In September 1918, four words were added to an otherwise customary advertisement that Fordham Law had placed in the New York Times announcing the beginning of fall classes. As brief as the statement was, it had large repercussions—important consequences that have sounded in the hundred years since it was printed and will continue to reverberate long into the future. The advertisement stated “Courses open to women.”
On the evening of September 12, Fordham Law kicked off 100 Years of Women—a yearlong celebration recognizing the achievements of women alumni, faculty, and students of Fordham Law. More than 400 alumni and friends gathered at the New York Historical Society precisely one hundred years to the day after the Fordham Law faculty voted to admit women to the Law School.
“One hundred years after entering Fordham, women are showing that they are the future of the law and our School,” said Dean Matthew Diller in his opening remarks.
Immediately following the dean’s introduction, the audience was treated to a surprise video message from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg stressed the progress that has been made thus far, while also casting a hopeful eye toward the future.
“I am heartened by the huge changes I have witnessed in my lifetime,” she said, adding that much work remains to be done to eliminate all types of unconscious bias.
In keeping with the theme of the evening, “Fordham Law Women—Past, Present, Future,” the Law School honored three women whose collective accomplishments represent a legacy of strength and courage.
Geraldine Ferraro ’60 was inducted into the School’s Alumni of Distinction display, which celebrates graduates who have broken barriers in the legal profession. Ferraro, who passed away in 2011, was the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket and a lifelong advocate for women’s rights. She served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s 9th District, as secretary of the House Democratic Caucus, and as United States ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
“Throughout her life, Ms. Ferraro remained dedicated to her law school alma mater, returning to Fordham Law on many occasions to speak with students,” Dean Diller said. “I had the privilege of moderating one such session and I was deeply impressed by the wisdom of the advice she gave to students and by the time and the care that she took in helping them.”
Ferraro’s husband, John Zaccaro, and her daughter, Donna Zaccaro Ullman, unveiled the display, which will hang in the Maloney Library.
Hon. Loretta A. Preska ’73 received the Fordham University President’s Medal, a distinguished award that has been bestowed only 36 times in 177 years. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, presented Judge Preska with the medal in recognition of her numerous achievements in the field of law, as both administrator and attorney—the most recent being her seven years as chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“Judge Preska is the model of what a Fordham Law graduate should be,” Father McShane said. “She is tough, hardworking, principled, extremely generous with her time and resources, fair-minded, and intellectually fearsome. I can think of no better person to represent the values and legacy of 100 years of women at Fordham Law.”
In her acceptance speech, Judge Preska reviewed the history of the legal profession with a critical eye, bringing unflinching honesty, warmth, and humor in equal parts. Judge Preska’s message was ultimately optimistic. “I hope that our Law School will continue what it started one hundred years ago,” she said, articulating her hopes for a future where we “judge all people on the basis of their abilities, and not their gender.”
3L Tanyell Cooke represented the future of Fordham Law women at the event. In her remarks, Cooke, the current president of the Student Bar Association, detailed her own struggles and triumphs on the road to Fordham Law, and the ways in which women have supported her through difficult times. Cooke’s message for the young women in the audience came from the wise words of her great grandmother, who played an integral part in raising her: “Whenever you find a stumbling block, use it as stepping stone.”
Sharon McCarthy ’89 and Professor Helen Bender ’78, co-chairs of the 100 Years of Women Committee, bookended the event with words of praise and encouraged the audience to attend more 100 Years of Women events throughout the year. 100 Years of Women events were made possible through generous gifts made in memory of Noreen O. McNamara ’51.