Battling for Liberty


Nadine Strossen '72 went to law school for the same reason that most young people became lawyers in the 1970s: she wanted to change the world.

"I'll quote the cliche we all used at the time: 'Law as a vehicle for social change,'" she says.

Twenty-five years later, Strossen has made social change her career. As the first female president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Strossen oversees the organization's campaign to preserve constitutionally mandated freedoms and acts as a spokesperson for the 275,000-member organization.

Strossen's activism had an early start. Born in Jersey City, N.J., she went to high school in Hopkins, Minn., and came to Radcliffe in 1968.

Originally a resident of Holmes Hall--now part of Pforzheimer House--Strossen moved to Winthrop House in 1970, when the houses first opened to women.

While living by the river, Strossen met her husband, Eli M. Noam '70, who was then a tutor in Adams House. After their graduation from Harvard Law School, Strossen and Noam married in 1980. Noam is currently a professor of economics and finance at Columbia University.

While Strossen was an undergraduate, Harvard did not have a civil-liberties organization. But Strossen says she was passionately involved in the main activist issues of the day while in college.

"The rallying cries were reproductive freedom and the anti-war movement," she says.

Even in college, her beliefs ran to civil libertarianism--an unpopular political stance in the 1970s.

"I definitely was a civil libertarian," she remembers. "I took a lot of grief for being a civil libertarian and a liberal because it was considered much too conservative."

Today, although the group is formally non-partisan, many Americans consider the ACLU a liberal organization, a label Strossen rejects.

"I think the terminology is really quite meaningless," she says. "To the extent that conservative means conserving fundamental principles, the ACLU is the most conservative organization in the United States."

Strossen says she does not remember when she joined the ACLU because she always saw it as the foremost civil liberties activist group.

But after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1975 and going into private practice, Strossen began to volunteer at the ACLU, working on civil liberties cases.

Today, she is still a volunteer for the group. The national presidency, a post she has held since 1991, is only her hobby, in a sense. Strossen also holds a tenured law professorship at New York Law School, where she teaches courses on constitutional law and international human rights.