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?”