History of a Young Female Law Professor

The Washington Post published an account of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s career as a law professor, Elizabeth Warren Faced Sexism, Shed a Husband and Found Her Voice Teaching Law in Houston, which you might find interesting regardless of your views about her politics.

The article described her academic career starting in the late 1970s.  She faced a challenge in getting hired because her law degree was from low-ranked Rutgers.  There was only one other woman on the faculty and she started teaching legal writing as well as contracts and commercial law.  She struggled teaching contracts, where she was a tough instructor who students found intimidating.  “The faculty members themselves, often the men, treated me as if I were a second-class citizen,” she said.  “It was a lonely experience.”

She had a mentor who repeatedly sexually harassed her.  “He commented on her clothes and appearance in ways that made her feel uncomfortable.  He told dirty jokes and invited her out for drinks, which she declined. … [One day] he lunged for her in his office.”  He was a powerful senior colleague, so she never complained.

Her marriage was stressed as she took care of her husband and kids while going through the grind of being a junior faculty member.  “When they were on their high school debate team together, [her husband] Jim had been drawn to her because she was smart and driven, Warren remembered.  Now he seemed to yearn for a more traditional wife.  But she had become a different person than she was at 19, when they married.  ‘I think [my husband and I] were both shocked by who I turned out to be 10 years later,’ Warren said.  ‘He thought I would be someone else, and truthfully, I kind of assumed that, too.  I kept changing and growing almost despite myself.’”

Unfortunately, many female faculty have had similar experiences.

2 thoughts on “History of a Young Female Law Professor”

  1. The feelings that Warren experienced appear to be common throughout the legal field for women. Law school continuously changes you as a person as you grow and develop, and learn things about yourself that never even knew they were there. As a law school professor, you’re inevitability trapped within the “law school cycle” of constant learning and stress.

    However, as a woman who plans to have a long career in the legal field in addition to being a wife and having kids, I am mortified at how Warren’s husband view of a wife changed overtime. Women who obtain a law degree are not women who sit quietly and go with the flow. Women who obtain law degrees are “go-getters”, assertive, and over achievers. It appears that the very thing that attracted Warren’s husband to her was also the same thing that broke the marriage apart – how scary. Warren’s feelings are valid and should be discussed more.

  2. This article strikes me in a couple different ways. First being that Elizabeth Warren’s story is unfortunately not novel, even 30+ years later. The pressure put on women to have to continuously prove themselves as being just as competent as their male counterparts is especially magnified in the legal community. I would bet that each of my fellow female law students have a story to tell about how she has been belittled solely based upon her sex, yet had to comply because it could have hurt her professionally to speak up otherwise.

    Second, there is a social tension for women to be the most impressive in their profession and while also balancing a healthy home life, both of which are possible. I sometimes have to catch myself when I see my fellow students with husbands/wives and children and think, “how do they do it?” Because they are not in law school on accident – we all work significantly hard in our own ways to achieve what it is we came here for. And quite frankly, we should all aspire to be just as prepared for class as the woman who made it to her 9:00am lecture despite her child having the flu.

    Careers, marriages, children- none of these aspects of life should be viewed as hindering a woman from achieving what it is that she wants to achieve. Each of these aspects should be celebrated and supported in its own way. Furthermore, ambition should be celebrated too, because growth and success simply do not stem from just someone’s idea of being “traditional.”

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