Two Women, Two Histories: A feminist, an antifeminist, and their exercise of power

From Harvard Magazine:

As the second world war drew to a close, two women thought about applying to Harvard Law School.

Pauli_2 The first was an African-American native of North Carolina, the granddaughter of a slave and the great-granddaughter of a slave-owner, who had moved North for college, survived the lean years of the Depression, befriended Eleanor Roosevelt, and sought unsuccessfully to do graduate work in sociology at the all-white University of North Carolina. When instead she finished Howard Law School at the top of her class, she sought the fellowship traditionally awarded to Howard’s best student: a year at Harvard to complete a master’s of law degree. But, wrote the admissions committee, “Your picture and the salutation on your college transcript indicate that you are not of the sex entitled to be admitted to Harvard Law School.”

The second woman who thought about applying to law school was a Midwesterner of Scottish descent, educated in Catholic schools paid for by her mother’s hard-earned wages. After politely defying her teachers by declining a full scholarship to a local Catholic college, this woman spent the war acing a full course load in political science at her state’s best university by day, and working eight-hour shifts testing firearms in a munitions factory by night. Phyllis_2 Upon her graduation, Columbia, Radcliffe, and Wellesley all offered her financial aid for graduate study; she chose correctly, and so impressed her Radcliffe professors that one offered to sponsor her application to law school. The steep cost of a legal education led her to decline, and she was off to Washington to seek a job in the federal government.

The first woman was Pauli Murray, whose remarkable contributions to American legal and women’s history are beginning to be recognized, thanks in large part to the voluminous personal papers she left to the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library. The second woman is, quite decidedly and proudly, not a feminist icon. She is Phyllis Schlafly, A.M. ’45, who some say is more responsible than anyone for the rise of grassroots religious conservatism and the transformation of the Republican Party, and who all agree can take the lion’s share of credit or blame for the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment and the rise of antifeminism as a force in American politics.

More here.