Nancy F. Wechsler ’40
July 27, 2009
Nancy F. Wechsler ’40 was a noted champion of civil liberties and a prominent intellectual property expert. She was one of the first women to attend Columbia Law School, graduating at the top of her class in 1940. She passed away on July 27, 2009, at the age of 93.
Wechsler, also one of the first women to be admitted to the New York state bar, recalled in an interview years later the difficulty of finding a job as a woman in the 1940s: “At one firm, the receptionist told me they’d hired female stenographers only two years ago, and they were not about to hire women lawyers,” she said.
Nonetheless, Wechsler persevered. She spent six years working for several federal agencies and, in 1946, was selected to serve as counsel to President Harry
Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights. The move allowed her to follow in the
footsteps of her father, Osmond Fraenkel, who served as counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 1948, Wechsler joined Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst, where she specialized in copyright and intellectual property law. The firm represented the Planned Parenthood Federation of America at a time when contraception and abortion were essentially outlawed. “We were really the specialists in the law of birth control,” Wechsler recalled in an oral history about the first women to attend Columbia Law School. Her interest in the field led her to submit a well-regarded amicus brief for the 1973 case Roe v. Wade. For the majority of her career, however, Wechsler focused on representing publishers, authors, agents, and literary estates.
“Nancy was one of the finest, most ethical, and brightest individuals I have had the pleasure and honor of knowing,” said her colleague David Blasband, a partner at McLaughlin & Stern. “Her dedication to her clients could be the subject of a law school textbook on a lawyer’s responsibilities.”
Wechsler was the sister-in-law of constitutional law expert Herbert Wechsler ’31, a Law School professor who passed away in 2000. She is survived by a daughter and three grandchildren.