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At a public memorial service in Delaware attended by several hundred people, state Family Court Judge Barbara Crowell L’80 praised Judge Arsht for her thoughtful, practical, and progressive decisions. Arsht, Crowell said, was a good listener who made each litigant feel important.
“She was just human,” said Delaware Family Court Judge Aida Waserstein L’73 in her eulogy to Judge Arsht. Waserstein, an Arsht protégé, recalled one case that typified Judge Arsht’s humanity. It involved an alcoholic mother whose drinking jeopardized her family. Judge Arsht called the woman over to the bench, held her hand and convinced her to get treatment.
“For Judge Arsht, it was not enough to render a judgment,” said Judge Waserstein, who represented the petitioner in the case. “She went further and touched the woman, both physically and emotionally, at a significant enough level to motivate her to change.”
To preside over that case, Arsht had to beat long odds. She was born in Wilmington in 1915, when Delaware’s constitution barred women from becoming lawyers. Her Russian immigrant father, Samuel, who earned a master’s at the University of Pennsylvania, stressed the value of education. Following her father’s example, Arsht graduated from Goucher College and earned a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1939.
Few opportunities existed back then for women in any field, much less law. So Arsht took time to raise two daughters with husband Sam, to whom she was married for 59 years.
As her children grew older, Arsht began to serve the community, most prominently as president of Planned Parenthood from 1954 to 1957. Steeped in family issues, and eager to use her legal training, Arsht decided to volunteer as a Master in Delaware’s Family Court, serving without pay for nine years.
In 1971, then-Governor Russell Peterson, impressed by Arsht’s work, appointed her to a judgeship on the Family Court, which opened the doors for other women. Today, 11 women judges sit on Delaware courts.
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