13 Pioneering Women in American Law: Clara Foltz
Image from the Library of Congress.
After Clara Foltz and her five children were abandoned by her husband in San Jose, Calif., she decided to support her young family by going on the women’s suffrage lecture circuit and studying law with her father, Elias Shortridge. After much lobbying, she persuaded the California legislature to pass her “Woman Lawyer’s Bill,” which opened the profession to women in 1878. She was admitted as the first female lawyer on the Pacific Coast, and began practicing.
She struggled for enough business and sufficient income for decades, though she was very influential politically and ran for various political offices. She was the chief lobbyist for a prison parole system, which was achieved in 1893, and is considered by many to be the person responsible for the creation of the office of public defender.
“Let the criminal courts be reorganized upon a basis of exact, equal and free justice; let our country be broad and generous enough to make the law a shield as well as a sword,” she said in 1893 while arguing for public defenders to be established.
Clara died in 1934 of heart failure.