On October 18-19, 2002, Columbia University celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the first class into which, after years of pressure and debate, Columbia Law School finally admitted women. Over the course of the weekend, participants examined women’s fight to gain admittance and the changing experiences of women law students and lawyers since those first few women entered in 1927. In particular, the events highlighted both the addition and acknowledgment of stellar women faculty members and the giant leap in women’s enrollment that occurred in the 1970s culminating in the class entering in 2001, the first class in which women comprised more than fifty percent of the student body. Without minimizing how much work is left to do, the celebration allowed the Columbia Law School community to take a step back and appreciate how far we have come.
The anniversary celebration began with a keynote address from the Honorable Mary Robinson, in the Fall 2003 installment of the Barbara Aronstein Black Lecture Series on Women and Law. Robinson served as the first woman president of Ireland from December 1990 through September 1997. Directly following this prestigious post, she served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights until September 2002. Since then, she has continued her efforts to expand human rights as the director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which works to create a more ethical globalization process by integrating human rights standards and supporting local and national human rights efforts. In her lecture, Robinson described the capacity of women to work for their own human rights, as well as the need for women to share their resources and support each other in these important struggles. Highlighting endeavors such as the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Robinson noted the efforts that law schools and law students have made to advance women’s human rights, but emphasized the need for such privileged and resourceful institutions to develop more new ways to contribute.