Brooklyn Law School Women Making History
Women were welcomed at Brooklyn Law School from its founding in 1901 – one of the few law schools at the time to admit women. Over the last 115 years, our alumnae have been trailblazers in the law, public service, civil rights, politics, business, and government.
Meet some of the courageous and brilliant women of Brooklyn Law School who have blazed trails through the decades for women everywhere.
Florence Lucas ’39
Florence Lucas was one of the few African-American women to attend Brooklyn Law School in the late 1930s. A life-long New Yorker, Lucas established a solo practice in Queens early in her career, specializing in real estate, landlord/tenant and civil rights. She also was an attorney in the federal government's Office of Price Administration for two years during World War II.
Lucas was the first African-American woman admitted to the Queens County Women's Bar Association. However, she found it difficult to participate in the bar's business since its meetings were generally conducted at restaurants that barred black people. Undeterred by such obstacles, she ran for the City Council in 1957 on the Republican ticket, the first time an African-American was nominated in Queens for elective office. She lost the election but remained active in the Republican Party. In 1966, Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed her special assistant to the commissioner of the State Commission Against Discrimination (which later became the state Division of Human Rights), and she became a deputy commissioner six years later. During her tenure, she helped draft a new human rights law for the state and developed a hearing process for complaints.
Lucas left government service in 1975, working as a consultant on affirmative action programs. In 1982, she established her own firm consulting with banks in New York, Connecticut, and Ohio. Lucas served as the president of the Jamaica NAACP and was prominent in an array of religious, community, and business organizations. She was the first African- American woman elected to the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, its highest governing body. She was a great booster of black-owned businesses, including Ebony Oil Company, the first black-owned oil company in New York. She was a member of the board of trustees of Marymount Manhattan College, and the school awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1986, a year before she died.
Jeanette Goodman Brill '08
Jeanette Goodman Brill '08 was Brooklyn’s first woman magistrate and the second woman magistrate appointed in New York City. She was born on Essex Street on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1889 to Sam and Sarah Goodman. She was the only daughter and had many brothers.
As teacher, lawyer, judge, writer, community activist, camp director, mother and wife, woman, and Jew, her accomplishments were many. The central theme that ran through all of her activities was social justice and welfare, primarily focusing on children, adolescents, and women. Her interests and accomplishments were shaped by her heritage as a child of Eastern European Polish immigrant parents and the Progressive movement with its focus on maternalism.
Jeanette grew up on the Lower East Side, where she attended a commercial school, then taught at the Manhattan Preparatory School on East Broadway during the day and attended classes at night to obtain her Regent’s diploma. Afterward, she attended classes at Brooklyn Law School while she continued teaching. She graduated in 1908 and was admitted to the bar two years later, when she became twenty-one years old. Her granddaughter stated that her determination to become a lawyer and render justice came from her firsthand knowledge of poor people in her neighborhood. She was married to attorney Abraham Brill in 1911. They practiced law together until his death in 1950 in their firm, Brill Bergenfield and Brill, at 50 Broadway. They had two children, Helen Claire Brill Gordimer and Herbert Baer Brill, both of whom became lawyers.
In 1923, Brill was the first woman appointed to serve as a deputy assistant on the state attorney general’s staff, where she handled labor and compensation matters. She was appointed to the Magistrate’s Court in Brooklyn in 1929 by Mayor James J. Walker to fill an unexpired term and was reappointed to a full ten-year term in 1931. In a 1933 address to a reunion of the Hunter College class of 1904, she said that more women were needed on the bench as they were particularly able to deal with cases involving women, children, and family affairs; however, at the completion of her term, she was not reappointed by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. During her time on the bench, she was a strong supporter of the Adolescent Court in Brooklyn, established as a social experiment in 1935 for youths aged sixteen to eighteen. She was the coauthor with E. George Payne of The Adolescent Court and Crime Prevention (1938), a book about her experience with the Adolescent Court. While on the bench, Brill attended New York University School of Education at night and received a B.S. in psychology and sociology in 1938. After her retirement, she continued to practice law.
Brill was very active in Democratic politics, serving as president of the Madison Democratic Club in Brooklyn and as campaign manager for congresswoman Edna Kelly. Eleanor Roosevelt and Al Smith were her friends.
