Clara Foltz, in 1901, lived life to the fullest. (California State Library)
Clara Foltz’s remarkable lifetime of legal firsts
In September of 1878 the force of nature known as Clara Foltz passed the California bar, becoming the first female lawyer on the West Coast.
The firsts didn’t stop there. Foltz was the first woman to serve as clerk of the state Assembly’s judiciary committee, the first woman deputy district attorney in the country, and the first woman appointed to the state board of corrections.
But her crowning achievement, according to her biographer, was pioneering the idea of the public defender, a role she believed was needed as a counterweight to unscrupulous prosecutors. The “Foltz Defender Bill” was adopted in California in 1921.
And she did all of that as a divorced mother of five. “I am descended from the heroic stock of Daniel Boone and never shrank from contest nor knew a fear,” Foltz once boasted. “I inherit no drop of craven blood.”
Even so, she repeatedly had her abilities questioned by courtroom adversaries. In one example, a prosecutor informed a San Francisco jury during closing arguments that Foltz couldn’t be trusted. “She is a woman,” he explained. “She cannot be expected to reason.”
Then Foltz took her turn, demolishing his case point by point. She won. California Bar Journal
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