'Pinstripes & Pearls' details Harvard Law gender battle

Issue April 2003 By Jane Maschka

"Ours are just war stories from forty years on the women's front," writes Judith Richards Hope in the introduction to "Pinstripes & Pearls," a book detailing what it was like to be a woman in Harvard Law School's Class of 1964 and beyond.

About the book...
Title: Pinstripes & Pearls

Author: Judith Richards Hope

Description: The women of the Harvard Law class of '64 who forged an old-girl network and paved the way for future generations

Publisher: Scribner

Released: January 2003

Pinstripes & Pearls
From running to the only women's bathroom on campus during exams to responding to the law school dean's questions as to why they were taking a man's place in the class, Hope relates stories illustrating the challenges women faced as pioneers in law school. This included "Ladies' Days," days in which one particular professor called all the women to the front of the class and grilled them on the reading material.

"Pinstripes & Pearls" tells the tales of two wars fought by the same group of women - one fought in law school and one fought after graduation.

Hope is a veteran, recounting the barriers overcome by the comrades-in-heels.

Not surprisingly, she and her classmates constitute an impressive group - former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder and D.C. Circuit Court Judge Judith Rogers graduated with Hope, and Elizabeth Dole graduated the next year.

Hope herself is no slouch, serving as partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the firm Paul Hastings. She also was the first woman to serve on "The Corporation," Harvard's elite governing board.

Like almost any soldier's tale, "Pinstripes & Pearls" is at times a little self-indulgent and slow moving, but fascinating nonetheless.

As a student in Harvard's Class of 2004, it is almost impossible to believe that the war that Hope and her classmates fought at this law school occurred only 40 years ago.

The women in our class grew up knowing that Sandra Day O'Connor was on the United States Supreme Court. We watched Susan Dey on TV's "LA Law." And in high school, we saw a woman lead the prosecution team in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

It is dumbfounding to remember that our mothers lived in a world in which women were consistently told that higher education would prevent them from finding a husband, and great legal theorists scoffed at the notion of women in the classroom.

One interesting angle that Hope brings out in "Pinstripes & Pearls" is that the law school's long-standing exclusion of women was not based on the notion that women were the weaker sex or mentally inferior, but on the somewhat less offensive rationale that women were less likely to utilize their legal education than men. If nothing else, Hope tells an inspiring story about proving a great number of smart people wrong.

While it is still a stretch to say that women have achieved equality at Harvard Law School (women still remain underrepresented on Harvard Law Review and supposedly have lower first-year grades), relative to the Class of '64, the women of the Class of '04 have little to complain about at the law school.

As Kathleen Sullivan points out in the coda to Hope's book, the student population is 48 percent women as opposed to the mere 3 percent in the Class of '64. And currently 23 percent of the faculty is women. While the professors are still demanding, most go out of their way to ensure that they call on men and women in equal numbers, and most are sensitive about using the Socratic method when leading discussions on topics that are particularly personal to women, such as rape and abortion.

In turn, many, if not most, women seem to thrive and enjoy their time here, and for the most part, the administration seems to do what it can to ensure that success is possible regardless of gender. "Pinstripes & Pearls" illustrates the enormous progress that women have made over the last 40 years in terms of education.

As enjoyable as it is to read Hope's shocking tales of law school in the 1960s, the most interesting and insightful pages describe the women's experiences after graduation.

Today's female law school graduates presumably will neither have to deal with being told that a potential employer does not hire women nor will they likely have to suffer as much blatant sexual harassment as did the Class of '64. Other challenges faced by that class, however, remain nearly as daunting.

Managing family and career, femininity and competency, and attempting to network in an old boys' system of golf and cigars remain serious concerns for female law students. As women leave major law firms in frightening numbers, members of our class are asking, "Where do they go?" only to meet the shrugged shoulders of partners and the typical response, "They usually move in-house or start having kids."

"Pinstripes & Pearls" provides a more satisfying account of what choices intelligent women make and those that they wish they had made - and just how much harder it is for women than men to balance their lives successfully. She relates how some classmates went through deep depression while feeling incapable of managing their lives, why a number opted out of the law and prestigious jobs, and what a struggle it was for a classmate dedicated to only working part-time.

Hope contends that things are better now, supporting her statement with the fact that two of the women she mentors at her law firm are mothers and work "less than full time" schedules. Yet in a profession where that can still mean more than 40 hours a week, it remains difficult to see how achieving both family and career success is possible.

In perhaps the five most interesting pages of the book, Hope's two adult children provide a somewhat brutal account about what it was like to have Hope as a mother. While Hope spends most of the book celebrating how she put her children first and still managed to achieve incredible career success, her children tell a different story.

Respectfully and hesitantly, they suggest in separate letters to Hope that she made more sacrifices in her relationship with her children than she had realized. Hope's brave choice to print the letters allows readers to see that even women who think they are successfully "having it all" may very well not be.

All and all, the book is worthwhile reading for everyone in the legal profession. In laying out the war faced by the Class of 1964, "Pinstripes & Pearls" reminds us which battles still need to be fought by the women law students of the Class of 2004.

The Class of 1964 sought to prove that women could succeed in the legal profession and did so admirably.

The challenge for the Class of 2004 is to change the legal profession so that it is one in which women want to succeed and are able to do so without sacrificing their career, the respect of their children, or their happiness.

Jane Maschka is a member of Harvard Law School's Class of 2004.