[The second of the two essays I research and write for my exam in American Legal History is biographical Here's this year's. DRE]
Marguerite Luella Rawalt
|Marguerite Rawalt (TSHA)|
(1895-1989) was born in a small town in Illinois, where her family, of mixed northern European ancestry, had lived for generations. A distant ancestor had fought in the American Revolution. Her parents moved her and her family several times before finally settling in Corpus Christi, Texas. Tall and extroverted, “Mike” (as her family members called her) graduated at the top of her class in a small school that combined secondary education with what we would now call community college. She then went to the University of Texas, Austin, but only for one year, because her family’s finances gave out. She taught high school in a small Texas town, where she befriended and admired the female superintendent of schools. When the superintendent left after a year to attend law school at the University of Texas, Austin, Rawalt could not afford to do the same, although she wanted to. Instead, she moved to San Antonio, found work as a secretary, and took shorthand and typing classes at night. She also met a handsome, piano-playing master sergeant named Jack Tindale, whom she found sweet, attentive, but also vulnerable. A biographer who interviewed her, Judith Hillman Paterson, claims that Marguerite “wanted to provide the strength he lacked, to propel him toward the future she would have wanted for herself if she had been a man.” They married in 1918.
In 1921, Jack and Marguerite moved to Austin, so that Jack could attend the University of Texas. Through a politically connected friend, Marguerite got a job in the office of Governor Pat Neff. Although hired as stenographer, she quickly impressed Neff with her ability and political savvy. For example, on her own initiative, she organized Neff’s vast correspondence by the senders’ county and occupation, so that the governor would be ready with a personal remark when encountering correspondents on trips to their hometowns. Soon Marguerite was writing official resolutions and delivering the governor’s messages to the state legislature, but when she told Neff her dream of becoming a lawyer, he tried to dissuade her. Who would hire a woman lawyer? Neff demanded. Besides, she wasn’t tough enough. Letters from clemency-seeking prisoners moved her to tears; how could she try a rape case before a jury?
The issue became moot when Jack, who had neglected his classes and grown unhappy with Marguerite’s long hours with male coworkers, decided to leave the university and move the couple to the West Texas town of El Paso, so that he could become the franchisee of a women’s lingerie company. Because Marguerite did not trust him to handle the business, she kept the books, scheduled the salesmen’s trips, filled orders, and then took on other employment when the whole enterprise faltered. Within six months, Jack had left in search of work in the North, and Marguerite returned to San Antonio. Employed as a secretary in a car dealership, she soon organized its finances so well that its owner all but turned over the business to her. Jack continued to fail. “I am just dragging you down,” he said after she wired him his train fare back from another fruitless job hunt. They divorced, childless, in 1927, and Marguerite resumed her maiden name. “Jack never did anything mean to me,” she explained. “Love just turned to pity. That is no way to be married.”
Her big break came the following year in a telegram from Neff, who had been appointed to the U.S. Board of Mediation, a newly created independent agency charged with settling labor disputes. “Rawalt, here’s your chance,” it said. “Come to Washington as my secretary. Attend first-rate law school at night.” Although the car dealer promised her a share of the company, and although the pay was less than her current salary, Marguerite accepted Neff’s offer.
She planned to attend Georgetown Law until two coworkers in Neff’s office told her that it did not admit women–news, she told her biographer, that struck her like “a sack of grain” to the stomach. But she got good grades at George Washington Law and graduated as a member of the Order of the Coif. She was also an editor of the initial volume of GW’s law review. She did not, at first, realize that that was an honor: her first reaction upon receiving the invitation to join the editorial board was to seek out the faculty advisor and ask why she had been singled out for extra work.
The District of Columbia permitted law students to take the bar exam before graduating. Rawalt took and passed hers in 1932, a year before she graduated in June 1933, so that she could start job hunting as soon as the Franklin Roosevelt administration commenced in March. She immediately joined the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, founded by suffragettes who drafted and championed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA): “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Rawalt was still campaigning for the ERA in the 1970s.
