Florence Wagman Roisman




December 15, 2005; December 19, 2005; July 26, 2006; July 27, 2006; March 30, 2007; June 19, 2007;

June 21, 2007; June 26, 2007; January 7, 2009










Transcript of Interview with Florence Wagman Roisman (Dec. 15, 2005; Dec. 19, 2005; July 26, 2006; July 27, 2006; Mar. 30, 2007; June 19,

2007; June 21, 2007; June 26, 2007; Jan. 7, 2009), https://abawtp.law.stanford.edu/exhibits/show/florence-wagman- roisman.




Attribution      The American Bar Association is the copyright owner or licensee for this collection. Citations, quotations, and use of materials in this collection made under fair use must acknowledge their source as the American Bar Association.




Terms of Use This oral history is part of the American Bar Association Women Trailblazers in the Law Project, a project initiated by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and sponsored by the ABA Senior Lawyers Division. This is a collaborative research project between the American Bar Association and the American Bar Foundation. Reprinted with permission from the American Bar Association. All rights reserved.








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Interviewer:     Mary Wolf

Dates of Interviews: December 15, 2005

December 19, 2005

July 26, 2006

July 27, 2006

March 30, 2007

June 19, 2007

June 21, 2007

June 26, 2007

January 7, 2009






DECEMBER  15, 2005




It is December 15, 2005 and we’re  at the law school clinic office and I’m beginning the oral history of Florence Roisman.  My name is Mary Wolf.  And with that I feel I need to start. The first thing to do would be to just ask about your family.  Who was in your family? [LAUGHTER]   What do you remember about when you were young?


Ms. Roisman: When I was young.  A long time ago.  Well, the immediate family was my father and my mother and a younger sister.  I grew up in The Bronx and lived there until my junior year in high schooL  The Summer before my junior year in high school, we moved to Mt. Vernon, New York.  I went to public school

in The Bronx.  I had my first year of high school in The Bronx and then the last two years ofhigh school in Mt. Vernon.


Ms. Wolf:        Where did you fit in the family? Ms. Roisman:         I was the older of the two children.

Ms. Wolf:        So two children total; yourself and a sister? Ms. Roisman:   Right.

Ms. Wolf:        And how much younger was she? Ms. Roisman:       She’s  five years younger.

Ms. Wolf:        And when you were born, how old were your parents?






Ms. Roisman:












Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:














Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:


Oh, I don’t  know.  I’d have to try to figure that out.  They weren’t  particularly old.  I was born in ’39 and I think my father was born in 1912.  I’m not sure. And my mother was a year or two younger than he was. 1    I’d have to try to figure that out.


When you lived in The Bronx, what type ofhome did you live in?  Were you in an apartment or house?


We lived in an apartment.  [LAUGHTER]  You’re  really interested?   This seems so not interesting.  We lived in an apartment; for most of the time, we lived in an apartment right across the street from Bronx Park, on Bronx Boulevard.  My sister and I shared a bedroom.  My father’s parents lived near us.  My mother’s parents lived in Montreal.   My mother’s from Montreal.


Were you a child in the same neighborhood  you were born or did you move while you were …


Yes.  No.




You always lived in the same house?


No.  But we always lived in the same neighborhood  when we were in The Bronx.  We lived in — when I was born, we lived in another apartment but basically in the same neighborhood, and then when I was quite young we







1  My sister says  that our mother was born in 1914 and my father in 1912.


moved to this apartment on Bronx Boulevard, and we lived there until we


moved to Mt. Vernon.




Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:












Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


Wow. That’s pretty stable.




It was very stable.  It was very stable and I went to public school nearby. Then to junior high school.  I was in what they called the rapid advance or special progress class in junior high school.


[LAUGHTER] [overtalk] that’s [inaudible] beginning.




Well, no. This is in junior high. So I did three years of junior high in two. So, ih, gth and 9th grades I did in two years. And then went to 1oth grade, at Evander Childs High School in The Bronx.  And then 11th and 1 ih grades in Mount Vernon.


I’m going to go back a little bit to preschool.  Do you have any memories? What’s your earliest memory?


Probably when I was in grade school.  I don’t think I have any memories before grade school.


Okay. I know sometimes …·.




Well, that’s not true. That’s not true. Well, I don’t know if this is a memory or a story that I was told. Before my sister was born, my mother had a miscarriage, probably when I was about three, and whether this is a memory or a story, I don’t know.  But I have an image of my father ironing because I used


to be dressed in these little dresses that needed to be ironed.  And either the memory or the story is that my father would iron.  And another memory of when I was quite young was that my father was on the verge of serving in the military.  He, and I don’t  know what the details were, he was exempt.  He had at least one child and maybe a second child.  I think my sister had been born.

She was born in ’44.  But nonetheless he was going to go into the military.  He was a condemnation expert.  He was a lawyer, and he was going to go to

Burma to do condemnation work.  That seems bizarre but that’s my memory. And everything in our house was packed because my mother was going to take the two kids back to Canada to be with her family and then at the last minute

he didn’t  go into the service.  That’s  because ….2




Ms. Roisman: The war ended. Ms. VVolf     VVhathappened?

Ms. Roisman:       But I do remember the house being all packed up.  The apartment being all packed up so that he could go into the service.  And I also remember when President Roosevelt died.  So that was April of’45, April I 2, I 945.


Ms. VVolf:      Not that I remember the date …




Ms. Roisman: No …. But I do think that is when he died ….





2 My sister believes that my father’s  military service had been deferred when my mother became pregnant with my sister, and then the draft age was lowered so that he did not have to serve.

This explanation seems to be inadequate to explain why everything in our apartment would have been packed.


Ms. Wolf:        So how old would you have been at that time? Ms. Roisman:          In ’45, I was six years old.

Ms. Wolf:        That’s [inaudible].




Ms. Roismari: Well, it was a very powerful moment. Ms. Wolf:      The moving or Roosevelt dying?

Ms. Roisman: Roosevelt dying.  That was very powerful. Ms. Wolf:          How so?  At the age of six?

Ms. Roisman: You know, that’s  a very interesting question,  Mary, because my father was a Republican.   But they must have been Roosevelt supporters.   Isn’t  it funny? Because as a six-year-old  I wouldn’t  have had any independent  political views. It would have been the family view.  So they must have been Roosevelt supporters, even though my father was a very active Republican.


Ms. Wolf:        What makes you remember the incident?   Can you think of anything … ?




Ms. Roisman: Well, we were listening to the afternoon radio programs.  There were children’s programs -like Tom Mix.  And the programs were interrupted.

  • ·we interrupt this program with a news bulletin. President Roosevelt has died.” I do remember that.


Ms. Wolf:        So you think you were listening to children’s programs?




Ms. Roisman: Yes, I’m sure that’s  what I was doing.


Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


What children’s programs did you listen to, do you remember?  Well, you’ve already told me two …


Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger.  I can’t  remember now.  But there was a regular series of programs in the afternoon …


And if you were six would you have been in school yet?



Yes, I’m sure I would have.  Kindergarten. 3   I didn’t  go to any kind of


pre-kindergarten, but I went to kindergarten in public school and then first grade.  I was probably in first grade because I started … I was very young. was always young for my class when I was in school.  And then, particularly, well you don’t  want to get to junior high, but when I did the three years in two in junior high that just made me even younger.  I was always the youngest one

in the class.




Ms. Wolf:         When were you born?  What month? Ms. Roisman:                         1939.  February.

Ms. Wolf:        Okay.  That is interesting.  Because you’d be like the beginning of the year. Ms. Roisman:             Yes.  But, you know I was young and I was short, so.

Ms. Wolf:        You remember that even from your grade school years?  Your grammar school years?



3 My sister says that I was 4 when I started kindergarten.


Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:


Oh, probably not.  Probably …. No, you’re  right.  That’s  probably in junior high school.


I was going to go back again and ask you about the whole thing with your Dad and packing up to move.  Would that be about the same time as Roosevelt?

About the age of six, or do you think it was before that time?




Ms. Roisman: No, I think it was before that.  I’m sure that my sister had been born.  So, she was born in April of’44, so.  I don’t  remember.   I can’t.


Ms. Wolf:        It’s just interesting because you were under the age of five so what kind of awareness that you already had concerning  your Dad’s occupation  and where it might take him.


Ms. Roisman: But I don’t  know that I knew back then.




Ms. Wolf:        Okay, so in terms of why you were moving …. Ms. Roisman:          I don’t  know if I knew that then ….

Ms. Wolf:        You just …. No.  When do you remember having awareness of your father working or your Mom working?


Ms. Roisman: Well, my mother did not work outside the home during my childhood.   So, she didn’t  work, she didn’t  do that.  I think, as long as I can remember  I was aware of my father’s  —he was, indeed when I was a child he also worked on Saturdays.  He was a lawyer for New York State and he was an assistant


attorney general for all the years of my childhood.  He was away at work every


day and afternoons on Saturdays.  So, I was very aware of [inaudible].




Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roistnan:


Did you have much interaction  with your paternal grandparents  who lived nearby?


Yes.  Yes.  We were very close to them.  And in fact after my grandmother died at some point my grandfather came and lived with us in Mt. Vernon.


As a child, did you have awareness of what your grandparents?


Yes, my grandfather  was a house painter and he used to paint our apartment and the apartments  of people I knew.  So, yes, I was aware.




Ms. Wolf:        And were they from  –born in the in the States? Ms. Roisman:        No, no.  They were both immigrants.

Ms. Wolf:        And where were they from?




Ms. Roisman: They were from Russia, Poland, probably pieces of land that changed hands between Russia and Poland.  My father’s father– and I think maybe also his

mother– came from Bialystok, which was in Poland.




Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:


This is your father’s father?




My father’s parents.  I think they both came from Bialystok.  Certainly,  his father.


Your actual immediate  grandparents?


Ms. Roisman:  My grandparents.




Ms. Wolf:        And did they speak English in the home?




Ms. Roisman:  They did, but they also spoke Yiddish. And my parents also spoke Yiddish.


So whenever they didn’t want us to know–  they didn’t want the kids to know what was going on–  they spoke Yiddish. [LAUGHTER]


Ms. Wolf:        Did they ever speak Polish, or anything else, just Yiddish?




Ms. Roisman:  I suppose my grandparents did speak Polish, but I was not aware of their speaking Polish.


Ms. Wolf:        But Yiddish was …. Ms. Roisman:     Yes, they spoke Yiddish.

Ms. Wolf:        Do you have an awareness of when you realized they were speaking a different language?


Ms. Roisman:  No.




Ms. Wolf:        No?  Because I was just thinking as a child you also begin to pick up on those languages.


Ms. Roisman: I didn’t.  No, I have no facility for languages, and I never picked up on Yiddish.  But my father’s family was very close. My grandparents lived near us. There were four children who had survived into adulthood. One had died. I never knew the one who died.  But the oldest brother was Meyer.  The oldest


child was Meyer.  Then my father.  Then a daughter, Rose, and then the youngest was Julie.  They all married.  They all had children.  They all were in the New York-New Jersey area, and they were all very close.  So, when we were children, a typical Sunday activity would be to drive out to the home of one of my two uncles or my aunt or have them come to us and spend time with them.  That’s  what we’d do.


Ms. Wolf:        And your grandfather was a house painter? Ms. Roisman:    Right.

Ms. Wolf:        And your grandmother a homemaker? Ms. Roisman:             Right.  Right.

Ms. Wolf:        And so by the time your grandmother died were there any children still in her home?


Ms. Roisman: No, although her youngest child, my uncle Julie, was only ten years older than I was.  That’s  right.  So, he and I– he used to baby-sit for me when I was young.


Ms. Wolf:        So he probably was still living with them then when you were born? Ms. Roisman:           No.

Ms. Wolf:        No?




Ms. Roisman: No.  I don’t  think so.


Ms. Wolf:        So he’s ten years older than you?




Ms. Roisman: That would make sense.  But I don’t  remember.  Yes, you’re  right, of course, he would have been.  But I don’t  have a memory of that.


Ms. Wolf:        Did you ever get stories concerning your grandfather’s and grandmother’s travels into the United States?


Ms. Roisman: No, the only story I remember is that when my grandfather came to Ellis Island his real name was a very complicated name.  And so he gave the immigration authorities the name ofhis cousins, which was Wagman.  That was my grandmother’s name and then he ended up marrying her.


Ms. Wolf:        Oh, no! Ms. Roisman:            Right.  So.

Ms. Wolf:                    So he gave the … Ms. Roisman:          He gave her name– Ms. Wolf:           of the one he married.

Ms. Roisman: Right.  Exactly.  But that’s …. Ms. Wolf:       But they weren’t  ….

Ms. Roisman: I don’t  think they knew each other.  Well, maybe they did.  He knew the family.  He knew that that was the family name.


Ms. Wolf:        Right.




Ms. Roisman: So, that’s  the end of the story.




Ms. Wolf:         Do you know how old he was when that happened? Ms. Roisman:             No.  I don’t  know.

Ms. Wolf:        How about your grandma? Ms. Roisman:      I don’t  know.

Ms. Wolf:        With respect to the children of your grandfather,  your father’s  siblings ….


Your grandfather was a house painter ….




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:






And, was he an outside or inside house painter.

Inside, I don’t  know, I think it is completely different.   He painted inside. You don’t  know how old he was when he came over, whether he got a trade


from where he …. I don’t  know.

Did your Dad ever talk about how he became interested in law?




Well, my Uncle Meyer, the oldest son, had always wanted to be a doctor, and ended up a pharmacist.  They were poor; my grandparents  were poor.  They lived in Harlem and so the oldest boy couldn’t  go to medical school; he went to


pharmacy school, which I think he always resented.  My father went to law school, but went at night.  He was working full-time, went to Fordham at night, then got a Masters from St. Johns at night.  My aunt, Rose, never went to college because she was the girl, which she always resented.  Theresa lot of resentment in this family.  And the youngest, Julie, also went to law school.


Ms. Wolf:        Did he borrow [Inaudible] … ? Ms. Roisman:            I think he probably did.

Ms. Wolf:        Was your grandfather  alive to see his children?




Ms. Roisman: Oh yes, my grandmother  died young, but my grandfather lived until — I think I


was in college when he died.4




Ms. Wolf:        How about your grandmother?




Ms. Roisman: She died, oh, I can’t  remember exactly when she died.  It was in the early’50s, I think.


Ms. Wolf:        So you were somewhat older then.




Ms. Roisman: No, I was ten or eleven, something  like that.




Ms. Wolf:        Do you have any memories of doing stuff with your grandmother? Ms. Roisman: I have memories of her, but not particularly doing stuff.

4 My sister reports that my grandfather  died after my father had died, which means I would have been out of law school.  My father died in 1963, at the age of 51.


Ms. Wolf:        You said that they were poor and they lived in Harlem.  Do you get that from stories?


Ms. Roisman: Yes, that’s from stories.




Ms. Wolf:        So by the time you became part of the picture, where were they living then? Ms. Roisman:             They were living in an apartment in the Bronx.

Ms. Wolf:        So they also were ….




Ms. Roisman: Right, they were very close to us. Ms. Wolf:             What about your Mom’s family?

Ms. Roisman: They also were immigrants;  her parents were also immigrants.   I think from Russia, and I think that my grandmother  had trained as a nurse when she was in Russia.  Actually, I have the samovar I think my grandmother  brought with her from Russia, which seems really weird, but I do have this samovar which has Russian writing on it, so maybe that’s  true.  And they ended up in Montreal. They met in Montreal and my grandfather owned a grocery store, a pretty big grocery store right near the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and my grandmother worked in the store.  She didn’t  have a formal position.  They lived in an apartment above the store.  We used to go Canada, I think every

Summer.   My mother and the kids.  My father would come up for his vacation; he probably had a two-week vacation.  And there, too, there were four adult children.  I’m not sure I know the ages exactly right.  I think the oldest was my


Aunt Bessie, who is still alive; she is 92 years old, I think. Then my Uncle Joe, then my mother, and then tny Uncle Abe. They all lived in Montreal; all the other siblings lived in Montreal and raised families, and I had tons of cousins.


Ms. Wolf:        It all sounds like you had stronger memories of Montreal than you do of the grandparents in New York.


Ms. Roisman:  I don’t know that that’s true, but we did go up there every Summer, so I do have vivid memories of it, but I also [had] very good memories of the family, my father’s family. I think I was closer to my father’s family. I always identified much more with my father and tny father’s family than I did with my mother and my mother’s family.


Ms. Wolf:        They were in MontreaL Were they French speaking?



Ms. Roisman:  Well, everybody up there speaks French, but no, their principal language was


English, and they also spoke Yiddish. They probably spoke Russian, too. Ms. Wolf:          And both sets of grandparents met in the United States?

Ms. Roisman:  Yes.5




Ms. Wolf:        Nobody came over, as an adult? Ms. Roisman:          No.

Ms. Wolf:        Did your Mom work in the store when she was growing up?



5 Not true of my mother’s parents, who met in Canada.


Ms. Roisman: Yes.  She probably did, actually.  I think she did.  She must have.  I think she did.  She probably worked as a cashier.  She would have done that.


Ms. Wolf:        When you would go off in the Summers, what would you do?




Ms. Roisman: I would play in the store.  I didn’t  get to work in the store.  For as long as I can remember, when we went up in the Summers, we spent most of our time in the country.  My grandmother had a house in the Laurentians.  And we would go there, and the cousins would be there too.  So we would spend time in the country.  We would go to Montreal, we’d spend a night or two in Montreal, but then we would go up to the Laurentians.


Ms. Wolf:        It sounds like they were really well off.




Ms. Roisman: They came to be.  Yes, they were.  I always thought of them as wealthy. don’t  know that they were really, really, wealthy.


Ms. Wolf:        And what about the siblings, what do they do?




Ms. Roisman: Let’s see, my uncle Joe worked in the store.  And then after my grandfather died then, he ran the store.  And my aunt Bessie married somebody who was a butcher and a grocery store owner.  I don’t  know that she ever had a job outside the home.  That’s  what she did.  And, my mother, I think my mother had a teacher’s  certificate in Canada but I don’t think she ever worked as a teacher.  And the youngest of those siblings, my uncle Abe, I think trained as an engineer, but ended up working in the store, which he very much resented. That’s  my recollection.


Ms. Wolf:             And who’s  still alive?




Ms. Roisman: Well, my aunt Bessie is still alive. Ms. Wolf:            That’s your father’s  sister?

Ms. Roisman: No, no.  That’s my mother’s sister.  She’s  the only one of those siblings who is still alive.


Ms. Wolf:             She’s the one who is a nurse?




Ms. Roisman:       No, I don’t  know if she ever had a profession.   If she did I don’t  know about it.


And of my father’s siblings, none is alive, they’re  all dead.  The only one who’s  alive is my Aunt Bessie.


Ms. Wolf:             You said somebody was the nurse and I forget who that was. Ms. Roisman:       My grandmother.   I think my grandmother  trained as a nurse. Ms. Wolf:             Okay.  So that your Mom’s Mom?

Ms. Roisman:       Right.  Trained as a nurse.




Ms. Wolf:        And your Dad’s  Mom was pretty much [inaudible].   All right.  What is your first memory of Canada, of Montreal?


Ms. Roisman: I used to buy comic books from the stand that was located outside my grandfather’s store.  It was a big event.  My grandfather would give me a dime

— and well maybe he’d  give me a dollar– and I would go and buy comic books.


Ms. Wolf:        [Inaudible] … I would say more than in English?




Ms. Roisman: Yes.  I actually learned a little bit of French because my grandparents always had a maid.  And it was always a French-speaking maid.


Ms. Wolf:        Your grandparents had a French maid?




Ms. Roisman: In Montreal, at that time, that was quite cmnmon. Ms. Wolf:           Where did your Mom and Dad meet?

Ms. Roisman: I have forgotten the details of that story, but I think my father had gone to Montreal with some friends and either somebody  fixed him up with my mother or they were at a party or something.   I don’t  remember.  You have to get my sister.  My sister remembers all these things.  I don’t  remember.  But that’s

how they met, something  like that.  And then, they would go back and forth and ended up getting married and she came to live in the States.6


Ms. Wolf:        So, basically she left Montreal ….




Ms. Roisman: And she left her family to come down here.




Ms. Wolf:        Well, because she didn’t  have any relatives in New York?




Ms. Roisman: No, no.  But I mean not, no close relatives.  Cousins.  Oh, there were cousins;


there were cousins.





6 My sister says that my mother had gone to New York to visit cousins, and had a blind date with my father.


Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:


Do you know how old she was?




I think she was probably about twenty.  I think she was fairly young.  She was pretty young.


And how old was your Dad at that time?




I can’t  remember.  I think early twenties, both in their early twenties.




Because I was just thinking that he was working and going to night school to become an attorney.  That probably came after they married?


I kind of think, yes.  That he was already       , but I’m not sure. Do you know what he was working at when he was in law school?

I’m sure at one time I knew, but I’ve forgotten.  But I know he would study on the subways.  That’s why I’m always especially sensitive to the evening students.  I like to teach evening students, because of how hard it was for him

to do that.




Ms. Wolf:        So you would have remembered  your father studying? Ms. Roisman:         No, no, no.  No, no, no.  I just heard stories.

Ms. Wolf:        About your father studying.




Ms. Roisman: I wasn’t  there until after he was finished with law school.




Ms. Wolf:        How long?  Was it quite a while after your parents married, then?


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:









Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


I don’t know.  I know when I was born, in 1939, but I can’t remember.




Iwas just thinking if they were young when they met and married and he hadn’t done his career yet. Then, there would have been a period of time between the time they married, and came to the United States, and she, and your Mom came to the United States and you were born.


Well, I think he was already a lawyer, and I don’t think there was a long period of time between the time they were married and when Iwas born. Two, three years.


Iguess the other question would be, you said you were five years older than your sister?






Do you have memories of when your sister was born? No.

Because a year later you had clear memories of an incident which happened when you were six.


Well that’s true. That’s true. No, I don’t think I have any memories.




So, like, when somebody else, when your sister is born, and then there was another person in the house, like having, giving recollections of when you and your sister began to interact with each other?


Ms. Roisman: Yes, we interacted when we were young, but I don’t have special memories of






Ms. Wolf:        Because your sister was still a toddler when you took off for school, though. Ms. Roisman:             Yes.

Ms. Wolf:        And you said that you started school early, so would you have started when you were five?


Ms. Roisman: At least five, yes.




Ms. Wolf:        And the school you went to is near where you lived in the Bronx? Ms. Roisman:   Yes, right.  PS 13.

Ms. Wolf:        And you were at PS 13, first grade? Ms. Roisman:    Kindergarten, I think.

Ms. Wolf:        Oh, kindergarten.




Ms. Roisman: Kindergarten through sixth grade.  And then I went to PS 113. Ms. Wolf:   So you went from 13 to 113?

Ms. Roisman: To 113, no relationship, for two years, for junior high.




Ms. Wolf:        So when you started school, thinking about going back in toPS 13, was it a large school?


Ms. Roisman: No, it was a small school.




Ms. Wolf:        So classes would be somewhat smaller? Ms. Roisman:         I’m sure they were, yes.

Ms. Wolf:        What’s  your first memory of school? (STOP IN TAPE] Just to know we’re back on tape and Prof. Roisman has just returned, and this is side two and says she is beginning to remember things.


Ms. Roisman: Well, one thing I remember.  Now, this would not be a memory, but obviously I was told this story:  that when my father would wheel me in my carriage when I was a little baby, people would say, oh, this is the little lawyer-kin. Because everybody assumed that I going to ….


Ms. Wolf:        The little lawyer-kin? Ms. Roisman:  Lawyer-kin, right.

Ms. Wolf:        So they were planting the [inaudible]?




Ms. Roisman: Absolutely, absolutely.  Okay.  In grade school, PS 13, the Bronx.  I remember the librarian because both in grade school and in junior high, I was very close to the librarian.  And the librarian in grade school was Miss McGuinness.  The

librarian in junior high was Mrs. McGuinn.  I think I might have reversed those two.


Ms. Wolf:        The fact that their names are so similar.


Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






















Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


I can’t  remember if rm transposing those names.  And I  used to come home from school every day for lunch.


Would you be able to go to school on your own or did somebody take you?




Well, I’m sure that when I was in first grade or kindergarten, my mother probably took me.  But when I was older, I would just go by myself.


Were there other children in the apartment building you were living in? Yes. And I was very friendly with a little girl with whom I went to school.

Because sometimes other children, older children, take the younger children down, if there’s a ….


I don’t  remember that.  I don’t  remember going back and forth to school. Although I’m sure I did.  And I do remember that as I was finishing grade school, my teachers wanted me to take the test for Hunter Junior High, which is a special admission.  To my memory, my mother wouldn’t  let me do it because she didn’t  want me to have to travel.  It happened again when I was in

junior high and the teachers wanted me to take the test for Bronx Science and my mother wouldn’t  let me do it because she didn’t  want me to have to travel to Bronx Science.  Both decisions that I deeply resented, deeply resented.


So did you take your mother to issue for those?




I’m sure that I did and I think it would be fair to say that I never forgave her. [Inaudible].


Ms. Wolf:        How long a trip would it have been?  Subway or? Ms. Roisman:     Yes, subway.  Lots of people did it.

Ms. Wolf:        Was it, you would have been only twelve or thirteen? Ms. Roisman:            Lots of people did it, lots of people.

Ms. Wolf:        Younger than twelve at the time. Ms. Roisman:        Yes.

Ms. Wolf:        I think.  I think you’re  still angry; what’s  the matter?




Ms. Roisman: No, it’s, it’s,  you know, something  I very much resented.


Ms. Wolf:        Do you remember your father being involved in these  conversations? Ms. Roisman:         Well, you know that’s  a very interesting question because I once was


discussing my family structure with somebody, and I said that my father was the dominant person.  And that definitely seems to be true.  My father was a very strong person.  And the person said well, if your father was so domineering how come your mother got to make the major decisions about where you went to school?  And the truth is she got to make those two decisions. Perhaps he just deferred to her.  But I didn’t  grow up resenting him because of those decisions.   I grew up resenting her because of those decisions. And it ultimately decided where I went to law school.


Ms. Wolf:        How so?


Ms. Roisman:














Ms. Wolf:


Because my mother had prevented me from going to Hunter Junior High.  She had prevented me from going to Bronx Science.  My parents didn’t  let me go to college where I wanted to go to college.  And when it was time to go to law school, I said, screw this, I am going where I want to go.  So, it all tied together.

So by the time you got to college, you get your own way, law school, you got your own way?




Ms. Roisman: Right, right.




Ms. Wolf:        But up till then?




Ms. Roisman: Up till then I got pushed around.


Ms. Wolf:        Do you remember growing up, before all these things started to happen with respect to schooling, having chores in the house?  Responsibilities?   Like as a young girl?




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


Yes.  I’m sure we washed dishes, and cleaned; yes, I do.  I remember dusting, vacuuming and making beds, doing dishes, sure.


Because sometimes  I was ahead of my mother for those things, too. Well, do we have to do this?  When do I get to ask the questions?

Homework.  Do you have recollections  of homework when you were in grade school?


Ms. Roisman:












Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roistnan:






Ms. Wolf:









Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


I’m sure I did homework.  I actually remember. This would have been in grade school.  But Idon’t remember what grade. Iremember changing all the answers in a workbook because people had teased me for having all the right answers.


Do you remember what grade that would have been in?




No, but I’m quite sure it was in grade school. It was a problem –being  too smart.


Now, when you were in school, structures of schools may have been somewhat different than they are now.  Do you remember anything about how classes were set up, or if you stayed in one classroom for your classes?


I don’t remember grade school.  In junior high we moved around to different classes. One had a home room and then moved around.  But Idon’t remember grade school, particularly.


Do you remember your sister starting at school?  Would you have been … We would have been in the same school, but I don’t remember.

Of taking her to school or anything? No.

Any memories of any special teachers in the grade school?  The librarian we know about, and somebody obviously took an interest if they wanted you to go


on to the accelerated Hunter Junior High School.  Do you remember who that person was?


Ms. Roisman: Hmmm.




Ms. Wolf:        No.  Were you generally all around good in all your subjects? Ms. Roisman:           Probably.

Ms. Wolf:        Math too?




Ms. Roisman: Yes. [Inaudible]. Ms. Wolf:    [Inaudible].

Ms. Roisman: I’m sure they did.




Ms. Wolf:            In terms of things like around the house, like after school stuff, when you were younger. You had a lot of family around the neighborhood, at least your Dad’s family.


Ms. Roistnan: They weren’t, except for my grandparents. They weren’t in the neighborhood.


They were a drive away.




Ms. Wolf:        Okay. What about parties, like birthday parties or holidays?  Do you have recollections of birthdays, how they were celebrated?


Ms. Roisman: I’m sure they all were celebrated [inaudible].




Ms. Wolf:        What about religion?  Did that take much place in your household?


Ms. Roisman:












Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:




















Ms. Wolf:


It did.  I went to Hebrew school.  Not in the household, particularly.  My parents were not very observant.   But I did go to, I went to Hebrew school. went to Sunday school.   I went through a religious period.  I remember one of those.  [inaudible].   I thought of something ….


About the Hebrew school or home?  About religion at home?




Nobody was, oh I know what it was.  Neither of my parents was very observant, but both my parents were very active in philanthropic groups.  My mother was very involved in Hadassah, which is a social service agency for Jewish woman.  My father was very active in the UJA, United Jewish Appeal, which collects money for charitable  purposes.  [Inaudible]   My father was an air raid warden, I do remember that, during the war.  They were very engaged in their community.

Do you remember how old you were when you started going to Hebrew school or Sunday school?




Ms. Roisman: No, but I’m sure it was in grade school.


Ms. Wolf:        Because your parents weren’t  observant,  I was wondering whether or not your grandparents  were?




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


I don’t  think they were.




Or how you ended up going to [Hebrew] school?


Ms. Roisman: That’s a good question.   Because I don’t  even think my father or mother went


to services on the high holy days.  They might have; I don’t  know; I don’t  think so.  I don’t  know why I did want to go to Hebrew school and Sunday school, but I definitely did want to [inaudible].


Ms. Wolf:        Would the neighborhood  have been strongly Jewish or was it pretty mixed… ? Ms. Roisman:             Not exclusively.  It was a mixed neighborhood.

Ms. Wolf:        Because i was thinking we’ve  talked about the other young person in the


building that you were friendly with, that’s  what [overtalk], Jewish. Ms. Roisman:            Yes.  They were Jewish, but I don’t  remetnber their going to services. Ms. Wolf:      Did your sister follow you and go to Hebrew school and Sunday school? Ms. Roisman:    You know, I don’t  remember.   Probably, but I don’t  remember.

Ms. Wolf:        Do you remember going to any high holiday services yourself? Ms. Roisman:        Yes.

Ms. Wolf:        As a child?




Ms. Roisman: Oh yes, definitely.




Ms. Wolf:        So in those metnories would you be by yourself or would you be with someone?


Ms. Roisman: It seems improbable but I don’t  remember being with anyone.


Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:























Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


When you were young, what impressed  you most?




I couldn’t tell you.  I mean, I do remember  that I went through a phase ofbeing very religious.  But I have no memory  why.  None at all.  It just doesn’t  … ; I can’t  bring that back.  Now, I did, when I was, from the time I was about eight, starting I think in 1947.  In the Summers  I went to camp, in Canada.  And the camps that I went to, I went to one camp in ’47 and then I went to a different camp for a number of years.  And the camps were Jewish camps.  So that may have had something  to do with it.  They would have had services;  they would have songs; that might have had something  to do with it.


Were your Mom’s  parents religious?




I don’t  think anybody in the family was particularly  religious.  Not that I






Do you have any recollection  of any one challenging your religion?




Well, definitely  the family was very conscious ofbeing Jewish.   I mean, my father went to law school at Fordham.


A Jesuit school?




A Jesuit school, and he would tell stories, and attendance  was required in law school.  And he would tell stories about how on the high holy days the professors  would mark the Jewish students  present, make a special accommodation.


Ms. Wolf:        The Jesuits?




Ms. Roisman: The Jesuits, right.  There was a lot of anti-Semitism.  I don’t  remember particularly experiencing it, but one was aware that that was a problem.  When definitely it was a case of anti-Semitism.  And my father’s  position on the high holy days, for example,  which is a position I adhere to now, is:  I don’t  go to services, but I will not go to the office because I don’t  want to make it uncomfortable  for those who do observe.   I don’t  want anybody to be able to say that Roisman’s working.  So I’ll work but I’ll work from home.





Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:




























Ms. Wolf:


It’s interesting because  you said that, your family, particularly, your father didn’t  observe them, but in some respects it sounds like he did observe them.


He observed  it, in that he wouldn’t go to services, but he wouldn’t work.  We had family members who had been caught in the Holocaust.   One of my

1nother’s cousins– I’m not sure I can recreate the family relationship.   I think this was my grandfather’s sister’s family, I’m  not sure about that.  But my grandfather  brought a niece to Canada.  This is a cousin with whom we’ve always been very close.  We’re  still close to the family.  Except for one brother, everybody else in the family was killed.  This was something  that I knew about her family.  Brought to Canada, she didn’t  speak any English, she was a teenager.   And then years later she found a brother and his wife in a Displaced Persons camp and was able to bring them to the United States.


Do you remember  when you became aware of these things?


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:







Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






Ms. Wolf:


No, but my feeling is that Iwas always aware of this.




Do you remember any conversations about the war?  Do you remember things about your Dad being, your parents, being Republican?


Offhand, I don’t remember anything in particular. But you had strong ….

Iremember VJ Day. Big celebration.7  Two of my uncles were in the service.


Ihave no memory of that, but I know that that was true. But your father was never in the service then?

Although he did some work for the War Department, he was never in uniform.




And then you say you have two uncles who were in the service, would they have been your father’s ….


My father’s older brother, Meyer, who, in fact, was at the Normandy







He’s the pharmacist?




The pharmacist.  And he was at the Normandy invasion. And then my Aunt


Rose’s husband. My uncle by marriage, but very close.




What did Rose’s husband do?




7 This may have been VE Day.


Ms. Roisman: Rose’s husband sold carpet.  He was in the service.




Ms. Wolf:        Talk about religion which is kind of interesting that you were kind of like alone within your family, in some respects.


Ms. Roisman: Yeah, it didn’t [inaudible] …. It didn’t take. Ms. Wolf:          When did it stop?

Ms. Roisman: I don’t know.  I mean, I know, I pretty much stopped going to services, but I was observing high holy days.  Many, many years later, when I was in Washington and working with homeless families, I had gone out to so called “welfare” motels on the afternoon of a high holy day.  That’s probably not the last time I’ve ever been at a service, but it was pretty much the last time.


Ms. Wolf:        So we’ll gq back to the end of junior high.  And get you out of junior high now.


Ms. Roisman: Get me out of Junior High.




Ms. Wolf:        So most of your memories in junior high, the librarian and doing well, too well and ….


Ms. Roisman: No, I did too well in grade school.  Junior high …




Ms. Wolf:        I’m sorry, getting you out of grade school is what I meant.  And then that’s when they wanted you to go to the special school?


Ms. Roisman: To Hunter Junior High.


Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Rois1nan:









Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:






My mother said no, so I went to the neighborhood junior high, but I was in the SP class.  Special Progress class.  I did three years in two.  So everybody who was in that class was smart.


Among the few? Including me.

Many women or basically men?  Boys and girls, I mean?




I don’t  particularly remember, but I remember one good friend who was a woman so, I think there were.  In fact, probably there were more women than men because girls tend to be smarter than boys, right?


Yes; they just don’t  always get ….




I don’t  remember gender as an issue.  I have no memory of gender being an issue for me until I went to law school and people thought it was weird that I was in law school.  And I thought it was weird that they thought it was weird.


Well, because when you were in the buggy, they were telling you you were a lawyer.


Yes.  I thought this was a perfectly normal thing for people to do.




When you were young and you said your Dad worked on Saturdays, did you ever go with him to the office?


Ms. Roisman: Yes, not often.  But I would go in his office at times. Ms. Wolf:      What would you do?

Ms. Roisman: I played with his dictating machine or something  like that.  I don’t  remember.


I liked to be in his office.




Ms. Wolf:        You know how old you were?  Before school?




Ms. Roisman: I think that I was in school.  Although maybe, but I don’t  retnember. Ms. Wolf:     But when he would go to work, did you take the subway?

Ms. Roisman: Uhhuh.




Ms. Wolf:        Big building?




Ms. Roisman: Well he worked at 80 Centre Street, which is where the Attorney General’s offices were and I think still are [inaudible).   Old building, high ceilings,  very old fashioned.


Ms. Wolf:        That was after your memories  when you were a child or your memories  when you were an adult?


Ms. Roisman: No, no.  It’s as a child.  I don’t  think I was in that building as an adult.  And, in fact, I remember, the Attorney General I remember  was Louis Lefkowitz.   Jake Javits had been the Attorney General, and before him it was Nathaniel Goldstein.  I don’t  remember Goldstein.


Ms. Wolf:        You think [inaudible]?


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:






We were just going through the litany of all the people who were the Attorneys


General in New York, and we know everyone back to I don’t  know what year. No, no, well, I don’t  know.  That goes back a long time.

Okay, so you’ve  just been reciting those because we were talking about going to work with your Dad.

Right.  With Nathaniel Goldstein, Javits, Lefkowitz.  And I remember  going into the Attorney General’s office.  I mean, that was a big thrill to go into his own office.




Ms. Wolf:        And which one would that have been?  Goldstein? Ms. Roisman:     It probably would have been all of them.

Ms. Wolf:        All of them.


Ms. Roisman: And occasionally  I would go to Albany with my father.  He would go up to argue in the Court of Appeals.  Although I don’t  think I ever heard him argue


in court.




Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


Did he go to court?




He was the head of the Appeals and Opinions Bureau and he frequently  argued in the Court of Appeals and he once argued in the Supreme Court.  And we did


go to Washington  to hear that.  I don’t  remember going to the Supreme Court, but we came to Washington,  when he argued in the Supreme Court.


Ms. Wolf:        Do you remember how old you were then?  In grade school, junior high? Ms. Roistnan:    I was pretty young; maybe I was ten or eleven or something.

Ms. Wolf:        So before junior high?




Ms. Roisman: I think so.  We have to look up the case.




Ms. Wolf:                    It seems like you had a lot of legal experience before the age of ten. Ms. Roisman:              Yes; right.

Ms. Wolf:        That’s pretty interesting.   Would your whole family go or just you and your






Ms. Roisman: No, no, no.  To Washington,  we all came, we all came.




Ms. Wolf:        Was your Mom interested in your Dad’s  business, his occupation? Ms. Roisman: I don’t  think so, particularly,  I don’t  remember [inaudible].

Ms. Wolf:        It sounds like you have a lot of involvement  in finding out what he is doing or going where?


Ms. Roisman: I don’t  know if that’s  true.  It was fun to go to his office, but it was also fun to work in the cashiers  office at my grandfather’s store.  [Inaudible].


Ms. Wolf:




















Ms. Roisman:














Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


Okay, well then back to this thing of getting out of grade school and into junior high.  Do you have, in grade school, basically the specific memory you had

was about the librarian, and we know that there was somebody interested enough in your performance  and wanted you to go to Hunter, because you definitely remember the controversy about not going.  But when you got into junior high then in the neighborhood school, do you have any recollections  of teachers?


Yes.  In junior high, yes.  Again, the librarian and Mr. Good, a French teacher, and Mrs. Chad– what did she teach [inaudible]?   But I remember those two in particular and the librarian, and they definitely wanted me to take the test for Bronx Science.  You don’t  just go to Bronx Science, you have to take a test. Same thing that’s  true with Hunter.


Did she ever give any explanation?




Yes.  She didn’t  want me to travel and she thought it would interfere with my piano lessons.  Trust me, I’m not a musical genius.  It didn’t  matter if my piano lessons got interfered with.  The world would not have been any worse.


Do you still play the piano? No.

Well, do you remember much about your sister being around you during this time when this was going on?


Ms. Roisman: Not particularly.  She was five years younger than I was. Ms. Wolf:             So it wasn’t a matter of just keeping you close by for her? Ms. Roisman:    Who knows what her real reasons were?

Ms. Wolf:        Okay.  So, any experiences in junior high that stand out?  Other than the wanting to take the test.


Ms. Roisman: The first time I ate Chinese food. Ms. Wolf: Chinese food?

Ms. Roisman: Yes, the first time I ate Chinese food.  Oh, no, no, no. It wasn’t  the first time I ate Chinese food.  It was the first time I ate hot mustard.  No, I don’t  think I remember anything in particular.


Ms. Wolf:        What subjects did you like best?  You don’t  remember that, right? Ms. Roisman: I liked school.  I always liked school.

Ms. Wolf:        And after school type of things, I know you took piano lessons.




Ms. Roisman: Yes; I took piano lessons.  I don’t  know.  I was always a big reader.  I had a friend who lived in Parkchester.  I would go to visit her.  [Inaudible].


Ms. Wolf:        Do you remember the games you played?


Ms. Roisman:









Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:









Ms. Roisman:












Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:


I used to play in the park a lot when I was young.  Because we lived across the street from Bronx Park.  And there was a girl scout troop.  I rode a bike. Possibly, a very dim memory [inaudible].


During this time, when you were very young, you remember that there were discussions of politics in the house?


There must have been.




You had enough awareness to know that your parents were somewhat Republican.  During this part of your life, do you have any recollection of how politics played in your family or any memories of government, and your Dad was working in government to some extent?


I certainly remember discussions about it.  I’m not sure if I remember the details.  And you asked about what work my father was doing when he was going to law school.  But he had a job during the Depression.   And I have a dim memory ofhis talking about how he got that job [inaudible].


What the job was? [Inaudible]

But you started talking about that in connection with memories of politics?




Yes.  I think he had gotten his job through some Democratic, Tammany  Hall connection.  And I think he had been doing condemnation  work and I think he


then was asked to go to the Attorney General’s office because ofhis expertise


in condemnation.




Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:

















Ms. Wolf:


And he would have been an attorney at that time?




Yes, he was an attorney.  But for many, many years, the Attorney General in New York was Republican.   And I think that maybe that’s  when he became a Republican, when he went to the Attorney General’s office.  He started, I think, doing condemnation  work.  At one time he was aT-man. He worked for, he had a special appointment  with, the Treasury Department. But I’m  not sure where that, the beginning of which.  [Inaudible]


So, like in this era, who would have been President when … ?




[End  of Tape  #I – side A and  B)






DECEMBER  19, 2005



Ms. Wolf:





















Ms. Roisman:
















Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


Okay, this is Mary Wolf.   I’m here with Florence Roisman doing the second session of her oral history and today is December 19111  [2005], and it is about

3:00p.m. in the afternoon.   Last time we were together we learned about her family, and we learned where she was born and spent her young years.  And she was moving onto junior high when we were last talking, and she was talking about her Dad’s  work and that he was a condemnation  expert and I guess I’ll just ask:  Florence, is there anything that you wanted to bring to the table since we last met?

Okay, I did a little bit of preparation after the fact, after our first session, because I was embarrassed  by how little I knew or remembered.  So I have brought with me and we will copy and attach to this material a description  of my father’s  career.  This description  comes from the New York Red Book, which is an official description  of State employees.  And this is for the year

1958-1959. Okay.

I also went back and got some material from junior high and high school. had remembered  correctly that a teacher from grade school who had been meaningful  to me was Katherine McGuinn and then, in junior high school, Anne E. McGuinniss, who was the librarian in the junior high school.  I even remember,  I think she lived in Mamaroneck,  New York.





Interview ofF. Roisman # 2 (12-19-05)_(EAST_50213571_l).DOC


Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Rois1nan:











Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:
















Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:
















Ms. Wolf:


Do you remember why they were important to you?


Well, I remember that Ms. McGuinniss was important to me because she was the librarian, and, as I told you, I remembered from junior high Mrs. Chad and Mr. Good.  I dont actually remember any of these other people who are listed here.

As I remember, you just liked everything.  There was no special subject.


I think that’s right.  And actually I found something  when I went back and looked at this.  I found something — oh I know.  On and off I keep a journal. And the journal does go back to junior high and most of it is embarrassingly ridiculous.  But I did find a reference to my grades on the regents exams for one year, and I think my highest grade was in Algebra.  I had a 98 in Algebra. You had asked if I’d been good in math.



Apparently my memory was correct.  I was good in math.  But what I wanted to be was a writer.  That is what I wanted to be.

What type of writer?


I think I wanted to write novels or short stories.  And I was reminded  here, too, when I went through this autograph book, one of the high school teachers was

J .J. Loria, who was an English teacher.  And I remember him as a very impressive person, I believed.  I have no idea if this was true or not, but I believed at the time that he had written a short story that had been published  in The New Yorker.  And that was a very big deal.

Did you hope you would be published in The New Yorker?


Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:










Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:











Ms. Wolf:


Well, I don’t  know that I cared to– actually,  I do think I cared about The


New Yorker because when I got out of college, probably, at some point, I tried to get a job at The New Yorker.  It must have been after college.  Oh, you are making me remember  things I had forgotten.   But I definitely wanted to be a writer.  That was my goal.

And that was through junior high and then also high school? I’d have to go back and look at my high school diaries.

Ah-ah, you said that you’d  keep journals off and [on].  How did that start?


I have no idea how it started.  Well, it goes back before junior high, I think I remember.  I don’t  know when it started, but I do remember that I was given a locked diary as a present once and I used to write in it and I think that would have been in grade schooL  So it goes back some time.

And then you’d  stop.


Yes, it’s always been kind of on and off.


Just kind of thought it wasn’t  worth it anymore or other things came in the way?

No, I- well, I can’t  remember why I did it in grade school or junior high or high schooL  But as an adult I think I have used it when I have been unhappy. I think I’ve written a lot.  And when my life is going well, I don’t  write very much, if at alL  It must be therapeutic.

Well, we talked about where you were going to go to schooL  And that you went on to the junior high that you didn’t  particularly want to go to because you wanted to go to the other schooL


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms.. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:











Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:




And did things go fairly well in the junior high then?  We talked some about that already.

I think so.  I think junior high was fine.


Do you remetnber  any other things that you’d  like to do for recreation  or anything, in junior high, any more than you did in grade school?



And you indicated  that at the end of junior high they had recommended  that you go on, take the test for?

Bronx Science.


Right, Bronx Science.   But once again you’re  …


Yes, and my mother said no, so I couldn’t  go to Bronx Science. And your father didn’t buck her?

Didn’t  say a word [so far as I know]. Okay.

So I went to the neighborhood  high school, which was Evander Childs High School.   I was there for a year.  I don’t  have much memory of it, at all.  I don’t particularly  reme1nber it.  And then we moved to Mount Vernon and I went to high school in Mount Vernon.

Okay, so your high school was split then?


Right.  One year at Evander and then two years at Mount Vernon. So you only did three years in high school?

Yes, because that’s  what you do.  Junior high is —


Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:
























Ms. Wolf:


I get you.


7th, 8th and 9th grades, but I did that in 2 years and then I Oth, II th and I    11


was high school.


Well, if you did them in two for one no wonder you don’t  remember.* Could be.

Do you remember taking part in any of the extracurriculars  at the new school? Yes.  In Mount Vernon I was in the school play at least once, I remember, and I was an editor of the yearbook, I remember that.  And I had lots of friends.  I was very social when I was in high school in Mount Vernon.  And I formed a friendship that has lasted from then until now.  So this is my oldest, closest friend, Gladys Kessler, who was in the same year in high school.

Do you remember how you and Gladys met?


I don’t  remember how we met — but there is a — we tell this story– we refer to this story to each other, so I suppose it’s true.  She was a very big deal in high school.  She had lived in Mount Vernon I think all of her life so she had gone to school with all of these kids and she was the feature editor of, or maybe she was the editor of, the school newspaper, and she was in a special home room for– I think they were called Archons, they were special monitors.  She was in this very spiffy home room.  And I ran into her home

room one morning and said “Gladys,  Gladys, I’m an existentialist” because I’d read Sartre for the first time.

So how old were you when you became an existentialist?




* I did not do “two for one” in high school.


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I was fifteen or sixteen.


It must have been a pretty big thing.


I thought I had discovered  the world.


That’s  great.  When you moved to Mount Vernon, what was it that caused you to move to Mount Vemon, do you remember?

I have no idea.  We bought a house; my parents bought a house.  So, we were moving up and out to the suburbs.

So you must have been probably like around fourteen?  Thirteen, fourteen? Thirteen,  yeah.  I would have been thirteen.

Are there any other high school memories?  School play, you said, do you remember what the play was?

Yes, I do, it was The Man Who Came To Dinner and I played the nurse.  All the memories that I have are, you know –they are memories of hanging out with friends and boyfriends — lots about boyfriends.   Lots of activity about boys.  I think I had a pretty happy two years and then I do remember — I think, I think I had pretty much decided,  when we moved, that I was going to be a different kind of person and have a different kind oflife, and so I was much more social and made more friends and spent more time.

Then when you had been at the other place?


