By Judith T. Younger • March 13, 2007•First Women
I’m delighted to be here in such distinguished company. I’m not sure that being a “first” is really as notable as being a “best” but in the spirit of this endeavor, I will admit to being the first woman dean of Syracuse College of Law. I may have been the first woman dean of a law school in New York State as well. I’m pretty sure that I was the first dean of any sex whose resignation from the deanship was covered on the front page of The New York Times. (N.Y. Times, April 8, 1975). I resigned because I could not get the university to stop diverting law school revenues to benefit other programs at a time when the law school was in trouble with accrediting authorities. The Times article appeared a month after my resignation and the unexpected publicity turned me into a public enemy in the eyes of faculty, alumni, and students who preferred to keep mention of the law school’s difficulties out of the public domain. It was a painful but ultimately valuable professional experience.
I’m proud to say that I’m a public school product, having gone to the Bronx High School of Science in its heyday. The students at Science in those days were good at only one thing --reading books. It was perfect for me. There I met my late husband, Irving.
We were already married when we entered law school together. We were poor and so shared a single set of casebooks. We were also very competitive and were lucky that the marriage survived law school. Though I did well, I didn’t get as many job offers as I thought I deserved. I didn’t think much about it because I got the clerkship I wanted. I remember that when I first approached the dean of the law school to talk about the possibility of a clerkship, he told me that I ought to stop competing with my husband and support him in his career. Instead, it was my husband who supported me in my career. In tears, I told him what the dean had said. He didn’t console me; he sent me back to the dean to “demand” my rights. The dean relented; he decided to help me. In order to get the judge’s attention, the dean wrote him a one-line letter. It said “Eddie, this year I am sending you Judith T. Younger, who is as brilliant as she is beautiful.” I remember being insulted, but the letter got me the interview and that was far more important.
I was the first female law clerk my judge had ever hired, and he persisted in lending me out to others and showing me off. Early in the clerkship, there was a telephone call from someone who didn’t give his name but who did leave a message: “Tell Eddie I want to see that ‘broad’ he hired.” I didn’t realize that the caller was referring to me. When I told the judge he laughed and said, “That was Learned Hand, he wants to meet you.” I had to go to Judge Hand’s chambers though I was absolutely terrified. Once there, his secretary ushered me into what seemed to be an empty room. Suddenly, Judge Hand appeared from behind a huge desk. He began to sing “Greensleeves.” He followed that with Portia’s speech about the quality of mercy from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Then came a shower of profanity. Finally he shouted “Go!” laughing gleefully at my confusion. When I got back to chambers, my Judge was amused. He said, “You had to meet him. He’s a legend after all.” At the time, I was happy to have escaped. In retrospect, I realized that neither my Judge nor Judge Hand was malicious but the experience was demeaning and I was hurt by it.
From the clerkship I went on to the litigation department of a Wall Street firm, where I was treated with great respect and made to feel as much a part of the firm as any man.
When I had my first child, I began to realize that it would be hard to carry on with career and family. My husband was a brilliant and generous man. He didn’t want to take care of children and neither did I. His solution was that we should hire someone. We did, and she and my parents, who lived close by, did a wonderful job. However, the arrival of my second child drove me toward teaching. I felt that I needed the academic year with its relative flexibility to allow me to meet the needs of two children.
I thought that the transition from practice to teaching would be easy but I had a dreadful time breaking into the academy. For several years, I taught a full-time load at my alma mater though I had only adjunct status. The dean said that because my husband was already a member of the tenured, full-time faculty, university rules precluded me from being on the tenure track. I resigned. That caused a short-lived student revolution in which the students misconceived the issue. They were parading around carrying signs saying “Tenure for Professor Younger!” The issue wasn’t tenure, of course. All I wanted was to get on the bottom rung of the tenure track. Eventually, I got there and all my adventures since are a matter of public record.
In summing up, I must tell you that I found my role models early in my law school career. They were Holmes and Brandeis. They still are. To young women who want careers in the law and who expect to raise families as well, I say: it may not be easy, but you can do it! Above all, don’t feel guilty about not being at home when you are in the office or about not being in the office when you are at home. Guilt is, in my experience, the most wasteful and damaging emotion. So take it out of your repertoire!