school. An outstanding student at Columbia, she was a Law Review editor and both a Kent and a Stone scholar. Married in 1954 to Professor Charles L. Black, Jr., she put her career on hold to stay home for nine years with their three children after the couple had moved to New Haven in 1956, when Charles Black began teaching at Yale. In 1965, Prof. Barbara Black began work on a doctorate in history and received her Ph.D. in 1975, the same year she became an assistant professor in the department. She was named an associate professor of law in 1979 and continued teaching at Yale until 1984, when she became the George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History at Columbia. Eighteen months later when Dean Benno Schmidt left Columbia to become the president of Yale, the faculty voted overwhelmingly to recommend Prof. Black as his successor.

Her tenure as dean was marked by several significant achievements. The Foundation Curriculum was established for 1Ls in order to bring an interdisciplinary dimension into the first year, and the corporate law faculty developed into the strongest in the country. Communication with students was strengthened through her "Dean's Forums," and the loan forgiveness program was refashioned to enable more students to pursue public interest jobs. Since leaving the deanship in 1991, Prof. Black has continued to teach and write, and Columbia is now in the process of raising funds to endow the Barbara A. Black Professorship to recognize her achievements and the role women have played at the Law School. "Perhaps because I took a very different path to get here," she said during her tenure as dean, "people will realize there are a lot of different ways to live your life."

Ellen Victoria Futter '74

As a junior at Barnard in 1970, Ellen Futter was elected to a seat on the college's board of trustees. Two years later, during her first year at Columbia Law School, she was elected to full membership on the board to complete the term of former Supreme Court Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg. After earning her J.D., Ms. Futter went to work for Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, where she planned to make a career in corporate law - but it was not to be. In June 1980, the Barnard Board of Trustees appointed her acting president of the college. It was a time of financial constraints and organizational change, but she embraced the challenge. Less than a year later, she was confirmed as Barnard's official president, at the age of 31. During her 13 years in that position, she made the school 100 percent residential for the first time since its 1889 founding and raised $20 million to help ensure that Barnard would continue to be a thriving, independent college even after Columbia began admitting women.

In the early 1990s, her reputation as a leader and fundraiser caught the attention of the trustees of the American Museum of Natural History, which was searching for a new president. She accepted the position and has now been at that post for nine years. Among her many accomplishments are the construction of the Rose Center for Earth and Space to replace the aging Hayden Planetarium, as well as strengthening the museum's role as a prominent educational and research institution.

The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg '59

The second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was instrumental in launching the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project in 1971. Throughout the 1970s, she litigated a series of cases solidifying a constitutional principle against gender-based discrimination. Of the six cases she argued in the Supreme Court, she prevailed in five. The ripple effect of those victories, along with efforts to achieve legislative change, contributed to the alteration of hundreds of laws and regulations across the United States.

A graduate of Cornell and Columbia (where she tied for first in her class and was an editor of the Law Review), Justice Ginsburg encountered a job market inhospitable to women. No law firm in New York City offered her a position. As she rejected years later, she had three strikes against her: she was a Jew, a woman, and the mother of a four-year-old child. Thanks to the efforts of then-Columbia professor Gerald Gunther, she ultimately gained a clerkship with Judge Edmund L. Palmieri '29.

Over the next decade, she worked on Columbia's Project on International Procedure (headed by Hans Smit '58), then taught at Rutgers Law School before returning to Columbia as the Law School's first tenured female professor. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and, 13 years later, President Bill Clinton nominated her for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. In her years on the Court, she has received widespread renown for her carefully crafted, well reasoned opinions. Her daughter, Jane C. Ginsburg, is the Morton L. Janklow Professor of Artistic Property Law at Columbia. They are the first mother and daughter to have taught on any U.S. law faculty.