Her community activities related to Judaism, women and children, and social welfare. She was president of the Brooklyn Child Guidance Clinic and the Community Service League. During the Depression, the league canvassed local residents and employers to procure positions for women and men with families to support, and it opened a child guidance clinic in 1929, one of the first community clinics in the country. She was a member of the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations, the National Council Of Jewish Women, and the Brooklyn Business and Professional Women’s Club, and was vice president of the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities.
In the 1930s, she founded Camp Kinni Kinnic for girls in Poultney, Vermont, which she ran with her son for over thirty years. As a camp director, she is remembered as a strong, charismatic leader who was influential in shaping many campers’ lives.
In 1960, when Judge Brill became the first woman to receive the certificate of the Brooklyn Bar Association “in commemoration of fifty years of the practice of her profession,” she recalled that women lawyers got pretty rough in their long fight for equality. “The judges and lawyers were very unkind to us.”
Judge Jeanette Goodman Brill died in Brooklyn on March 30, 1964.
Courtesy of the Jewish Women's Archive
Rosalie Gardiner Jones ’06
An early feminist, Rosalie Gardiner Jones ’06 was a well-known leader in the women’s right to vote movement. Considered outspoken and flamboyant for her time, she earned the nickname General for her venturesome and commanding ways and for leading her suffragette comrades on organized voting marches to Albany and the White House.
Born into wealth, Jones was a descendant of Long Island’s Jones, Livingston, and Gardiner families. She resided on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and spent summers at the family estate on Oyster Bay. A debutante who had been presented at the Court of St. James, she was a graduate of Adelphi College, then a women’s school in Brooklyn, and she graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1906.
Jones entered the suffragist movement at the age of 28, and took on a more militant style than had been typical of her predecessors. At a time when the movement was considered in a rut and floundering, Jones helped breathe new life into it. In the spring of 1912, accompanied by a fellow English suffragette, she traveled throughout Long Island in a horse-drawn wagon painted with the names of all the states that had already granted women the right to vote. They then took their tour on the road to Ohio to spread their message.
Later in the year, she marched with her troops – some 200 strong - from Manhattan to the State Legislature in Albany, a 125-mile stretch. The press gave General Jones and her marchers almost daily coverage, during the 13-day march trodding through snow, rain, and mud. When the suffragettes arrived in Albany, their number had dwindled to five. They presented their petition to Governor-elect William Sulzer, who promised his support.
Jones was an effective publicist for her cause. When she took her army to march on Washington in February 1913, shortly before President Wilson was sworn in as President, her wagon read “Criminals and the insane can’t vote, neither can I, what about it?” One of her best known stunts took place that same year when she rode in a two-seat Wright biplane over Staten Island to toss out yellow suffrage leaflets. The New York Times reported: “General Rosalie did not show a sign of fear as she took her seat in the biplane, seized a steel rod, the only thing to hold onto with her left hand, and, with a bunch of yellow leaflets in her right hand, nodded a smiling goodbye to the crowd below.”
When Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919, granting women the right to vote, and the states ratified it a year later, Jones retired to a quieter life. She wed U.S. Senator Clarence Dill of Washington state at the age of 44, but remained married only a short time. She returned to the family estate (a 100-acre property) after her divorce, and was somewhat of a recluse. Her Oyster Bay neighbors, unaware of her remarkable history, described Jones as eccentric. She died in 1978 at the age of 95.
Amelia Dietrich Lewis ’24
Born in 1903, Amelia Dietrich Lewis ’24 has been called “one of the most tenacious lawyers the state of Arizona has ever seen.” She was, in fact, a daughter of Brooklyn and a graduate of Brooklyn Law School. She exhibited her moxie early in her career, even before she was sworn in as an attorney. Although Lewis was scheduled to take the bar exam on June 24, 1924, she learned that the New York Bar prohibited a candidate to take the exam until the age of 21. In Lewis’s case, she was to turn 21 the very next day, on June 25! Unwilling to be defeated by a technicality, she filed suit against the Bar, arguing she would be 21 on the 24th because her birthday was actually the first day of her 22nd year.” She was successful in her suit and took the exam as planned on the 24th, and – not surprisingly – she passed.
