Berkeleyan: A newspaper for faculty and staff at UC Berkeley
Berkeleyan Home Search Berkeleyan Berkeleyan Archive UCB News UCB Calendar

 This Week's Stories:

Two Hundred Boalt Alumnae Gather for First-Ever Reunion

by Gretchen Kell, Public Affairs
posted Mar. 11, 1998

The School of Law, which has admitted women since its founding in 1894, held its first-ever women’s reunion Feb. 27 through March 1.

Of the law school’s nearly 3,000 living alumnae and 400 women students, some 200 of them – the oldest from the classes of the 1940s, the youngest from the Class of 2000 – gathered for a weekend of reminiscence and discussion.

The women’s reunion is believed to be the only such event to be held by a law school on the West Coast.

It is unique that the law school has admitted women since its establishment 104 years ago. Today, women students comprise more than half of the entering class.

A few of the graduates who became well-known pioneers for women in the legal field are California Supreme Court Justices Rose Bird and Kathryn Werdegar as well as Zöe Baird, an attorney for a private law foundation who once was associate counsel to President Jimmy Carter and senior vice president and general counsel for Aetna Life & Casualty insurance company.

“I’ve wanted to hold this reunion since I became dean,” said Herma Hill Kay, dean of Boalt Hall for the past five years. “Throughout my 38 years as a faculty member here, I have actively encouraged women to come to Boalt Hall and study law. This reunion is like a celebration.”

The reunion honored a long list of “firsts” by Boalt women including:

  • The first woman to become a professor at a major American law school.
  • The first woman to edit a law journal at an American university.
  • The first woman chief justice of the California Supreme Court.
  • The first woman dean of Boalt Hall.
  • The nation’s first law office devoted to legal issues concerning child care centers and family day care homes.
  • The first non-profit organization in the country to provide legal advocacy for women involved in sexual harassment and sexual discrimination cases.
  • The nation’s first organization devoted to ensuring the legal rights of lesbians.

From its founding in 1894 as the Department of Jurisprudence until the mid-1960s, Berkeley’s law school each year had at least one or two women in its entering class. Since other law schools often excluded women from legal education during those years, “Berkeley was a leader in the legal education of women,” said Assistant Dean Lujuana Treadwell, chair of the reunion committee.

The first woman graduated from Boalt in 1906. In 1915, a national survey listed Berkeley, with six women attending its law school, tied for second place with the University of Washington for the largest enrollment of women. In 1968, women comprised 11 percent of Boalt’s entering class. In 1967 women held the top two positions in Boalt’s graduating and second-year classes. The first place in the first-year class also was held by a woman.

One member of the Class of 1977 helped draw even more attention to Boalt as a mecca for women interested in law. “Doonesbury” cartoonist Gary Trudeau created a character named Joanie Caucus and enrolled her at Boalt in the mid-1970s. A fictional, late-blooming feminist who left her husband and children for a new life at Berkeley, Caucus was adopted, in a sense, by the law school. The school started a file on the cartoon character in the admissions office, had Trudeau fill out her law school application and printed her picture in the yearbook.

In the years that followed, enrollment of women noticeably increased. Percentages grew to 28 percent in 1980, 46 percent in 1992 and 52 percent in 1993.

In 1997, women made up 51 percent of the entering class. Today’s 53-member faculty also includes 12 tenured and tenure-track women..

[ Back to top ]

UCB Home
Copyright 1998, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail