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Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz Hardcover – January 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"By rescuing Clara Foltz's story from relative obscurity, Babcock has provided a powerful reminder of women's strength in the face of adversity, their will to overcome difficulties, and, together with sympathique brothers-in-law, to work toward a system of justice accessible and fair to all. Women Lawyer should engage feminists of my era and my children's generation, and history buffs of any age; most of all, the book should amaze and inspire young women and public defenders just embarking on their lives in the law."—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stanford Law Review

"Stanford Law professor Barbara Babcock enriches our knowledge of women and the law in California history with this single volume, Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz. . . Chapters devoted to her writings in law reviews and model statutes investigate and reveal Foltz's thinking and her impact on public life. . . [R]eaders will find in them extensive detail and compelling analysis."—Brenda Farrington, Western Legal History

"For Barbara Babcock, a distinguished legal historian who is herself a feminist pioneer . . . this book is clearly a labor of love, but also of identification. Babcock recognizes that the women we write about are not always model heroines; they have flaws, make mistakes, and choose differently from what we might have chosen. She tells Foltz's tale with commendable dispassion, never too close to her subject nor too critical, yet with her own perspective 'as a trial lawyer, a public defender, a first woman, and a feminist' shaping the account in both the selection and treatment of her material."—Rosemary Auchmuty, Feminist Legal Studies

"Babcock is at her best in Woman Lawyer . . . giving just enough information to whet the appetite."—Tracy Thomas, Journal of American History

"The book is rich in history, and as entertaining and lively as its subject."—Barbara Kate Repa, California Lawyer
"[T]his is a magnificent book establishing Clara Foltz's foundational work for women's employment rights, female suffrage, and the public defender's office."—Gordon Bakken, H-Net Reviews
"Barbara Babcock is one of our leading legal historians. Woman Lawyer gives voice to Clara Foltz's long and fascinating life, making vivid her important contributions as a reformer, 'first' woman lawyer, and legal thinker. It will establish itself as a classic in legal studies, women's studies, and American biography."—Jill Norgren, City University of New York
"Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Woman Lawyer provides a riveting portrait of a remarkable woman and her journey as a mother of five to becoming one of the first women lawyers in United States. Yet even more memorable is this book's evocation of another frontier: California on the brink of its modern identity, forged in the middle of an economic challenge and intense racial and class conflict. Unflinching in its assessment of the temptations of demagoguery to the pioneering Clara Foltz, Barbara Babcock has produced a compelling book of enormous and enduring insight into how even gifted and visionary individuals navigate, shape, and reflect political and social contests."—Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School
"Barbara Babcock's wonderful book only reinforces my view that being a public defender has been the most rewarding part of my professional career. Clara Foltz is my hero, and this book chronicles the challenges and achievements of perhaps the greatest public defender ever." —Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School
"In her engrossing new book, Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz, Barbara Babcock acknowledges that, for her, full detachment from her courageous, charismatic subject—California's first woman lawyer—is not possible. In fact, full detachment from Clara Foltz is not possible for any of her 'daughters in the law,' and beyond the law. Foltz's struggles to gain a foothold in several all-male worlds, powerfully told, connect to so many of us, across the nation and across the centuries."—Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge of the State of New York"
"Barbara Babcock conjures and brings to life a nearly-forgotten feminist hero. This account of Clara Foltz's rise from an under-educated farmer's wife to an icon of the California women's movement and a national public intellectual is both riveting and strangely familiar. That a single mother of five could have exploded into the hurly-burly world of California in the 1870s and—through mastery of the media, manipulation of her public image, and dogged hard work—become a national force for early progressive jurisprudence is astonishing. That women in 2011 could have no collective memory of Foltz is tragic. Babcock brings Foltz back to us with great tenderness and subtlety, reclaiming a place in American legal history for a working mother and national thinker who has much to teach us still."—Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor, Slate

