Ask the Archivist

Women at Boalt

Q: Who are the women in the class photos in the Donor Lobby? Were they students, and if so, what did they do with their careers? TC, Berkeley

A: Most of the women in the class photographs were indeed law students at Boalt Hall. Some were members of the staff.  Though not all of them can be identified at this point, there are a few names we can attach to faces, and some interesting lives associated with those names.

The first framed class photograph in the lobby that includes women is for the Class of 1920. Of the three women who received law degrees that year, two are shown in the photograph: Helen Virginia Davis [married name: Hersch] and Charlotte Favor MacGregor [Boggs].  (The elderly gentleman between them is Dean William Carey Jones, the founder of the Law School.)  The woman in a broad-brimmed hat behind them is Rosamond Parma, a member of the Class of 1919.  In 1911 Parma was hired as “Librarian for the Law Library and Clerk to the Dept. of Jurisprudence;” her career included Lecturer in Legal Bibliography and manager of the California Law Review. She earned her law degree from Boalt Hall while single-handedly serving as the law school administration. 

The two women law students in the photograph for the Class of 1921 are Calla Mathison [Shaw] and Agnes Polsdorfer. They are joined by Rosamond Parma in the second row, again wearing a wide-brimmed hat.  In the 1930s, Agnes Polsdorfer served as a Deputy District Attorney of Alameda County under Earl Warren. Calla Mathison practiced law in Berkeley.

View the images with captions here.

There were five women in the Class of 1922: Stella Ajamian [Edwarde], Arline Cavins [Matheron], Frances Jessen [Tenney], Helena MacGregor and Mildred Mallon Prince.  Five women appear in the framed photograph, but unfortunately we cannot match up the names with the women shown.  It appears that Arline Cavins Matheron became a law librarian in Fresno, while Frances Tenney was a law librarian at Boalt Hall.  We have no documentation on the careers of the others.

The three women in the photograph of the Class of 1926 are (l to r) Rosina Owen Bernhard, Lilian Albina Caire, and Marion Janet Harron.  Of the three, information can be located only about Judge Marion Janet Harron, who (according to her Wikipedia page) once had a lesbian affair with Lorena Hickok, the alleged lover of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  See   
Three women received J.D. degrees in 1940: Borgny Moen [Baird], Jean Markey [Bernal], and Elise de Fremery [Sawyer]. Only two women students appear in the class photograph. (The two older women on either side of Dean Edwin Dickinson are probably Clara Kilbourn and Helen Harris, the librarians.) For the first time in over thirty years of taking group photos of the graduating class, the women are not pictured front and center. Two unidentified women peek out from the third row, barely visible.  After beginning her career at O’Melveny & Meyers, Borgny Moen in 1946 went into private practice with her husband, Woodrow Baird. Jean Markey Bernal entered private practice in Lower Lake, California.  In 1964 Elise Sawyer is listed as a member of the Alumni Association, but she does not appear to have been in practice at that time.  

There is only one woman in the photograph for the Class of 1942, the extraordinary and incomparable Doris Brin Walker. Communist, labor organizer, civil rights activist, and reputed inspiration for a character in J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books, Walker was one of the most colorful and dynamic people ever to graduate from Boalt Hall. For more on her life as a social activist:  
The three women in the front row of the photograph of the Class of 1950 are (l to r) Mary Wailes, Charlotte Cohelan [Danforth] and Moira Ford [Brady]. The three women remained friends after law school, and reportedly “put Queen’s Bench on the map” performing as a musical trio. An issue of the Queen’s Bench Newsletter for 2004 includes an archival photograph of the trio performing at the Palace Hotel:
Finally, of the four women who were graduated in the Class of 1951 — Betty Barry Deal, Barbara Stayton Fleming, Patricia Joan Hofstetter, and Elizabeth Anne Olson [Stokely] — only two appear in the photograph. The women this time are not only not placed front-and-center, they are not even standing next to each other. Betty Barry Deal, a judge since 1977, became in 1980 the first female justice of the California Court of Appeals, First District. Patricia Joan Hofstetter was a judge for the Whittier (Calif.) Municipal Court from 1963-1988.  The two women pictured are, unfortunately, unidentified. Perhaps readers of this column could help us put names with faces. 

Indeed, any information about any of these women would be welcome, and perhaps a current law student might want to dig deeper into the lives of these remarkable pioneers.  Information could be added to Stanford’s very helpful Women’s Legal History website:

Update: Readers who remember the column concerning the Cheney houses that used to grace our parking, once the haunt of Jack London and Frank Lloyd Wright, will be happy to learn that one of houses has been given a new lease of life:

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