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. Here are the profiles of Marygold Shire Melli, Clemence Myers Smith, and the fifteenth: Herma Hill Kay, herself.
Born in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 1926, Marigold Shire Melli grew up in Mississippi and Wisconsin and was interested in law as a young girl, telling her father “Well, I know I will have to work all the rest of my life, so I might just as well do something where I can think.” After graduating from University of Wisconsin Law School, she worked on a project to recodify the Wisconsin Criminal Code in 1953 and a revision of the Children’s Code in 1955. She became the University of Wisconsin School of Law’s first woman professor in 1959. In 1980, Melli was the first woman member of the Board of Managers of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Clemence Myers Smith was born in Hastings, Nebraska in 1920. The sixth of the first fourteen women law professors, Clemence Myers Smith graduated first in her class from Loyola Law School while she was a single parent of a young son. In 1952, she began teaching at Loyola, Los Angeles.
Herma Hill Kay was born in 1934 in South Carolina and graduated from University of Chicago Law School in 1959. The fifteenth woman to hold a tenure-track position at a law school accredited by the Association of American Law Schools and the second woman to join the Berkeley Law faculty where she became the first female dean of Berkeley Law School from 1992–2000.
Paving the Way documents the first wave of trailblazing female law professors and the stage they set for American democracy. Publishing April 2021.