 

Joan Guggenheimer '79

Throughout her work in the corporate sector, Joan Guggenheimer has expanded the role of women by her advocacy and by her own example. After graduating in 1979 from the Law School, where she was an editor of the Law Review, she began her career in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After two clerkships she became a litigator at Davis, Polk & Wardwell. In 1985, she joined the legal department of Smith Barney and soon made a series of professional leaps. She was promoted to deputy general counsel in 1993 and then to general counsel of institutional businesses in 1995. A year later, she defended a sexual harassment class action lawsuit against Smith Barney by female employees. The challenge prompted her to examine the larger situation of gender in the workplace, resulting in a settlement that benefited both plaintiffs and the company and in the creation of the diversity committee.

In 1997, Ms. Guggenheimer was among the recipients of the YWCA Women Achievers Award. That same year, she was promoted again to senior deputy counsel when Smith Barney merged with Salomon Brothers, and then to general counsel of Salomon Smith Barney in 1999. She also served as co-general counsel of Citigroup (Salomon's parent corporation).  She is currently chief legal officer at Bank One Corporation, where she heads the Law, Compliance, and Government Relations Office.

Viola Beatrice Kneeland '30 LL.M.

Clearly a woman ahead of her time, Viola Beatrice Kneeland established her own law firm in Boston with a partner in 1933 and continued to practice until she was nearly 70. She was among the first women admitted to Columbia Law School and was the first to receive an LL.M. degree. Born in Boston, she graduated from Wellesley College in 1920 and went on to complete an M.A. in literature at Columbia in 1923. After working briefly as a Greek tutor, she enrolled at Boston University Law School, where she earned her LL.B. cum laude in 1927. She entered Columbia Law School in 1929, finishing her LL.M. degree in just a year.

Ms. Kneeland worked for Blodgett, Jones, Burnham & Bingham in Boston before establishing her own firm, Kneeland & Splane. In her more than 30 years of practice on Federal Street, she specialized in admiralty and marine insurance law, coffering a territory that spanned from Eastport, Me., to Brownsville, Tex. It was quite an accomplishment, considering admiralty law was largely the bailiwick of male practitioners. Although she lived most of her adult life on Boston's Beacon Street, Ms. Kneeland was a cosmopolitan woman who traveled the world. In 1952, she wrote to the Wellesley alumnae magazine: "Our office has grown by leaps and bounds. However, in spite of the press of business or perhaps because of it, I find time about every six months to go abroad…. The last trip was a cruise on the Caronia around South America - before that it was the Caronia to the North Cape and Norway and Sweden - and before that a flying trip to Portugal, Spain, the Riviera, and Paris."

 

Susan B. Lindenauer '64

Dean David Leebron once said of Susan Lindenauer, "It is hard for me to talk about Susan in anything but superlatives." Ms. Lindenauer entered Columbia Law School, having known since she was a child that she wanted to pursue a career in law. She graduated cum laude, then joined Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton as an associate.

It wasn't long, however, before Ms. Lindenauer sought challenges in the public interest sector, which have become the focus of her career. In 1966, she joined The Legal Aid Society, the nation's oldest and largest provider of indigent legal services, where she became a member of the Civil Division. She worked with clients in providing direct representation at the trial and appellate levels and undertook legislative work. She quickly made a name for herself as one of the society's most respected and tenacious attorneys. In 1977, she became general counsel and is currently counsel to the president and attorney-in-charge.

Beyond her work at Legal Aid, Ms. Lindenauer also has served on a variety of committees formed to improve the legal system. Those committees include chairing the Criminal Justice Section of the NYSBA, as well as the Committee on Legal Aid and the ABCNY Committee on Legal Assistance. She currently serves on the executive committee of the State Bar and is vice chair of the Lawyers Committee to Preserve Legal Services.

Ms. Lindenauer has also been an energetic force around the Law School. In addition to her generous support of the Human Rights Internship Program and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, she served as president of the Law School Association and has been a member of the Board of Visitors since 1991. She currently chairs the 75th Women's Anniversary Celebration Planning Committee and helped create the Women's Oral History Project, which captures the voices of some of the Law School's most distinguished alumnae for future generations to study.

