Clara S. Foltz bigraphy, stories - United States womens' rights activist

Clara S. Foltz : biography

July 16, 1849 - September 2, 1934

Clara Shortridge Foltz (July 16, 1849 – September 2, 1934) was the first female lawyer on the West Coast. She was the sister of U.S. Senator Samuel M. Shortridge. 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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Advocate for progressive legislation

In 1880, Foltz moved to San Francisco. Not satisfied with being a San Francisco attorney, 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. She 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.

At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, during a "congress" of the Board of Lady Managers, Foltz introduced her idea of the public defender, with a speech entitled "Rights of Persons Accused of Crime — Abuses Now Existing." Foltz's then-radical concept of providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants is used today throughout the United States. She also created a similar model for the California Parole System.

Her many other trail-blazing accomplishments included becoming the 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.

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.

Looking back on her accomplished life, Foltz wrote: "Everything in retrospect seems weird, phantasmal, and unreal. I peer back across the misty years into that era of prejudice and limitation, when a woman lawyer was a joke ... but the story of my triumphs will eventually disclose that though the battle has been long and hard-fought it was worth while."

Early life and legal education

Foltz was born in Lafayette, Indiana, and was a descendant of Daniel Boone. She moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, with her parents and attended Howe's Academy. She was taught in 1863 in Mercer County, Illinois, and in December 1864, at age 15, she eloped with a farmer named Jeremiah D. Foltz, and they began having children. 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, and supported herself by lecturing. She 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. After being denied admission to Hastings College of the Law because of her gender, she sued, argued her own case, and won admission. She later also became licensed to practice law in New York.

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