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In September, the University of Pennsylvania Law School paid tribute to five alumnae who elevated women’s place in the law. At a unique event ("a different kind of confirmation hearing," in the words of Dean Michael A. Fitts), renowned female jurists Phyllis A. Kravitch L‘44, Norma L. Shapiro L ’51, Dolores K. Sloviter L‘56, Deborah T. Poritz L’77, and Yvonne Mokgoro GL’90 were honored in a portrait unveiling ceremony in the Levy Conference Center. The judges’ portraits will hang in classrooms throughout the School as inspiration to current and future generations of aspiring attorneys and as paeans to perseverance. Now celebrated for their "firsts" and the accomplishments that have followed, each of these judges conquered the quiet prejudice of colleagues and governments and overt discrimination in the legal establishment to weave the feminine into the brethren. They are, to borrow a phrase from Judge Shapiro, "lamplighters."
The year was 1941. Law schools routinely held policies barring women students. Even women studying at more progressive law schools endured accusations of "stealing" a man’s place in class and the profession. That didn’t stop Phyllis Kravitch.
"My father (Aaron Kravitch L’17) reminded me that Penn had admitted women for many years," says Kravitch. "... there was one woman in his class and she was treated like the other students." Penn Law lived up to her expectations. Just one of two women in her class, Kravitch looks back on her experiences at Penn Law with pride and affection, and says she felt none of the sting of prejudice. She speaks fondly of Penn Law as "a school that I love" and "a leader in all schools in granting equality to men and women." But that did not prepare her for the discrimination she then faced in the professional law community.