Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin.

Author:Gudefin, Geraldine
Position:Book review
 
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Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin. By Marlene Trestman. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2,016. xvii + 243 pp.

In Fair Labor Lawyer, former attorney Marlene Trestman recounts the life of Bessie Margolin, the "first and only woman whose name appeared on the Supreme Court brief of any of the New Deal cases" (56). Although Margolin has not previously received scholarly attention, during her lifetime she elicited enormous interest from the press, which saw her as a "pioneering professional woman" and the "quintessential lady lawyer" (xiii). Drawing on personal papers, oral histories and rich archival evidence, Trestman painstakingly traces Margolin's life trajectory and her significant contributions to modern American law.

Born into a Russian Jewish immigrant family in early twentieth-century New York, Bessie Margolin spent her childhood in a Jewish orphanage in New Orleans following her mother's premature death. As Trestman shows with impressive detail, twelve years at the Jewish Orphans' Home left a profound impact on Margolin's personality and career. Through her experiences at the orphanage and at the Isidore Newman Manual Training School, an elite boarding school run by the New Orleans Jewish community, Margolin acquired the values of hard work and autonomy and knowledge that enabled her subsequent educational pursuits. She excelled at her studies, earning degrees from Newcomb College, Tulane Law School and Yale Law School. At Tulane, where she graduated second, Margolin was the only woman in her class. Although Margolin continued on the path of academic excellence at Yale, working as a research assistant for renowned legal scholar Ernest G. Lorenzen and earning a doctorate in law, her gender and religion prevented her from obtaining a teaching position or a law firm job after graduation. Consequently, she opted for government service, which offered greater professional opportunities for women than the private sector.

Margolin launched her legal career in the 1930s, at a time "when only 2 percent (3,385) of America's attorneys were female and far fewer were Jewish and from the South" (xiv). Her entrance into the professional world coincided with the start of the New Deal, which turned out to be felicitous timing. While her work as an attorney for the Tennessee Valley Authority paved the way for a remarkably successful career with the federal government...

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