While a law student, Rawalt started a career-long practice of being active in bar organizations by becoming the leader of GW’s chapter of a national legal sorority, Kappa Beta Pi. “The rough and tumble of organization life came naturally to her,” her biographer Paterson wrote. “She liked to be in charge.” At a luncheon of the GW chapter in early March 1933, she turned up with Sarah King, an honorary colonel in the Texas National Guard and the head of the Texas’s official delegation to FDR’s inauguration. King stayed with Rawalt during the inauguration festivities and made her an official member of the delegation. Learning that Rawalt wanted a federal legal position, King got top Texas Democrats to endorse her for a position in the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was known until 1953. “You would think I had gone after a Cabinet post,” she laughed as she left the office of the chief counsel on the arm of one of Texas’s two U.S. Senators, who had just personally asked the chief counsel to give her a job. When the offer arrived, the pay was a third less than her salary as a secretary at the Board of Mediation. She took it anyway, joining the 500-person Chief Counsel’s office in December 1933.
A member of the Women’s Bar Association had warned her that her male superiors would try to get her to do administrative rather than strictly legal work, and so she was ready when she was offered the job of docket clerk. Flatly rejecting it, she insisted on the same caseload as the thirty male lawyers who started with her in the Compromise Division. For the next four years, she carried a docket of thirty cases, mastering their facts, learning tax law, and negotiating with delinquent taxpayers. “My work is heavy,” she wrote to her ex-husband. “I feel it needs extra effort to make good, for women have to be not just as good, but almost better than the men, to hold the same kind of position.” Newspaper reporters caught up with her when she traveled to settle cases. To one she said that “any field in which a woman can qualify is open to her. . . . [N]ever in my day have I met any opposition because I wore skirts at the bar.” Yet she also said that she never attempted to go into private practice because “the public was not ready to receive women lawyers.” The few female private practitioners she knew survived on divorce and probate cases, neither of which interested her.
“All the time I was doing this compromise work,” Rawalt later recalled, “I wanted to get into trial work. Every lawyer wants to get into court.” BIR cases got to court in two ways. First, taxpayers could refuse to pay their taxes and appeal to the juryless Board of Tax Appeals (renamed the U.S. Tax Court in 1942). BIR lawyers in the Appeals Division handled such cases. Alternately, taxpayers could pay their taxes and sue for a refund in a jury trial in Federal District Court. Lawyers in the Refund Litigation Division represented BIR in such cases.
At last, in 1938, a chief counsel called Rawalt into his office and told tell her he was assigning her to the Appeals Division, even though its lawyers–all men–did not want a woman in their midst. She shared an office with two male lawyers. One, told to give her some cases from his docket, gave her his most difficult ones. Working nights and weekends, with the help of her other, more sympathetic office mate, she survived. Indeed, she thrived and worked in the division happily until, as part of a general decentralization of the BIR’s legal work, she was asked to relocate to Chicago. By that time, she had a personal reason to stay in Washington.
While a divorcee in Washington, Rawalt did date men, including a fellow who shared her love of horse raising and good food but happened to be married. Then, in 1935, through mutual friends, she met Harry Secord, a widower eleven years her senior, who had retired from the military but was serving as the civilian superintendent of Bolling Air Field in Washington, DC. Rawalt found she could relax with the quiet, self-assured, and orderly man. “She wanted someone, not to take care of her,” her biographer wrote, “so much as to share with her the responsibility for both their lives.” They married in 1937, but because the Economy Act of 1933 forbid two members of the same family from working for the federal government, she retained her name and the two hid their marriage until 1940. Reactivated in 1942, Harry served two years at an airbase in Mississippi while Rawalt remained in Washington. When Harry later retired for good, he urged her to keep working, knowing she would be unhappy without employment. Rawalt was still working for the IRS when he died in 1963.
Rawalt’s new position in the Chief Counsel’s Office suited her well. It was in the Brief and Review Section, which was tasked with ensuring that the positions taken by BIR lawyers in the field offices were consistent with the agency’s policy. In time, she became its chief, although she did not receive the salary increase that went with the promotion until she got a competing offer from the Department of Justice. Thereafter she held positions of importance but never ones of command elsewhere in the Chief Counsel’s office. Thus, she became assistant chief of the Appeals and Refund Litigation Divisions but never either division’s chief. Further, despite mobilizing politically connected Texans, she never received the judicial appointment to the U.S. Tax Court she coveted greatly.
