March is Women’s History Month – Legacy of American Female Attorneys 2016 by Jonathan Watson

Clara Shortridge Foltz – First female attorney in California

clarashortridgefoltz_imageCelebrated as the first female attorney in California, Clara Shortridge Foltz’s life was both traditional and revolutionary. Foltz was born on July 16, 1849 in New Lisbon, Indiana. From 1860-1863, Foltz received a formal education at Howe’s Female Seminary before eloping with Jeremiah Richard Foltz in 1864 (Biography Resource Center). By the time the couple settled in San Jose, California, Foltz had given birth to five children. It is believed that Foltz divorced her husband in 1879 and became a single parent (Schwartz, et. al, 1976).

Since men were only allowed to practice law, Foltz wrote an amendment to Code of Civil Procedure §275 (Schwartz, et. al., 1976). With the help of suffragists, she convinced the California legislature to pass the amendment in April 1878. The amendment was entitled Senate Bill 66 or the Woman Lawyer’s Bill (Schwartz, et. al., 1976). Despite being admitted to the state bar, Foltz still had to sue San Francisco’s Hastings College of Law to gain admission (Schwartz, et. al. 1976; Foltz v. Hoge, 54 Cal. 28). After prevailing in her case, Foltz was soon admitted to the bar of the California Supreme Court in 1879. Additionally, Foltz became the first woman to become a clerk of the judiciary committee of the California Assembly.1878_woman lawyer's bill

In 1893, Foltz presented the idea of a public defender at the World’s Fair in Chicago (Caldwell, 2013). She drafted a model statute not long afterwards, and campaigned for its introduction into state legislatures (Flaherty, 2011). In 1913, Los Angeles opened the first Public Defender’s Office. Eight years later, California would adopt the Foltz Defender Bill (Flaherty, 2011). Foltz died on September 2, 1934, having had a career that included working as a deputy district attorney. Foltz’s legacy still lives on. On February 8, 2002, the City of Los Angeles rededicated the Downtown Criminal Courts to be the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

From the “Legacy of American Female Attorneys” (2016 Rev.) by Jonathan Watson, Law Librarian for Solano County Law Library

PDF of the full article can be read HERE

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