Monday, December 5, 2011

On New Deal Lawyers and "Feminine Charms"

So I'm writing a little piece on women lawyers of the New Deal, for a Chicago-Kent Law Review symposium on women's legal history.  The piece focuses on three women who worked for the Social Security Board, Sue Shelton White, Marie Remington Wing, and Bernice Lotwin Bernstein.  For context, I've been doing some digging on others, such as Labor Department solicitor Bessie Margolin.  This little gem, from the Harvard Law School Library Blog Et Seq, came up when I googled her name. It's by Curator Edwin Moloy:
Here is an example of some unexpected information about Felix Frankfurter that I stumbled upon in the Philip Elman Papers
Elman was an assistant to the Attorney General from 1944-1961. Frankfurter was on the Court during this time and during two cases he sent Elman several unusual notes.  One note reads, “Who is responsible for Miss R ——g’s vastly improving hair-do?!” In another note Frankfurter asks, “Do you suppose that you could whisper to Rosenberg to persist in the beautifying hair-do she had some time ago.  I HAVE TO LOOK AT HER.”
Another female lawyer, Bessie Margolin, also attracted the attention of Justice Frankfurter. One note contains this exchange between Frankfurter and Elman: 
Frankfurter: “She is a very good girl & a good advocate but not a lawyer of unsettling brilliance apart from the deft use of her feminine charms.” 
Elman: “Don’t you think that female charms are terribly important!!!”
The full post, which includes snapshots of the documents and the identity of "Miss R -- -- g," is here.

There is more to say about these brief exchanges. Dan Ernst reminded me that Margolin began her career as an attorney for the Tennessee Valley Authority, where she was rumored to have had an affair with her boss, Frankfurter protégé Larry Fly.  In 1939, Fly became Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; Elman did his own stint there in 1940, the year before his Frankfurter clerkship. The affair became big news in 1943 when Congress investigated the FCC.  In short, Margolin's "feminine charms" were "terribly important" in perhaps more ways than one.  

For the record, Margolin argued 27 cases before the Supreme Court. She won 25.