Pearls of Wisdom

When Judith Richards Hope arrived in Cambridge as a first-year student at Harvard Law School (HLS) in 1961, there were 19 other women in her class—and just two women’s restrooms on campus.

More than 40 years later, Hope recounts the numerous obstacles she and her classmates faced as female students at HLS in her new memoir, Pinstripes & Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law Class of ’64 Who Forged an Old-Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations.

“I had found over the years that I and my classmates were regularly trying to give encouragement and advice, particularly to young women, but also to young men, about what it takes to make it in the legal profession,” Hope explains. “And I thought maybe some folktales could be of help.”

Though the book focuses largely on her own experiences—including her teenage life as a minister’s daughter in Defiance, Ohio, her 1961 Law School acceptance and her experience as one of the most powerful movers and shakers in Washington’s legal circles—Hope also includes historical background and detailed descriptions of her female classmates’ experiences.

Classmates from HLS, Hope says, remain “some of my best friends.” And though their backgrounds and paths after graduation often diverged, she writes, these women came together to break barriers and succeed.

“We have no magic formulas, no seven or ten rules for success, no twelve-step programs. Ours are just war stories from forty years on the women’s front,” Hope writes in the book’s introduction. “Each of us has done it her own way, but we have kept sight of each other out of the corners of our eyes...We have never clustered, but having each other for support and advice over the years has saved—and comforted—us again and again.”

Though she has plenty of advice to share, Hope says writing the 261-page memoir was no easy matter.

After years of meetings with former Law School administrators and admissions officials, interviews with HLS classmates and a six-month writing sabbatical, Hope handed her first draft over to her daughter, Miranda.

From there, the book almost never made it into print, Hope says.

“She thought that I wasn’t telling the real story, that I was making it look too easy and too simple,” Hope recalls. “She refused to help me with it, because she said it wasn’t honest.”

Nearly two years later, Hope returned to the book, determined, she says, to follow her daughter’s advice and “tell it straight.”

“I think for myself and many, but not all, of my women classmates, we had to be sort of like soldiers on the frontlines, and we couldn’t focus on the slights or the hurts or the difficulties, because we would not have made it through,” Hope says. “It became part of our formula for success, but it wasn’t a true picture, and it wasn’t as good as really sitting down and finally leveling with ourselves, and then with others.”

A Dec. 1963 headline in the Harvard Law Review proclaimed “Women Unwanted,” citing statistics in which U.S. law firms ranked female lawyers at a minus 4.9 on a scale from negative 10 to 10.

But the 15 women who graduated in the Class of 1964 went on to prominent posts as lawyers, government officials and even psychoanalysts.

For them, Hope writes, the challenges of HLS provided a fierce and formidable beginning to their careers.

At an annual dinner with then-HLS Dean Erwin Griswold, Hope writes of “sparkling Catawba grape juice for cocktails, stewed chicken and lima beans for dinner, and interrogation for dessert” as Griswold asked the female students, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?”

Though they faced occasional opposition from peers and professors in an atmosphere that was unfamiliar with women at best and hostile to them at worst, Hope and her classmates remained determined to graduate.

Even when Professor W. Barton “Pappy” Leach only allowed female students to speak on designated “ladies days”—when questioning generally related to cases involving underwear—few protested.

“Essentially it was an exaggerated version of our everyday experience: we were in an unusual position in an unusual place for women to be,” writes classmate Alice Pasachoff Wegman, who became an environmental lawyer.

After graduation, Hope, like most of her classmates, struggled to find employment. Even finishing second in the state on the Ohio bar examination, Hope writes, led only to offers of secretarial work.

But after pounding the pavement of the nation’s capital, Hope landed a job working for top-notch lawyer Edward Bennett Williams. From there, she skyrocketed to the top levels of Washington’s power elite, becoming the first female associate director of the White House Domestic Council in 1975 and the first female partner in the Paul, Hastings law firm.

And officials at Harvard took note.

Hope was named to the University’s highest governing board in 1989, the first woman in more than 350 years to join the ranks of the exclusive Harvard Corporation.

For one not usually intimidated, the first meeting, held around the board’s traditional table at 17 Quincy St., was a daunting start.

“Even though I was within reach of the table, I didn’t know the customs of that table or quite the right way to travel the last few feet and take my place,” Hope recalls in the book’s opening chapter. “No one told me where to sit and there were no place cards.”

Though she retired from the Corporation in 1999, Hope has remained an active supporter of the Law School.

Several weeks ago, Hope returned to Langdell Hall to share her story in the Caspersen Treasure Room.

Having the opportunity to speak in a recently-renovated room containing some of the school’s most valuable possessions was a great honor, Hope says. But the refurbished shelves and exhibit space weren’t the only things that differed from her days as a student.

“Most notably, there are ladies bathrooms everywhere at Harvard Law School,” she says. “That’s a big change. You don’t have to run through a sleet storm for two blocks to use the powder room.”

Telling the students of the HLS classes of 2003, 2004 and 2005 about the travails of the Class of 1964 was an “eye-opening” experience, she says.

Though female law students now have an almost-equal playing field and many entry-level job opportunities, she says, some obstacles remain.

“The conflict of the demanding profession of the law, and the need and desire to have a family life, will never change,” Hope says. “And that I heard loud and clear when I was at Harvard.”

But to some extent, Hope says, today’s HLS students—both female and male— have an easier time.

“The classes are not as tough as they were, and I, for one, think that’s bad,” Hope says. “We were not coddled at all, and I think that was good for us. I think it is less challenging in the classroom for students today, and that is not always a kindness, because the real world of law is very tough.”

—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at shoichet@fas.harvard.edu.