Babette Barton was the third woman professor at the School of Law. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley in 1951 in the Department of Business Administration, where she majored in accounting. Her father had urged her to select this area of study so that she would be assured of a job as a bookkeeper or accountant rather than a secretary or teacher, the only jobs typically open to women at the time.
She received her J.D. degree from Berkeley Law in 1954. She was first in her class in all three years of law school and was inaugurated into its honor society, the Order of the Coif.
Barton was an outstanding student from the start, yet always engaged in multiple activities. During law school she was hired as a research assistant by both Professor Adrian Kragen and Dean Frank Newman. She also served as the teaching assistant to Professor Maurice Moonitz in his Legal Accounting class at the law school, based on her success in passing all four parts of the CPA exam on her first try immediately after finishing her undergraduate degree. Barton also worked as an intern for the League of California Cities, providing legal advice to numerous cities in California, along with her fellow classmate Frank Mankiewicz, later Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s press secretary.
Pending Barton’s graduation, members of the law faculty sought to secure her and the other top graduates a job with numerous San Francisco law firms. Uniformly the firms were eager to hire this outstanding person until they heard that she was a woman, and then not a single firm made her an offer, as was also true for the future Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Instead, she secured a one-year appointment as a law clerk to Chief Justice Phil S. Gibson of the California Supreme Court, a great civil libertarian who that year chose to hire 11 women and one blind man as his law clerks. The League of California Cities also offered Barton a position after an all-night meeting at which they agonizingly finally decided to hire their first woman attorney. Barton declined as she had just accepted Gibson’s offer the day before.
At the end of the clerkship in late 1955, with legal jobs still not open to women, Barton and her husband created a family of three boys within 25 months. Because at that time there were no organized childcare programs or facilities, while caring for her sons at home Barton worked on law cases with her husband. She took one of the cases into the California courts, arguing and winning it in the California Supreme Court before Gibson, her former boss.
She also worked as a co-author with Professor Kragen. When he was appointed vice chancellor of the Berkeley campus in 1959, he needed a replacement to teach his classes. He suggested Barton. The law school contacted Gibson for his opinion and he strongly urged the school to hire her. She began teaching as a lecturer in the spring term of 1961. In 1966 she agreed to convert to full-time teaching, at that time a prerequisite at the law school for a tenure-track appointment. In 1973, Barton was promoted to full Professor of Law. It was entirely fitting that she was appointed the Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law when a chair was named for him. At that time, Professor Herma Hill Kay was the only other woman on the law school faculty.
Even though she had never practiced tax law, Barton excelled and became prominent in that field based on her teaching, the two very popular casebooks that she wrote, and her publications and appearances in tax institutes and programs across the country. She became a prominent member of the American Bar Association and served on the governing Board of its Tax Section. And she was an important co-founder of the California State Bar Tax Section and became an early chair of the Section. Her range of teaching focused on two large and fast-changing fields — Federal Tax Law and Consumer Protection. She was an author and co-author of several books and casebooks on Tax Law, including Taxation of Business Enterprises, Taxation of Income, Drafting Agreements for the Sale of Businesses, and Selected Aspects of Business Tax Planning.
Barton was very active on the Berkeley campus. She served on the board of directors of the Women’s Faculty Club. She also joined a group of distinguished Berkeley women faculty, organized by Professor Marian Diamond, to meet for lunch at the club. Their purpose was to give each other mutual social and academic support. These women — Susan Ervin-Tripp, Laura Nader, Elizabeth Scott, Herma Kay, Josephine Miles and Barton — were trailblazers for the women faculty who began to be hired in greater numbers.
Within the Academic Senate, she served as chair of several Senate committees, including Privilege and Tenure and the Senate Policy Committee. She was then asked to become the chair of the Academic Senate. Release time from teaching appeared automatic for every chair of the Senate, given the time commitment it required. However, the law school dean refused her this perk. She did not fight further for this position as she was still raising her sons without the support of institutional childcare.
Outside the campus, she generously rendered critical assistance to the UC Davis School of Law at its inception, driving there two days a week to fill out its skeletal faculty by teaching tax on top of her teaching load at Berkeley. And once her sons left for college, Barton was able to accept visiting professorships at other law schools. Beside her numerous volunteer community activities, including service for the Berkeley Family Service Agency, in the mid-1960s Barton also joined the prestigious decades-old Berkeley Tennis Club and became the second woman president in the club’s history.
In 1997, she was honored with the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest award given annually by the law school’s alumni association to an outstanding graduate, and also received the prestigious Joanne Garvey Award for “Lifetime Achievement and Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Tax Law” at an honorary luncheon of the State Bar of California Tax Section.
Barton retired in 1999 — and was celebrated at a lavish retirement party. She continued to teach until 2004 at the law school’s request. Barton died October 16, 2022, at the age of 92.
Professor Eleanor Swift (Emerita)
UC Berkeley School of Law