March 21, 2018
Celebrating Women’s History Month: From Betty Trier Berry to Susan Westerberg Prager
March is Women’s History Month!!! We are celebrating the pioneering and remarkable women who helped shape Southwestern and our community. From our very first graduate, Betty Trier Berry in 1915, to our current Dean, Susan Westerberg Prager, these women have inspired generations of lawyers as leaders, innovators, and groundbreakers in the legal field.
Betty Trier Berry became Southwestern’s first graduate in 1915. She went on to work in the newly founded Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, earning the distinction of being the first woman to work as a public defender in the United States. She is honored with a plaque on the Criminal Courts building in downtown Los Angeles.
Rosalind Goodrich Bates ' 26 was the first Latina licensed as an attorney in California. She was a founding member of the International Federation of Women Lawyers and President of the California Business Women's Council and the Los Angeles Business Women's Council. She was a member of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), serving on the Executive Board as a delegate from California, as editor of the National Women Lawyers' Journal and as chair of the organization's annual convention. She was also the editor of the legal publications La Abogada (the Female Lawyer) and Lawyers Club Docket. She later became the first woman to serve on the Southwestern Alumni Association Board of Directors.
The Honorable Vaino Spencer ’52 was the first African American woman to serve on the bench in California and the third black female judge in the history of the United States. She also co-founded the Black Women Lawyers Association in 1975 and the National Association of Women Judges in 1979.
The Honorable Arleigh M. Woods ’53 was the youngest woman admitted to the bar at the age of 22, and only the third African-American woman admitted. She was the first black woman senior partner in a law firm, the only female supervising judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court and the first African-American woman to be appointed to the California Second Appellate District Court of Appeal.
Harriett Buhai '55
Harriett Buhai '55 was a leading pro bono attorney representing poor women and an active member of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Family Law Project was renamed in her memory as the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law.
The Honorable Frances Munoz '71
The Honorable Frances Munoz '71 was the first Latina trial judge in the U.S. She continues to be an advocate for the Latino community and is a founder of the Hispanic Education Endowment, The Ralph Luevano Scholarship Foundation, and the Hispanic Orange County Bar Association.
The Honorable Denise Moreno Ducheny '79 was the first woman and first Latina to serve as Chair of the California Assembly Budget Committee, overseeing the state's $100 billion spending plan. She is now a senior policy advisor at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego.
The Honorable Shahla Sabet '85 was the first Iranian American appointed as a judge in California. The California Assembly named her “Woman of the Year” in 1994. The Iranian American Council of Los Angeles honored her outstanding achievements in 1998, as did the Persian Heritage Society of London in 2000.
Karen Nobumoto '89
Karen Nobumoto '89 was the first government attorney, first Asian American, and first woman of color elected President of the State Bar of California.
Betty Kelepecz '90
Betty Kelepecz '90 was the first female Commander in the Los Angeles Police Department.
Dean Susan Westerberg Prager is the first woman in the history of Southwestern to serve as Dean and Chief Executive Officer. Prior to coming to Southwestern, she was the first female law dean in the University of California system and one of only two women serving in that capacity in the entire country. She served as Dean of UCLA Law from 1982 to 1998, the longest tenure of any law dean in UCLA history, and was also the first UCLA graduate to serve in the post. Dean Prager also became the second woman ever elected as President of the AALS, and also served on the governing boards of the Law School Admission Council and the Council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Recently, Dean Prager received the Ernestine Stahlhut Award from the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA) and was named a MetNews' "2017 Person of the Year."
To all the amazing women featured here, and to all the #GirlBosses in the legal field, we celebrate you!