Such a strange artifact I found today: A letter from an old lawyer to a new one. Published in the American Lawyer, found via New York magazine’s website, getta loada this:
Your father tells me you started a job at Cravath, Swaine & Moore earlier this fall. Perhaps you are aware that I spent some of my formative years at that firm.
I’m sure you will learn a lot at present-day Cravath. I, certainly, learned a lot when I went to work at the firm in the fall of 1952, just after graduating from law school. The firm was then located at 15 Broad St., directly opposite the New York Stock Exchange, the facade of which, outside my window, was not yet covered by a gigantic American flag.
Actually, the window was the province of E. Gabriel Perle, a more senior associate who got the desk nearest the window in the office we shared. “Gabby” took me out to lunch and dinner and introduced me to the many stanzas of “The Partners’ John,” a song telling the story of the rise of a young associate to the long-anticipated moment when he receives a key to the partners’ john.
I use the pronoun “he” because there were only men at the Cravath of 1952. No women lawyers, no women secretaries or stenographers, no women in any capacity at all were allowed in the hallways of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. “We are a place of business,” it was explained to me. Ladies would be a “distraction.” Even the messengers, who carried documents from one office to another and sharpened our stacks of pencils every morning, were elderly men in gray office jackets, reputedly recruited from among the ranks of retired runners at the exchange. If I needed to dictate, a buzz quickly brought a male “steno” who was older than I was. There was a special midnight shift of stenos who would have any late-night work freshly typed and ready on a partner’s desk first thing in the morning. “Women wouldn’t be safe in downtown New York during these night hours,” it was explained.
It could be difficult to tell a male secretary or steno from an associate, but clothes made the difference. Lawyers wore suits from Brooks Brothers. Stenos did not. Moreover, lawyers wore hats, something I completely failed to understand, despite frequent admonitions to “take your hat and come to lunch.” I never acquired a hat, nor, as you can imagine, did I ever see the inside of the partners’ john.
Every few days I get something in the e-mail about Hillary Clinton — what a bitch she is, what a ball-breaker, needless to say a dyke, an asshole, you can take your pick. And then I think about an interview I did last year, with a woman lawyer of Hillary’s age. Here’s the entry from my notes: When I decided to apply (to law school), was accepted and spoke to the dean of admissions. “Will I be employable?” Dean said, “Of course you will be, we need women to take low-paying legal work that men won’t take.” Representing juveniles, etc.
This was at the University of Michigan, by the way, not exactly Bob’s College of Law and Bartending. Then, as now, a tough nut to crack. And this was the dean of admissions talking, no doubt already pissed that he had to give one of his 450 precious seats to someone destined to work in juvie legal aid. (Two word coda to her story: She didn’t.)
Obviously, things have changed. But if, in 1952, women were considered so toxic to the legal mind that they couldn’t even be seen in the background of the office landscape at this particular white-shoe firm, that was still recent history in 1972, when Hillary graduated. I’m not going to belabor this point; I can’t imagine what I would bring to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. Just: Follow that link up there to the whole piece. It’s fascinating reading. And then think about it a while. That’s all.
You are also allowed a snicker or three at the homoerotic overtones of it all. I mean — all those jokes about the partners’ john. Please. A large infusion of estrogen must have been a downer in more ways than one. At least for some of them.
This arrived a little late to do any good — it’s the entry for a YouTube/Home Depot contest to win a major cash infusion for renovating your home, and entries are closed. But you Hoosiers in particular are urged to watch. It’s funny, and it’s about a town in your orbit (Huntington). What did old buildings do before gay men were invented? Wait for the inevitable blow from the wrecking ball, I guess.
Also: This project has a blog. I really hope they win.
The Free Press, like all newspapers, is series-heavy this time of year; gotta get ’em published before year’s end, to qualify for awards. Columnist Bill McGraw’s assignment — drive every street in Detroit, then write about it — started strong on Sunday, faltered a bit Monday, and is back today with an entertaining piece about art, guerilla and otherwise, in the city.
drive around the city in a panic finish my shopping. Strength and honor!