Q. My mother was given the enclosed diploma when my father graduated from Boalt Hall in 1962. Is this still a practice? (I doubt it.) –LP, Belle Fourche, SD
A. The practice of rewarding a supportive spouse with a Ph.T. degree (Putting Husband Through) — aka the Good Wife Diploma — is one of those quaint customs that current admissions patterns have rendered obsolete. That and a slew of nasty divorce cases in which the valuation of spousal support during a degree program became a bone of contention.
Women comprise 58% of this year’s 1L class, so while the phenomenon of women working to support their husbands through graduate school has not completely disappeared, it is just as likely to be the husband who is supporting the wife (or, with same-sex couples, the wife the wife, or the husband the husband).
We think of the Sixties as a period of liberation and social upheaval at Berkeley, but the Women’s Movement came late to Boalt Hall. Well into the 1960s it was often “the little woman” who supported a Boalt Hall student through the lean years of his law school career. In the November 1967 issue of the student newspaper The Writ appears the following column by the retro-ly named Mrs. David Jones:
“Boalt Hall Student Law Wives is a non-profit organization which exists primarily for the ‘preservation of sanity’ among the wives of Boalt students. [H]ighlights of the year’s program are the spring skit, the Holiday Auction and the first scheduled activity, the Friendship Fashion Show and Tea.” Officers for 1967-68 included Mrs. Fred Hiestand, Mrs. Garry Hubert, and Mrs. Rusty Block.
The problem was that all-too-frequently the graduating husband, having at last established himself in a position to pursue a lucrative legal career, traded in his long-laboring wife for a newer, younger model. In dividing the couple’s assets, how was a court to evaluate the intangible of earning potential, as distinct from existing community property? Prof. Herma Hill Kay advises: “The first, and leading, case is In re Marriage of Graham, 194 Col. 429, 574 P.2d 75 (1978), which denied recovery to the [divorcing] wife. New York is the only case to come to the opposite result, in O’Brien v. O’Brien, 66 N.Y.2d 576, 489 N.E. 2d 712, 498 N.Y.S. 2d (1985).”
But what of those humorously-produced and ironically-bestowed Ph.T. diplomas, such as the one that is now a part of the Law School Archives collection? They represent a generation of women who made a genuine sacrifice — at a time when that sacrifice was generally expected of them. Berkeley Law has had women in its graduating classes since 1906, but for the greater part of its history the vast majority of Boalt Hall students have been men, many of them able to pursue their law degrees only because of the financial support of the women they married.
A closer look at Cherie Swann’s Ph.T. diploma may tell us something about Boalt Hall circa 1962. This is not a mass-produced mimeographed joke. It is finely printed, and personalized with elegant calligraphy and a crimson seal. It has been signed by the Dean. This particular diploma in addition has been nicely mounted for permanent display. May we assume, perhaps, that at Boalt Hall even in the benighted 1960s there was some glimmer of recognition that a woman’s willingness to place her husband’s career above her own was a sacrifice not to be expected and lightly dismissed, but to be acknowledged as every bit as significant and honorable as that of her husband’s graduation?
*Behind every great man … [there is a woman]
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