 

Vilma S. Martinez '67

Vilma Martinez grew up in a poor neighborhood in San Antonio, Tex., where the highest aspiration of many girls was to be a secretary. Ms. Martinez, however, excelled beyond the boundaries of her humble beginnings to be hailed as one of the most ardent forces in the establishment of the Mexican-American civil rights movement.

After graduating from the University of Texas and Columbia Law School, Ms. Martinez began her career as a staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In 1970, she served as equal employment opportunity counsel for the New York State Division of Human Rights, where she strengthened the state's regulations and procedures for securing equal employment rights. After two years in private practice, she was elected president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) in 1973.

Described by her peers as determined and resourceful, Ms. Martinez sought to revolutionize the goals and services of the fledgling organization. During her tenure, MALDEF changed from a small, financially beleaguered outfit into a civil rights force to be reckoned with. MALDEF soon became the foremost advocacy group for Hispanics and one of the most effective civil rights organizations in the country, while tripling its annual budget. MALDEF gave voice to millions of Mexican-Americans who were victims of school segregation and voting discrimination and was instrumental in passing the 1975 Voting Rights Act for Mexican-Americans. In 1978, she received the Law School's Medal for Excellence for her tireless advocacy for human rights and equal justice under the law and for her work in changing the laws concerning migrant workers, hiring practices, and bilingual education. In 1982, she joined Munger, Tolles & Olson as a partner specializing in federal and state court litigation, including defense and wrongful termination and employment litigation.

 

Soia Mentschikoff '37

One of the great names in legal education, Soia Mentschikoff was renowned for her commitment to academic excellence, legal scholarship, and expertise in the area of commercial law. Her exemplary career was marked by a series of significant firsts that undoubtedly paved the way for female professionals. She was the first woman on the faculty of Harvard Law School, the first on the faculty of the University of Chicago, rising to full professor in 1962, and the first female to attain the status of partner in a New York City law firm. She was also the first woman elected president of the Association of American Law Schools.

In 1951, along with her husband, Karl Llewellyn - the esteemed professor at both Columbia and the University of Chicago Law Schools, - Prof. Mentschikoff was one of the principal drafters of the Uniform Commercial Code. This compilation of laws, which touched almost every business transaction in the United States, continues to have far-reaching effects throughout the commercial world in areas such as secured transactions, documents of titles, foreign banking, and investment securities.

Her distinguished academic life was enhanced by her appointment as dean of the University of Miami Law School in 1973. Beloved by her students and widely respected by her peers, she sought to raise the bar of academic excellence and scholarship during her tenure. The University of Miami Law School continues to utilize many of her techniques and ideas in its research and writing programs. In 1994, a full-tuition scholarship was created in her name at Miami Law School and is awarded to outstanding students from the entering class who have maintained stellar academic performances and exhibit potential for making substantive contributions to the legal profession.

 

G.G. Michelson '47

As a 19-year-old college graduate working at NBC, G.G. Michelson had no idea she would one day serve on the board of the network's parent company, General Electric. Though her academic career at Penn State University more than hinted at success, her belief that she lacked experience and maturity motivated her to leave NBC for Columbia Law School in order, she said, "to get older, smarter, and credentialed."

She completed her studies in two years with a program used primarily by GI's, among them her future husband, Horace Michelson '47, who died earlier this year. Her first stop in the practice of law would also be her last: R.H. Macy & Co. Now in possession of a law degree, she was unintimidated by other trainees with Harvard MBAs. Through the years, she climbed the company's corporate ladder, serving in positions such as labor relations manager, senior vice president for personnel, and senior vice president for external affairs. She retired from the company in 1992 and from the board of Federated Department Stores in 1996.

Her work was balanced by a strong commitment to philanthropy. In addition to GE and other for-profit boards, she served as the chairwoman of the Helena Rubinstein Foundation and chair of the executive committee of the Rand Corporation. She served on Columbia University's Board of Trustees from 1980-92 and also served as chair, making her the first woman ever to head an Ivy League board of trustees. In 1989, she received the Law School's James Kent Award. A devout Yankees fan, Ms. Michelson once said, "The only job I ever wanted besides the one I had was to be commissioner of baseball."