Written by Liz Wittrig, Project Archivist
Dolores Korman Sloviter is an inactive Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Her personal papers were donated to the Biddle Archives in 2017, and I recently went through her boxes of speeches, research files, correspondence, and photographs to make the collection accessible to researchers.
Sloviter was born in 1932 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she attended Philadelphia High School for Girls. She went on to attain a B.A. from Temple University in 1953 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School in 1956. Sloviter was only one of eight women in her graduating class.
I discovered a transcript in Sloviter’s papers of a 1995 oral history that she gave during the Federal Judicial Center’s Oral History Project on Women Federal Judges. In the interview, she describes her experience applying to Penn Law:
“When I went to interview, I was met by a professor in tweed clothes … He looked at me and he looked at my record and he said, ‘Why should we let you into law school? You’ll take a place, and you’ll get married and you’ll have children, and you’ll never contribute anything to the profession.”
Sloviter ignored him. After graduating from Penn Law, Sloviter entered private practice with Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish, and Green in Philadelphia and worked there for over a decade. She also became an advocate for women’s rights in the legal profession. When going through her files, I found decades of research notes, collected resources, and copies of speeches that Sloviter gave on the barriers that women encountered while pursuing a career in law.
A few folders document Sloviter’s refusal to attend a 1980 reception of the Lawyer’s Club of Philadelphia. Sloviter was invited to attend as a guest of honor and given a special admission ticket to the reception at the Union League of Philadelphia, which did not accept female members at the time. She wrote back that she could not “knowingly attend any event at a facility where women are relegated to an inferior position.” She added, “the irony of inviting me as a guest of honor under these circumstances is self-evident.”
Her letter was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and she received a flood of supportive letters. Three years later, the Lawyer’s Club wrote Sloviter to inform her of their policy change: all future receptions would be held at a hotel.
In 1979, Sloviter joined the faculty at Temple University Beasley School of Law. Sloviter taught Antitrust Law, Civil Procedure, and developed a new course titled “Law and the Elderly.” Sloviter’s papers contain the original research notes, bibliographies, and collected resources used to develop this course.
In 1979, President Carter appointed Sloviter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Sloviter was the first woman to serve on the Third Circuit and the fourth woman to serve on any United States Circuit Court. From 1991 to 1998, she served as the circuit’s Chief Judge.
Her collection includes a 1991 speech that she gave to the Alumni Association of Philadelphia Girls’ High School. In the speech she shared:
“For a long time, I felt like a token appointment as the first woman on the then 90-year history of the Third Circuit until I read that my counterpart, Judge Patricia Wald of the D.C. Circuit, said that we were not tokens, but beacons.”
While serving on the Third Circuit court, Sloviter formed a Task Force on Equal Treatment in the Courts to examine racial and gender bias in the court. Judge Anne Thompson, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge in New Jersey, was appointed as Chair. Sloviter’s papers include correspondence from the task force, copies of the final report published in 1997, and Judge Thompson’s extensive work to encourage the implementation of the report’s recommendations.
Judge Sloviter took senior status in 2013, and retired in 2016. She no longer hears cases but remains active within the court’s committees. Her personal papers document her long career and many contributions to the legal profession.
To learn more about this collection, access the finding aid for the Judge Dolores Sloviter Papers, 1965-2012, or access select digital items from the collection.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the Judge Dolores Sloviter papers or about donating materials to the Biddle Archives.