I started law school in 1956. I think there were three, maybe four, women in the program when I started. I was in the evening class, as I taught school during the day. When I applied to law school, I was told, “Gerry, I hope you are serious, because you are taking a man’s place, you know.” At that time, you could discriminate against females and not admit the most qualified candidate, as doing so was not against the law.
One of the reasons there were so few women was because most were not interested in pursuing a legal career. Not only was it difficult to be admitted to law school, but at that time, many girls were more focused on getting their “MRS.” degree along with a bachelor’s degree, and in fact, many had engagement rings at graduation. Most professors treated us the same as they did everyone else, although I recall one who never gave a woman a good mark no matter how smart she was. After the first year, we were given student numbers, and marks changed significantly for females, because the instructor could no longer tell it was a she who wrote the paper. One other professor would call on a woman only if it was an embarrassing topic being discussed but any hostility that existed was from a very small number of teachers and staff.
I had a difficult time getting a job on graduation from law school in 1960, even though I finished in the top ten percent. At one firm I was interviewed five times. The fifth interview was with a senior partner. He proceeded to tell me how terrific I was and I thought I had the job. He then told me that they were not hiring any women that year. I was absolutely livid. I stood up and said, “You have just spent 45 minutes of my time telling me how terrific I am—well, my mother tells me that every morning,” and I stormed out.
I applied to the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan, went through several interviews and was offered a position. When I told them I was getting married in September, they withdrew the offer because they said, “You will not be able to fulfill the three-year commitment because you are Catholic and will probably have a baby right away and leave.” That was the type of thing that could be said in 1960. Many firms already had a woman on staff, so they were more comfortable rejecting a female, as they already had their quota.
I realized I couldn’t do anything about it. I would say to myself that these are terrible people and then move on.
Bio: Geraldine Ferraro made history as the first woman to contend for Vice President of the United States. She and Presidential hopeful Walter Mondale challenged incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush for the 1984 election. www.survivingadversity.com
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