Women at HLS

60 Years of Transformation

  • Image of one woman in crowd of men changing classes, Fall 1952.

    Changing Classes in Langdell Hall, Fall 1952

    In 20 years, the percentage of women composing the student body rose from 2% to 15%. By 2013 that number rose to almost 50%.

  • Three Harvard Law School recruitment brochures

    Recruitment Efforts Aimed at Women

    Recruitment brochures targeted some of the unique concerns women applicants might have when applying to law school.

  • Photo of Women's Law Association Bulletin Board in Langdell Hall, circa 1980

    Women's Law Association Advocates for Women On and Off Campus

    The WLA sponsored social events and lectures and advocated for improvements to campus safety, facilities, and academics.

  • Photograph of four female students rowing in Head of the Charles regatta, October 1984

    Petition from Women Law Students Leads to Improved Athletics Facilities

    In 1973, a petition from roughly 100 female law students spurred the administration to improve Hemenway Gym's women's facilities

Since women were first admitted to Harvard Law School in 1950, female students have slowly but surely carved out a place for themselves on campus. Sixty years of female graduates--from 1953 to Celebration 60 in 2013-- have transformed the HLS campus and student life. As enrollment of women in incoming classes grew slowly from 2.5% of the first entering class to 48% of the Class of 2015, female students have had an effect on the classroom, in student organizations, and in public life beyond HLS.

Pivotal to the changes that have occurred on campus since the 1950s has been the work of the Women’s Law Association (WLA). The WLA has advocated for improved campus facilities for women, more courses that specifically address women’s issues, increased faculty diversity, and much more.

As the WLA pushed for changes on campus, individual women were hard at work taking charge in their own right. Women have, for instance, served as the presidents of law reviews and student organizations, won “Best Oralist” in the Ames Moot Court Competition, and even returned to campus as professors.

The success of HLS women can at times read as a laundry list of “firsts,” but it can be measured in so many other ways: founding an organization to advocate on behalf of children, participating in clinical and pro bono programs, or taking the time to support new students as they transition to law school life. Women’s success in the classroom and in the legal world may still be discussed and debated, but it is clear that HLS would not be the place it is today without the contributions of its female students – nor would the worlds of politics, litigation, or legal education.

This exhibit was curated by Jane Kelly and Margaret Peachy and was on view September 5 - December 13, 2013.