Thoughts on "Pinstripes & Pearls"

I’ve been catching up on my favorite sci-fi/fantasy series, but I felt behooved to take a break from werewolves, witches and vampires to read something law school related. At the library I stumbled across a real gem. Pinstripes & Pearls by Judith Richard Hope is the fascinating tale of the women of the Harvard Law Class of 1964. The first women were admitted to Harvard in 1950, but the class of ’64 was part of the first generation to really deal with the feminist issue of choosing a career or family. The vast majority of the women chose both, with varying degrees of success.

Pinstripes & Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law Class of '64 Who Forged an Old Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations

Twenty women entered Harvard Law in 1961, and 19 of them eventually ended up with law degrees. Two of them transferred out due to personal reasons, and two others stopped after the first year and returned to complete their degrees later. The environment was uncomfortable–there was only one women’s bathroom in the entire law school, and it was a long trip down to the basement. Some of the male students were resentful that women, who it was assumed would never use their degree, were taking the places of men who deserved and wanted it more. Some of the professors didn’t even call on them in class except on designated “Ladies’ Days”. However, the women banded together and persevered. The author puts in enough detail to make her account credible, but doesn’t dwell on the boring stuff. Interesting anecdotes and vignettes of each female student are deftly woven into the story, which introduces each woman and her journey to law school, along with what happens to her before and after.

It seems that the women were unprepared for the amount of challenges they faced in gaining employment–condescension, sexual harassment and flat out discrimination were rife. On the first day of one job, Hope’s boss asked her to buy him a coffee. She did so, but charged him $50 to impress upon him the value of her time–it had taken her thirty minutes to complete the task because of a long line, and she was getting paid $100/hr. Throughout the descriptions of each woman’s winding career path, there is great advice about the unique challenge of being a woman maneuvering your way through office politics. Grace under fire, dogged persistence, and unabashed use of feminine charm when necessary seem to be crucial components for making your life bearable, if not easier.

Hope speaks candidly about each of her classmate’s victories and defeats. Several of the women married fellow law students, and had to juggle a family and a job while their husbands worked long hours at prestigious law firms. These stories are what make the book not just amusing, but a must-read for any woman who is determined to have a fulfilling professional and family life. The author herself became the first woman named to the Harvard Corporation in 1989 and has taught at several highly regarded law schools. Pat Schroeder spent twelve terms in Congress as a Representative of Colorado’s 1st district and made a brief bid for President in 1988. Judith Wilson Rogers (one of only 3 Black people in the class) worked for the District Attorney in Washington, D.C. and spent 11 years on the District Court of Appeals there, six of them as its chief judge. However, several of the women struggled with depression in their midlife and one of them twice attempted suicide.  Hope’s own children have admitted that they often felt secondary to her high powered career. The lesson from this seems to be that you can have it all, just not at the same time. Katherine Huff O’Neil (an arbitrator and mediator turned co-owner of a boutique law firm) said, “You can always be a lawyer, but you have a limited time in which to be a lawyer.” She, along with the women who seemed to lead more balanced lives, obtained fulfilling part-time legal work in the public sector or pursued a career path in academia so that they had the flexibility to be with their children.

This book was a great inspiration to me because I know that I want to have kids, and that I don’t want to resort to daycare or getting a nanny before they’re old enough for pre-school. However, I also know that being a full-time homemaker would leave me feeling bored and unchallenged. I definitely want to be a lawyer. But I know that even with increasing “flextime” initiatives traditional law practice is not usually conducive to family life. It’s heartening to know that these women managed to do so at a time when the workplace was extremely hostile to women and stay at home dads were unheard of.

I plan to purchase my own copy of this book immediately, and you should definitely look it up! Have you read any inspiring books lately?

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