Lewis’ career spanned 63 years, encompassing a successful practice in two states. After practicing law in New York for 33 years, in 1957 following the death of her husband, she moved to Arizona. She took the bar examination in that state with just one other woman, Sandra Day O’Conner. There, she worked as a prosecutor for six years and then maintained a thriving solo practice, concentrating in elder law in Sun City. She was well into her eighties when she retired.
Lewis is best known for her involvement in the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, In re Gault, which brought due process to juvenile courts across the nation. Her client, Gerald Gault, had been sentenced without legal counsel to an Arizona reformatory. Lewis, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, assumed the role of co-counsel after Gault’s appeals at the lower level were exhausted. She was drawn to the case, because she had raised three healthy sons and “wanted to give something back.”
Ultimately, the defense of the boy prevailed, with the Court holding that he was entitled to the same constitutional safeguards as adults – a trial by jury, the right to legal counsel, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to remain silent. Justice Fortas, in his 8-1 majority opinion, wrote: “Neither the 14th Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults only. Under the Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”
Lewis was recognized by the Arizona Republic as one of the legal greats of that state. In 1988, she received the first Amicus Award of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which honored her for pioneering the vital role of women in the legal profession. Upon her death in 1994, the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court commented: “She made history for the law in many ways. Her life and career epitomized the practice of law as it should be.”
Hon. Dorothy Chin Brandt ‘74
Hon. Dorothy Chin Brandt ‘74 is an Acting Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Queens County. She became the first Asian-American woman judge in New York State and the first elected Asian-American public official in the state when she was elected in 1987 to the New York City Civil Court, New York County. Following law school, she began her career as Assistant Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at Harvard Law School. She also simultaneously worked as a professor at Boston College Law School. In 1978, she returned to New York to join the law firm of Shearman & Sterling as an associate and then later joined the firm of Dilworth & Paxson in Washington, D.C. She was in private practice until her election to the Civil Court in 1987. Justice Chin Brandt became a judge of the New York City Criminal Court in 1998 and was appointed by then Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman as an Acting Justice of the New York State Supreme Court in 2001 and re-appointed by Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti in 2013.
Marian Wynn Perry '43
Marian Wynn Perry ‘43 was born in New York City on September 9, 1914. She graduated from Flushing High School and earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in public administration from New York University. She received her law degree in 1943 from Brooklyn Law School, where she was one of 15 women in the class.
After law school, she took a job in the Wage and House Division of the U.S. department of Labor. In 1945, she joined the legal staff of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which was then headed by Thurgood Marshall, who was then Assistant Special Counsel. In December 1946, Perry and Marshall were besieged by angry protesters in Chicago’s South Side when the two lawyers arrived at the opening of a housing project with apartments for African-American veterans. According to the newspaper The Afro American, Perry’s appeals to police for protection from the threatening protesters were met with the words “Keep moving.”
In Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961, Mark V. Tuxhnet (Oxford, 1994), she is described as deriving " the greatest satisfaction out of [her] work" as secretary of the Constitutional Liberties committee of the New York Chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild. Perry had concluded "during the early days of the depression that if progressive causes were ever to achieve a strong foothold in American they would have to do so within the framework of our legal system." With the Guild she lobbied for fair employment legislation in New York, working with Marshall on that effort, and she worked on housing discrimination issues. In 1949 she moved to Albany with her husband, Alfred Yankauer, a prominent physician and public health official, where she worked with the Citizens Union, which monitored the New York legislature. They then moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as an urban sociologist at the Housing and Home Finance Agency, now the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the mid-1960s she was deputy director of the Federal Programs Division of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. She then served as director of relocation in the state Department of Commerce and Development in Boston, and was a visiting lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of City Planning. She retired from the state government in 1969 to be an officer of Urban Planning Aid in Cambridge, where she involved community groups in urban renewal, mass transit, and highway development projects.
Perry and her husband moved to North Brookfield, Massachusetts in 1973, where she became active with a committee of lawyers working on federally subsidized housing through the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. She also helped launch the Central Massachusetts Legal Action Network and conducted research and planning for Worcester's water conservation program. She was chairman of the local Finance Committee and a volunteer for the North Brookfield Historical Society. She was active in the Massachusetts Aubudon Society and received its "A" award. In 1988, she and her husband donated 150 acres of land in East Brookfield to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. She died in Worcester on January 29, 1994, survived by her husband, who died in 2004, and three children.