Saturday, June 14, 2008

Who Will Write the History of the Women's Court?

As Mary mentioned, I coedit, with Thomas Green of the University of Michigan Law School, Studies in Legal History, a book series sponsored by the American Society for Legal History and published by the University of North Carolina Press. The appearance of Kelly Mitchell’s paper, “To Hell With Women Magistrates": An Examination of Women Magistrates and the Woman’s Court in Alberta, Canada, 1917-1932" in Mary’s post on this year’s Berkshire Conference on the History of Women reminds me that the women’s court in the United States and Canada would be a terrific topic for a book. I know of Amanda Glasbeek’s dissertation, “A Justice of Their Own: The Toronto Women's Court, 1913-1934" (York University, 2003), and article, “Maternalism Meets the Criminal Law: The Case of the Toronto Women's Court,” 10 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 480 (1998), student papers on Georgia Bullock, who presided over Los Angeles’s women’s court, in the Stanford Women’s Legal History Biography Project, and a discussion in Virginia Drachman’s article on “New Woman” lawyers in the Indiana Law Review (1995). I’m sure I’m missing other treatments--apologies in advance to their authors--but, even so, isn’t this a topic that would repay further study at book length, especially if undertaken comparatively?

After all, the “socialized courts” of the Progressive Era are back, in the guise of Domestic Violence Courts, Drug Courts, and Mental Health Courts. Michael Willrich’s prize-winning study of Chicago’s Municipal Court and a host of works on juvenile courts (my favorite is David Tanenhaus's Juvenile Justice in the Making) have put the histories of those institutions before today’s “judicial statebuilders.” Surely the history of the women’s court would be no less instructive.

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