March Madness (3/14/2018)-Eleanor Holmes Norton v. Clara Foltz

Today’s competitors are Eleanor Holmes Norton and Clara Foltz. Eleanor Holmes Norton was the first woman to head the New York City Commission and the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Clara Foltz was California’s first female lawyer! Let us know which woman inspires you the most by participating in our daily Twitter or Facebook poll, or by casting a vote at the Circulation Desk.  Happy voting!

Eleanor Holmes Norton-“I defended the First Amendment, and you seldom get to defend the First Amendment by defending people you like … You don’t know whether the First Amendment is alive and well until it is tested by people with despicable ideas. And I loved the idea of looking a racist in the face—remember this was a time when racism was much more alive and well than it is today—and saying, ‘I am your lawyer, sir, what are you going to do about that?”

Image via Britannica

Daughter of a school teacher and a civil servant, Eleanor got involved in civil rights protests and activism when she was a college student. By the time she’d graduated with her bachelor degree, she’d already been arrested for organizing and participating in sit-ins. She participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in an attempt to get as many African American’s signed up to vote as possible. While in Yale Law School, she was on the founding board of the Women’s Right’s Law Reporter, which was the first legal journal to focus solely on women’s rights. In 1973, she helped found the National Black Feminist Organization. In 1977, she was appointed the first female chair of the EEOC and while there released the first set of regulations that stated continued sexual harassment was discrimination that violated federal law.  In 1990, she was elected to the House of Representatives as a non-voting member representing the District of Columbia, where she is still active. There, she supported the disarming of nuclear missiles and the bill that would make federal expenditures more transparent and accessible. Additionally, she has fought to get D.C. voting rights within the House of Representatives, which eventually succeeded in 2009 but did not affect her position there. While in the House, she has continued her civil rights and female rights work, including publishing articles about feminist rights.

Clara Foltz-“Counsel intimates with a curl on his lip that I am called the lady lawyer. I am sorry I cannot return the compliment, but I cannot. I never heard anybody call him any kind of a lawyer at all.”

Image via Wikipedia

After her husband abandoned her and her five children, Clara Foltz turned to the law to support her family. She applied to law school in 1878 but was denied with the famous quote, “…it’s a well known fact that the rustling of a woman’s skirts distracts the minds of male students…” Instead of challenging the decision in courts, Clara helped to get the Woman Lawyer’s Bill passed in California, the state joining the ranks of the earliest to allow women to practice. After obtaining admission to the bar, Clara became the chief lobbyist for a prison parole system and is considered the person responsible for the creation of the office of Public Defender.


Disclaimer: This is a friendly competition that is meant to increase awareness about some amazing women. The match ups were determined by a random outcome generator, and the winner will be determined based solely on the votes submitted by the participants. We are in no way seeking to pit one woman against each other in any inappropriate way, because each woman is inspiring in her own right.


Author: Alyson Drake

Alyson Drake is the Assistant Director for Public Services and the Director of the Excellence in Legal Research Program at Texas Tech University Law School, where she also teaches courses in Texas Legal Research, and Foreign, Comparative, and International Legal Research and administers the Legal Practice Program's research workshops. She blogs at

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