Clara S. Foltz

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Clara S. Foltz
Clara Shortridge Foltz.jpg
Born July 16, 1849
Lafayette, Indiana
Died September 2, 1934(1934-09-02) (aged 85)
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Occupation Attorney, publisher, suffragist
Known for First female lawyer admitted to the California State Bar
Spouse(s) Jeremiah D. Foltz (m. 1864)
Relatives Samuel M. Shortridge (brother)

Clara Shortridge Foltz (July 16, 1849 – September 2, 1934) was the first female lawyer on the West Coast. She was the sister of U.S. Senator Samuel M. Shortridge. The Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles was renamed after her in 2002, and is now known as the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

Early life and legal education[edit]

Foltz was born in Lafayette, Indiana, and was a descendant of Daniel Boone. She moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, with her parents and attended Howe's Academy. She was taught in 1863 in Mercer County, Illinois, and in December 1864, at age 15, she eloped with a farmer named Jeremiah D. Foltz, and they began having children. However, he had difficulty supporting his family. The Foltzes moved several times, first to Portland, Oregon and finally to San Jose, California in 1872. During these times, she contributed articles to the New Northwest and the San Jose Mercury.

Around 1876, her husband deserted her and their five children. She began studying law in the office of a local judge, and supported herself by lecturing. She wanted to take the bar examination but California law at the time allowed only white males to become members of the bar. Foltz authored a state bill which replaced "white male" with "person," and in September 1878 she passed the examination and was the first woman admitted to the California bar. Having little formal education, she wished to study at the first law school in California to improve her skills. Alongside her ally Laura de Force Gordon, Foltz applied to Hastings College of the Law but was denied admission because of her gender.[1] Foltz and Gordon sued, arguing their own case, and won admission. Foltz later also became licensed to practice law in New York.

Advocate for progressive legislation[edit]

In 1880, Foltz moved to San Francisco. Not satisfied with being a San Francisco attorney, Foltz became a leader in the woman’s voting rights movement. During a career that spanned 56 years, Foltz almost single-handedly pushed a great deal of progressive legislation for women’s rights in the voting and legal fields. She spoke for the Republicans during the campaigns of 1880, 1882, and 1884. In 1886 she became a Democrat, and in the winter of that year lectured in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.

At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, during a "congress" of the Board of Lady Managers, Foltz introduced her idea of the public defender, with a speech entitled "Rights of Persons Accused of Crime — Abuses Now Existing." Foltz's then-radical concept of providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants is used today throughout the United States. She also created a similar model for the California Parole System.

Her many other trail-blazing accomplishments included becoming the first female clerk for the State Assembly's Judiciary Committee (1880); the first woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections; the first female licensed Notary Public; the first woman named director of a major bank; and, in 1930, the first woman to run for Governor of California, at the age of 81.

In 1910, she was appointed to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, becoming the first female deputy district attorney in the United States. She was active in the suffrage movement, authoring the Women's Vote Amendment for California in 1911. Foltz also raised five children, mostly as a single mother, and encouraged women not to overlook their traditional domestic roles.

Foltz also founded and published the San Diego Daily Bee, and New American Woman Magazine, for which she wrote a monthly column until her death.

Looking back on her accomplished life, Foltz wrote: "Everything in retrospect seems weird, phantasmal, and unreal. I peer back across the misty years into that era of prejudice and limitation, when a woman lawyer was a joke ... but the story of my triumphs will eventually disclose that though the battle has been long and hard-fought it was worth while."


Clara Shortridge Foltz died at the age of 85 of heart failure at her home in Los Angeles on September 2, 1934. The pallbearers for her funeral included Governor Frank Merriam and several prominent federal and state judges. She was cremated and interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles County.


At the insistence of its women students, Hastings College of the Law granted Foltz a posthumous degree of Doctor of Laws in 1991. Additionally, the primary social space inside UC Hastings's McAllister Tower student housing complex was christened the Clara S. Foltz Lounge.[2] In 2002, the Criminal Courts Building in downton Los Angeles was renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Babcock, Barbara Allen (2011). Woman Lawyer: the Trials of Clara Foltz. Stanford University Press. pp. 44–51. ISBN 9780804743587. 
  2. ^ "UC Hastings – Housing Services". Retrieved 24 March 2015.  Text " Amenities" ignored (help)
  • Sharon Avey, The Lady Lawyer: Clara Shortridge Foltz, 2001, AV Publishers, ISBN 0-9717396-0-9
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, Women Defenders in the West, University of Nevada Law Journal (Spring 2001).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, Clara Shortridge Foltz: First Woman, 28 Valparaiso University Law Review 1231 (Summer 1994).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, She Blazed the Trail: Clara Foltz Opened a Major Door for Women in 1878, When She Became the First Female Member of the State Bar, 106 The Los Angeles Daily Journal S16 (October 7, 1993).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, Western Women Lawyers, 45 Stanford Law Review 2179 (1993).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, Clara Shortridge Foltz: Constitution-maker, 66 Indiana Law Journal 849 (1991).
  • Barbara Allen Babcock, Reconstructing the Person: The Case of Clara Shortridge Foltz, 12 Biography 1 (1989).
  • Clara Foltz, San Francisco, 1 The Law Student's Helper 263 (October 1893).
  • Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Foltz, Clara Shortridge". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 

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