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Trials and Tribulations

How the West Was Won By One Woman Lawyer

By Amy Stone ’64

Fifty years ago, when women lawyers were rare, Swarthmore gave Mary Murphy Schroeder ’62 the confidence to go to law school. Three years later, one of her professors at the University of Chicago Law School had the audacity to cut her down—telling her parents at graduation that they’d wasted their money. As a woman, she’d never use her legal training, he reasoned.

After a stint at the Justice Department, when President Lyndon B. Johnson was promoting government hiring of women after the passage of the 1964 civil-rights act, Schroeder went job hunting in Arizona at one of Phoenix’s leading firms, Brown & Bain. Jack Bain’s attempt to take her to lunch at his building’s Lawyer’s Club was shot down by the men-only policy. Lunch never happened. Bain’s partners didn’t want a woman lawyer.

Schroeder did get hired by Lewis and Roca, another major Phoenix law firm, where she made partner—the only woman of the 25 partners. It wasn’t till 1973, when all the partners went to their building’s Arizona Club to watch what became President Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech, that they found out the restaurant’s grillroom, where the TV was, did not admit women. They all trooped out. Eventually the grillroom admitted women.

When President Jimmy Carter appointed Schroeder to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, she became the nation’s youngest woman appellate judge. In 2000, she became the first woman chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—the largest circuit, stretching from the western states of the continental U.S. to Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Marianas.

Her judicial decisions include a broad grant of asylum to Salvadoran refugees and striking down the height and weight requirements for female flight attendants. Schroeder, a past president of the National Association of Women Judges, wants Arizona’s women lawyers to continue the struggle.

One of her goals: not to feminize but to humanize the profession, so both male and female lawyers who want a career and family life are not relegated to the mommy track. Schroeder herself pulled it off—lawyer, judge, wife, and mother.

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