First Black Woman To Graduate From Harvard Law Dies From Coronavirus Complications


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We have some incredibly unfortunate news from New York, where a woman who overcame historic obstacles to succeed in the world of elite legal academia passed away due to complications of coronavirus.

Lila A. Fenwick, 87, was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law School. She graduated from Harvard Law in 1956 with a handful of other women, just one year before Ruth Bader Ginsburg started as a first-year student at the school. While there, Fenwick was subjected to “a particularly virulent form of racism and sexism.” Her New York Times obituary details her career:

“I knew I was going to be a lawyer when I was a little girl,” she told the Harvard Law Bulletin in 2000. “It never occurred to me that there were going to be any obstacles.” …

After law school, [Fenwick] attended the London School of Economics.

In the 1960s, Ms. Fenwick worked in what was then the Division of Human Rights at the United Nations, said Bertrand Ramcharan, a former acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She was a specialist on studies about gender, racial and religious discrimination; the protection of minorities and indigenous populations; and the right to emigrate from oppressive countries, he said.

“She was so elegant, a lady in the lovely, old fashioned, full sense of that word,” Professor Patricia J. Williams, a 1975 graduate of Harvard Law said. When Williams was working as one of the first black female professors at Columbia Law in the early 1990s, Fenwick audited one of her courses. “We talked about the loneliness, what it took to be in a world where you were always different, always the other and never assumed to be part of the power elite.”

We here at Above the Law would like to extend our sincere condolences to Lila Fenwick’s family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time.

Lila Fenwick, Who Broke a Barrier at Harvard Law, Dies at 87 [New York Times]


Staci ZaretskyStaci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.





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