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Clara Shortridge Foltz

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Clara Shortridge Foltz
Clara Shortridge Foltz.jpg
Born July 16, 1849
Lafayette, Indiana
Died September 2, 1934(1934-09-02) (aged 85)
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Occupation Attorney, publisher, suffragist
Known for First female lawyer admitted to the California State Bar
Spouse(s) Jeremiah D. Foltz (m. 1864)
Relatives Samuel M. Shortridge (brother)

Clara Shortridge Foltz (July 16, 1849 – September 2, 1934) was the first female lawyer on the West Coast, and pioneered the idea of the public defender. The Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles was renamed after her in 2002, and is now known as the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

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Early life and legal education

Foltz was born Carrie Shortridge in Lafayette, Indiana, to Telitha and Elias Shortridge (a lawyer and preacher).[1]:4 During the Civil War, the family moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where Foltz attended a co-educational school (rare at the time).[1]:5 In December 1864, at age 15, she eloped with a farmer and Civil War veteran named Jeremiah D. Foltz, and they began having children.[1]:6 However, he had difficulty supporting his family. The Foltzes moved several times, first to Portland, Oregon and finally to San Jose, California in 1872. During these times, she contributed articles to the New Northwest and the San Jose Mercury.

Around 1876, her husband deserted her and their five children. She began studying law in the office of a local judge, in part through the support of local suffragette Sarah Knox-Goodrich.[1]:15 She also supported herself by giving public lectures, starting in 1877, on suffrage.[1]:16

Legal career

Joining the California bar

Foltz wanted to take the bar examination but California law at the time allowed only white males to become members of the bar. Foltz authored a state bill which replaced "white male" with "person," and in September 1878 she passed the examination and was the first woman admitted to the California bar. Having little formal education, she wished to study at the first law school in California to improve her skills. Alongside her ally Laura de Force Gordon, Foltz applied to Hastings College of the Law but was denied admission because of her sex.[1] Foltz and Gordon sued, arguing their own case, and won admission.

Later career

Foltz practiced in San Francisco, San Diego, and from 1896 to 1899 in New York, where she attempted to create a career as a corporate attorney.[1]:181–205

Political career

Public speaking

In an era when public speaking could be a lucrative career, Foltz spoke for the Republicans during the campaigns of 1880, 1882, and 1884. In 1886 she became a Democrat, and in the winter of that year lectured in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.


Foltz became a leader in the woman’s voting rights movement. During a career that spanned 56 years, Foltz almost single-handedly pushed a great deal of progressive legislation for women’s rights in the voting and legal fields.

Public defense

At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, during a "congress" of the Board of Lady Managers, Foltz made her first highly public presentation of her idea of the public defender.[1]:150 Foltz's then-radical concept of providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants is used today throughout the United States.[1]:Ch. 7

Other accomplishments

Foltz was notable for many "firsts": first female clerk for the State Assembly's Judiciary Committee (1880); the first woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections; the first female licensed Notary Public; the first woman named director of a major bank; and, in 1930, the first woman to run for Governor of California, at the age of 81.[1]:323

In 1910, she was appointed to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, becoming the first female deputy district attorney in the United States. She was active in the suffrage movement, authoring the Women's Vote Amendment for California in 1911. Foltz also raised five children, mostly as a single mother, and encouraged women not to overlook their traditional domestic roles.

Foltz also founded and published the San Diego Daily Bee, and New American Woman Magazine, for which she wrote a monthly column until her death.


Foltz's brother, Samuel M. Shortridge, was elected to the United States Senate in 1920 and served two terms.[2] Foltz supported his campaign,[1]:320 though in earlier campaigns she had disagreed with him on key issues like tariffs.[1]:71


Foltz died at the age of 85 of heart failure at her home in Los Angeles on September 2, 1934. The pallbearers for her funeral included Governor Frank Merriam and several prominent federal and state judges. She was cremated and interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles County.

Posthumous recognition

At the insistence of its women students, Hastings College of the Law granted Foltz a posthumous degree of Doctor of Laws in 1991.[3] Additionally, the primary social space inside UC Hastings's McAllister Tower student housing complex was christened the Clara S. Foltz Lounge.[4] In 2002, the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles was renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Babcock, Barbara Allen (2011). Woman Lawyer: the Trials of Clara Foltz. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804743587.
  2. ^ "Shortridge, Samuel Morgan, (1861 - 1952)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 2015-07-08.
  3. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (2002-02-03). "Justice Prevails for State's First Female Attorney`". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-07-08.
  4. ^ "UC Hastings – Housing Services | Amenities". Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  5. ^ Shuster, Beth (2001-07-27). "Building's New Name a Testament to Tenacity". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2015-05-27.


  • Sharon Avey, The Lady Lawyer: Clara Shortridge Foltz, 2001, AV Publishers, ISBN 0-9717396-0-9
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, "Women Defenders in the West", University of Nevada Law Journal (Spring 2001).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, "Clara Shortridge Foltz: First Woman", 28 Valparaiso University Law Review 1231 (Summer 1994).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, "She Blazed the Trail: Clara Foltz Opened a Major Door for Women in 1878, When She Became the First Female Member of the State Bar", 106 The Los Angeles Daily Journal S16 (October 7, 1993).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, "Western Women Lawyers", 45 Stanford Law Review 2179 (1993).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, "Clara Shortridge Foltz: Constitution-maker", 66 Indiana Law Journal 849 (1991).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, "Reconstructing the Person: The Case of Clara Shortridge Foltz", 12 Biography 1 (1989).
  • "Clara Foltz, San Francisco", 1 The Law Student's Helper 263 (October 1893).


External links

This page was last edited on 30 August 2018, at 03:07
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