While we celebrate the groundbreaking and pivotal work of women year-round across fields, this March we’re highlighting the trailblazing women in law profiled in Herma Hill Kay’s Paving the Way, edited by Patricia A. Cain. This month-long blog series showcases the first fourteen women law professors in America who paved the way for Herma Hill Kay and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all of those who followed. Last week, we introduced the first three. Here are the profiles of Soia Mentschikoff, Miriam Theresa Rooney, and Jeanette Ozanne Smith.
Soia Mentschikoff began teaching at Harvard Law School in 1947, becoming the fourth woman professor at a US law school. She attended Columbia’s law school, where she became a research assistant for Professor Karl Llewellyn and after graduating, became the first female partner in a major Wall Street law firm. Commonly referred to as “the first woman everything,” Mentschikoff was notably the first woman president of the AALS in 1974, while she was Dean of the Law School at the University of Miami.
Miriam Theresa Rooney started her career as a law librarian at the Boston Public Library in 1924, like many professionally trained women who were first hired in legal education. She became the fifth woman professor at an American law school when she was appointed as both an associate professor and law librarian at Catholic University School of Law in 1948. She was the founder and first female dean of an ABA accredited law school—Seton Hall Law School—and is the reason the school managed to become accredited.
Jeanette Ozanne Smith was the highest-ranking graduate from the University of Miami Law School, earning a GPA so high that it was not equaled until the 1970s. She returned to Miami to teach Contracts and Constitutional Law in 1949, becoming the sixth woman professor at an American law school. Her pursuits both extended beyond and preceded law, as she earned an RN degree in 1931 and volunteered as a Red Cross instructor for nursing aides during WWII.
Paving the Way documents the first wave of trailblazing female law professors and the stage they set for American democracy. Publishing April 2021.