Harriet Sturtevant Shapiro Autobiography
I grew up in an academic family, the middle child and only girl of three siblings. Father was a key
figure in early genetics research. In 1928, the year of my birth, we moved to Pasadena, California, where
Father helped establish the Biology Department at Caltech. We spent each summer in Woods Hole on
I went to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1950. After two years as a claims
examiner for the Social Security Administration in northern California (Santa Rosa), I returned East for
Law School at Columbia University, where in my third year I become the second ever female editor-inchief of the Columbia Law Review. Howard was also on the Review; we were married in 1954, just
before our third year at the law school.
After graduation, we moved to Washington, where I worked for the Atomic Energy Commission.
When it moved to Germantown, I went to the Justice Department until our first son was born. Like a
good 50’s mother, I stayed home to take care of him. I lasted at this endeavor until our second son got old
enough to be active, while his brother was still too young to recognize him as the ally that he later became.
In those early years, I was permanently exhausted, and pining for adult conversation when Howard came
home, tired from talking all day. We recognized it was time for me to go back to work, so I returned part
time to the Atomic Energy Commission, eventually serving as assistant to a Commissioner.
In 1972, the lawyers in the Office of the Solicitor General (the Justice Department unit
representing the government in the Supreme Court) persuaded the Solicitor General that it was time to hire
a woman. Howard encouraged me to apply, though it was a full time job. I became the first woman
attorney in the Office. It was a dream job, both challenging and satisfying. The 15 oral arguments in the
Supreme Court were the least of it. In 2001, I decided I wanted some time for myself, and retired
I have been happily rug hooking & reading ever since.