After being turned down for the Associate Chief Counsel job shortly before her retirement, Rawalt was so angry that she complained to her fellow Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson. She claimed that the only reason for the “snail's pace” of her promotions was that men did not want women them giving orders, but some of her coworkers thought Rawalt was more interested in bar politics and women’s professional groups than her day job. She ended her workday promptly at five o’clock and spent many evenings and weekends on those activities. Three years after joining the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) in 1939, she became its president and launched a membership drive to qualify the NAWL for a seat in the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. When she succeeded and became the NAWL’s first delegate to the ABA, detractors accused her of trying to build a political machine.
You can understand why: for three and a half months in 1943, while her husband Harry was stationed in Mississippi, Rawalt was simultaneously president of the NAWL and the Federal Bar Association (FBA), a national organization of government lawyers. (FBA would not elect another woman President for fifty years.) She was proud of the growth of the FBA’s membership during her tenure and warmly recalled presiding over banquets attended by Supreme Court justices and Eleanor Roosevelt. But another honor, the invitation to address the annual meeting of the Texas State Bar Association, landed her in what she called “a sea of troubles.” Before taking up the main topic of her address (tax legislation), Rawalt made a more general point to her audience of courtroom lawyers:
Are the lawyers of this country, men and women, going to take full advantage of their opportunities in administrative law? It is the most rapidly expanding area of law practice today.... Administrative law, through the Federal Communications Commission, regulates the program you hear on your radio. . . . Administrative law, though the OPA and other Departments regulates what food you buy and what you may pay for it.
A fifth of the nation’s lawyers were in military service, Rawalt continued, and most of those left behind had attended law school before administrative law had become part of the curriculum. Would the lawyers in her audience nonetheless “take over this great, expanding area of government law practice”? Would they “protect and defend this practice” for their returning fellow lawyers?
A reply arrived months later in a newspaper column by a virulent critic of the New Deal. “Though cynical,” Westbrook Pegler wrote, at least Rawalt was “honest and practical.” She frankly urged lawyers to “grab off their share of the loot from a nation bedeviled by confusing and harassing rules, regulation and interpretations, many of them improvised by New Deal Bureaus operating as courts.” Rawalt’s only concern, Pegler claimed, was “that lawyers should get their share” of Everyman’s possessions “as he is tossed up for grabs by his government.”
Rawalt continued on the IRS’s legal staff until 1965, when, at the age of 70 and after thirty-one years at the agency, she retired. Already active in second-wave feminist groups, she advised the legal arm of the National Organization of Women and picketed the White House with NOW in 1969. At last, she returned to Corpus Christi, where she died at the age of ninety-four.
[A Note on Integrating the FBA and Sources. Because I could not sort out the facts to my satisfaction and did not want to distract my students with supposition, the essay omits Rawalt’s part in the failed attempt to integrate the Federal Bar Association during her presidency, which J. Clay Smith noted in Emancipation:: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944 (1999). In her oral history, Rawalt simply said that the board of directors could not be persuaded to act, without describing whether or how she urged it to do so. The following year, another Texan, Tom C. Clark, succeeded. Both years, the intergationists proposed an exemplary government lawyer, Louis Mehlinger.
[A recording, but not a transcript, of Marguerite Rawalt’s extensive oral history with the Columbia Center for Oral History at Columbia University is available here. The biography quoted in the essay is Judith Paterson, Be Somebody: A Biography of Marguerite Rawalt (Eakin Press, 1986). Gwendolyn Lockman's entry on her for the Texas State Historical Society’s Handbook of Texas is here. Rawalt's address to the Texas State Bar Association is “How Our Federal Tax Laws Grow,” Federal Bar Association Journal 5 (1943): 86. Westbrook Pegler’s column appeared in many newspapers, including, under the title, “Fair Enough,” in the Muncie Evening Press, April 8, 1944, 12. Her papers, which I did not consult, are at the Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.]