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Women at Boalt

Q: When did Boalt Hall first start admitting women to the law school?

A. Unlike Hastings, which at first had a men-only admissions policy, the law program at Berkeley has always been coeducational — though that gender-neutral admissions policy did not go unchallenged.

The first law class at Berkeley, a course in Roman Law, was offered in 1882 by the “Course in Letters and Political Science” — a fore-runner of the University’s departmental system. As a regular undergraduate course at Cal, the law class was open to all women.

In 1879 Hastings College of the Law sought to exclude a woman name Clara Shortridge Foltz, who attempted to enroll in the University of California’s first law degree program.  The legislators who wrote the Organic Act of 1868 creating the University of California intended the institution to be coeducational, but Hastings cited the actual wording of the Act to support their contention that women could be legally excluded. The Organic Act speaks of UC students only in the masculine gender. California Chief Justice William Wallace slapped them down in his decision: “It is conceded that females are now, and for several years last past have been, admitted as students of the University; and the provision of sec. 17, of the Political Code, that words used in the masculine gender comprehend as well the feminine gender, would seem to entitle females to enter the University as students at large.” (Opinion of the Court at 35, Foltz v. Hoge, 54 Cal 28 (1879)).  Hastings was forced to admit women, and in the process the right of women to attend the University of California was confirmed.

The classes offered by UC’s Dept. of Jurisprudence, founded in 1894, almost always included women, though those early classes did not lead to a law degree. The Department granted its first law degrees in 1903 — to three men — but in 1906 one was awarded for the first time to a woman: Emmy Marcuse. Upon graduation she entered private practice with her husband in Oakland.

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