Book | Excerpts

A Few Good Women in Their Own Words


Women in the Law


Gloria E. A. Toote
In 1971, President Nixon appointed her assistant director of ACTION, a new agency that oversaw the Peace Corps, VISTA, and other federal volunteer programs. She then served as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


“Women were not respected. It was thought, ‘We didn’t have the ability to be lawyers.’ So it was very, very difficult. A very prejudiced situation for any woman who was a lawyer, but for a Black woman, impossible.”


Brereton (Bret) Sturtevant
Brereton (Bret) Sturtevant graduated from Wellesley in chemistry in 1942 and then worked as a research chemist for DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1971, she was appointed as examiner-in-chief for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Board of Appeals, the first woman to hold such a position.


“When I finished [law school], I applied for a transfer to the legal department. The legal department told my research bosses, ‘Oh, we don’t take women.’


“My department bosses were a whole lot—well, they were angry, and I think rightly. They moved heaven and earth but the head of the legal department said, ‘Oh, we’ll take you alright to stay in the library and do legal research for the other lawyers, but we don’t think that the head of a manufacturing department of DuPont will ever obey a woman lawyer’s opinion that tells him he cannot do something, so we don’t think a woman can really be a lawyer in a corporate setup such as we have.’”


Betty Southard Murphy
President Nixon appointed Betty Southard Murphy (1931– 2010) as the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board in 1972. In 1996, the D.C. Bar named her one of twenty-four “Legends of the Law” for her accomplishments.


“When I was in the seventh or eighth grade, we had to complete a project for school—I went to  public school—entitled ‘My vocation.’ Mother suggested I ask women lawyers about becoming a lawyer. My mother arranged all the interviews for me. Surprisingly, each of the three women lawyers—all members of the Bar—told me not to become a lawyer, that it wasn’t worth it. One was a legal secretary. The second lawyer spent her working life in the library, she never dealt with clients. The third woman had a similar story. It was rank discrimination. But I thought, ‘That’s not going to be me.’”



Brereton Sturtevant



Betty Southard Murphy