About the Author

Barbara Babcock, Judge John Crown Professor of Law, Emerita, at Stanford University, is the first woman appointed to the regular faculty at Stanford Law School. She served as an Assistant Attorney General and was the first Director of the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (January 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804743584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804743587
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,657,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I know this review will not be particularly helpful regarding this book, but I write this from the jury room at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Courthouse in Los Angeles, formerly The Criminal Courthouse, and I want to applaud the subject matter. (It is on the 9th floor that such trials as O.J. Simpson and Phil Spector took place.) While waiting to hear my name called, I read a small publication put out by the courts for juror interest and amusement. The focus was Women in the Law. One of the women mentioned was Clara Foltz...and I realized I was in "her" courthouse. In the halls, all one hears is grumbling about being 'stuck' at jury duty. I think it would be wonderful if the experts on Ms. Foltz' life could create a brief biographical film to show jurors the extent to which some citizens have gone for law. To have sat here and silently read her story has made me want to shout out, "Excuse me, everyone - but listen to this!" We take things like the public defender for granted. Every woman in this room probably takes for granted that she can serve. Clara Shortridge Foltz is my new hero. She lived a life that truly made a difference. Bravo to the author of this book for not letting it be forgotten. Now to fill out one of the juror suggestion cards. ;0)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Barbara Babcock has written an elegant, important biography of a nearly lost figure in American legal history. Clara Foltz led an extraordinary life by any measure, in any era. But in the late nineteenth century Foltz led an almost unbelievable life of professional achievements, vision, and ambition.

Anyone interested in legal history, in women's rights, or in the dawn of American consciousness about the importance of providing legal representation to the poor will enjoy this engaging and brilliantly documented account of Foltz's colorful career. Along the way, they also will learn much about California history and the rise of the west coast as a center of intellectual and cultural innovation and growth.

A "first woman" herself --Babcock has been a path-breaker in her own professional career --the author brings Foltz to life as a complex, compelling human being. Her victories, her disappointments, and her boundless hope all are part of this lovely portrait of an activist who wanted equal rights for all --including for herself in a profession that saw women's role as hearth and home, not bench and bar.

The book also is an excellent account of constitutional and practical arguments for effective assistance of counsel that are as relevant today as they were in the 1870s.
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Format: Hardcover
Barbara Babcock, much loved Stanford Law professor and herself a hero to hundreds of today's successful women lawyers, has painted a fascinating picture of life in California at the end of the 19th century. A single parent with five children, Clara Foltz fought like a tiger to support her children, forcing her way into the exclusive and often corrupt ranks of law, business and politics. She earned money as she could, most frequently as a paid orator (one of the few positions available to an articulate, quick-witted female in those days), hired to travel the state and country speaking in favor of candidates and causes. The book gives us a rare glimpse into daily life in San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego before the turn of the century, with colorful descriptions of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the movement for women's suffrage, the 1906 earthquake and Sacramento politics.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Babcock took a long time to research the life and times of Clara Foltz. Foltz, a pioneering woman lawyer took on the California Governor to change the law so she could go to law school, then bettered her male rivals once graduating. She did what no others would do and made sure every person had representation.
This book is so well written by Barbara Babcock who herself, rivals Clara's career path to be the first woman in a few modern categories.
A must read!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have not yet read this book, am finally ordering it now. My dad was Truman Toland (1922-2011), great grandson of Clara, and son of William Gridley Toland and Trella (Clara's daughter). I can't wait to read this as I've heard Babcock lecture on Clara and she is spellbinding in her storytelling. I can only imagine that the writing is as eloquent.

One story I remember is that Clara was part of the opening ceremonies for the Lincoln Tunnel from Newark to Manhattan. My dad sat in the front of the limousine with the chauffeur and so always claimed to have been the first person through the tunnel (along with the chauffeur of course).

(The portrait of Clara that may be hanging in the courthouse in LA was done by my father (BFA, Yale).)


This is a must read. As I anticipated, Babcock tells the story with clarity and honesty. Very engaging!
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