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. Here are the profiles of Ellen Ash Peters, Dorothy Wright Nelson, Joan Miday Krauskopf.
Ellen Ash Peters graduated from Yale with her LLB cum laude in 1954, won the prize for being the top student, and was elected to the national legal honor society, the Order of the Coif. She began teaching at Yale in the fall term, 1956 and in 1964 became a full professor with tenure—Yale’s first tenure-track woman law professor. In 1974, Ella Grasso was elected Governor of Connecticut, the fourth woman in the United States to become a state governor, and the first who won election to the office in her own right rather than as the successor to her husband. he absence of women on the Connecticut Supreme Court did not escape her attention. Peters was appointed to the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1978, the first woman appointed to that court. She also became the first female chief justice elected as president of the Conference of Chief Justices in 1994 and the only woman to hold this office during the twentieth century. In 2015, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy declared March 21 “Ellen Ash Peters Day.”
Born in San Pedro, California, Dorothy Wright Nelson received an Artium Baccalaureus degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1950, a Juris Doctor from UCLA School of Law in 1953, and a Master of Laws from the USC Gould School of Law in 1956. During the late 1960s, Nelson was the nation’s only female dean of a major American law school. When the Los Angeles police chief branded her a communist during a time of student protests, she invited him to meet and talk over dinner. Nelson played a key role in the historic class of 1979 women judges. As USC dean and chair of the American Judicature Society, she was asked to help organize nominating commissions to vet judicial candidates for the federal appellate court.
Joan Krauskopf entered UCLA Law in 1954, in the school’s sixth entering class of approximately 125 students. She was one of twelve women, and there were no women on the faculty or in the administration. In the early to mid-1970s, Krauskopf began to advocate for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Missouri. Krauskopf’s own experiences with Missouri’s law faculty and hiring practices helped spark her interest in the legal issues of sex discrimination. In the early to mid-1970s, Krauskopf turned to writing about sex discrimination when she began to advocate for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Missouri. In 1974, she became Missouri’s first tenured woman law professor.
Paving the Way documents the first wave of trailblazing female law professors and the stage they set for American democracy. Publishing April 2021.