Right, right, right.  And I think I was — I think I was eager not to let people know that I was smart, and I do have a memory of when the SAT scores came out.  For some reason it seems to me that everybody knew everybody’s SAT scores.  That’s weird, but that’s my memory.  That people were really


astonished by how well I had done on my SATs, because, except — I mean,


Gladys knew that I was smart, but I didn’t  boast about it–



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You kept it well hidden?


I think I did, purposely; I tried to. Intentionally.

Oh, yeah.


Why do you think you were hiding it?


Oh, because I think I had the feeling that I would do better socially if people didn’t  think I was very smart.  A message by the way, which my mother definitely reinforced.

Why do you say that?


Oh, because she did –that was, you know, people shouldn’t  –if  girls were smart, boys won’t  like that.

Did she actually say that to you?


Oh, sure; many times, and I actually think that that’s  the reason that she didn’t want me to go to Hunter Junior High or Bronx Science.  I know I’m  not allowed to tum the tables and ask you questions, but didn’t  you get that same kind of message?  I think that’s  generational.   I think that in my generation girls got that  message.

Do you think that was the message your Mom lived by? Yes.

Because you talk about your Dad supposedly being the head of the family but your Mom really ruling the family, in some respects?



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Right; yes; I think that’s  true.


Which is kind of interesting.  I guess it’s  sounding to me like you hold back until you get your place and then go forward?

Well, that’s interesting.  That’s interesting.   I don’t  know.


Well, in high school then you are much more social, but you still do very well at school?



And as high school is coming to an end, how do you decide what to do from there?  You are already an existentialist.

Right.  I knew I was an existentialist. Because you had read Sartre.

I don’t  remember what I had read, but I had read Sartre and probably Camus, and I know I had read Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, because the two colleges to which I most wanted to go were Bennington and Brandeis.  And I wanted to go to Bennington– I don’t  know if this was why I wanted to go to Bennington, but my memory is that Ralph Ellison had been the writer in residence at Bennington, maybe during my senior year in high schooL  I can remember that being a big part of why I wanted to go to Bennington.  Because he had been there.

And what about Brandeis?


I don’t  know why I wanted to go there.  And I think at one point I wanted to go to Cornell, which is where Gladys ended up going.  So I remember going


up to look at Cornell, but I think my final favorites were Brandeis and





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You spoke about the SATs – so, in order to get into college, was that the exam that you took –the same as we do now?

Rig  t, right.


So what happened when your SAT scores came back, at home?


Well, I did very well.  I had very good grades.  I had good regents exam grades.  I had good SATs.  I got in every place I applied.

Do you remember conversations  at home about your schooling?


9h, well, yes.  And in fact I had forgotten that I came very close to going to the State University ofNew York at Geneseo, New York.  Because it had a very good library science program.  I thought I might be a librarian.  I think I was thinking I might also be a journalist.   I think those were the things I was thinking about.  But my parents decided that I would go to the University of Connecticut  because it was a good state university with low out-of-state tuition.  So that’s  where I went.  That’s  where they told me to go.

I’m going to backtrack here for a second, because you talked about wanting to be a journalist and maybe a librarian, and previously  you talked about wanting to write novels.



So the writing seems to have always been in a ….


Writing was very itnportant in high school in Mount Vernon.  I had a wonderful teacher, Roberta Fleming, who taught a class that I remember as a


creative writing class but maybe it was some kind of English class.  I think it was creative writing.  I think that she had had a Fullbright fellowship in Thailand.  That’s  my memory, which could be completely  wrong, but I remember her as being a really good teacher.  I don’t  remember her as a particularly nice person but I think she taught me a great deal about how to

write.  She was a good teacher.



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That’s  a really interesting comment — that you remember her as a really good teacher, but not necessarily a really nice person.  So, you mostly have memories of her being a not nice person?

I think she was probably a very demanding  teacher.  I don’t  think she was somebody whom you warmed up to, but she was very good.

So by not nice, that might mean challenging? Definitely a challenge.

Okay, and not warm?  I just wanted to clarify because sometimes  not nice means mean.

No, demanding,  demanding.


So you talked about college and the choice being made based on dollars. What about scholarship monies, were those something that would have been available to you?

I think my father earned too much money for me to get a scholarship.  That’s my memory.  I don’t  know.

In Connecticut, then, I assume that you moved to Connecticut?


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No, no, no, no.  I went to Storrs but I went there to go to college.  I was a nonresident.

Right, oops! Sorry.

Okay.  So you were not, but you lived, you moved from home? Right.  I left home.  I was sixteen.  I went away to college.

At sixteen? Right.

So when you graduated from high school, you were sixteen years old.  Do you remember anything about your graduation?

Nothing, no.


Do you think you were rather disgruntled  at that time about your college pick? Yes.  I think I was.  I was not happy about going to UConn.  I wanted to go to one of those other schools.

If you were to go back and look in your diaries, do you think you’d  find diary entries for that event?

Probably; probably.


So that would be a time when you were writing more? Yes, probably.

What were the preparations  for taking off to go to college?


I don’t  remember them at all.  I just remember going.  Moving in.


Any recollection when you were in, not the Bronx, no, no, before Mt. Vernon. The Bronx.


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The Bronx.  Your grandparents  were nearby.  Now, when you moved to


Mount Vernon, your grandparents  moved there as well?


Well, my grandmother  had died, and at one point my grandfather did live with us.

You talked about that.


I think that was when I was in college. So he moved there after you moved out?

He might have lived there when I was in high school.   I’m not sure.  He probably lived there when I was in high school.

The other question will be, with respect to your sister, who was five years younger than you are, was where much interaction with your sister when you moved to Mount Vernon?  Because there wasn’t  a lot of that back in the Bronx.

Not a lot.


Because she would have been in grade school while you were in high school. And when you’re  taking off to leave for college, she would be like around eleven?



So not too much interchange between the two of you? Not that I recall.

Because you’re  fairly close now, right? We are quite close now.

When did that develop?


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I think after my mother died.  Maybe when my mother was getting ready to die.  Maybe during that period.  But it’s definitely as adults.

What happened after you took off for college, to Connecticut?


I had a good experience in college.  I had some wonderful teachers, wonderful teachers.  And in particular, the ones I  remember best were English professors. I had a double major in English and in history.  But both in English and in history, I had fabulous teachers.  And I made friends, some of whom still are friends now, so it was a good experience.

Was that three years, four years? Four years.

So you stayed the full four years? I stayed four years.

And did you take to Connecticut  the philosophy that you had in high school which was not to let them know that you’re smart?

I don’t  think so.  I don’t  know.  I don’t  think so.  I think I did well in college. Right now, I don’t  think I was trying to do that.  But I was very active.  I was active in campus politics.  I ran for the presidency of the student senate.  I may have been the first woman to do that.  I can’t  remember, but it’s  possible that I was the first woman.  I didn’t  get elected, of course.  But it may have been the first time that a woman ran for the presidency.

So this is moving away from the philosophy of women don’t? Oh yeah, I don’t  think I followed that.

Do you remember what moved you away from it?  Once you left home.


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Yeah, I think once I left home.


It didn’t  sit right?


I guess.  I really don’t  remember.   I’ve  never thought about that.


Because you were so smart, I guess one of the things I heard when you were talking about going to Mount Vernon was this conscious movement  to not let it be known and to be more social?

But I think at that age I wanted to be social.  Maybe to some extent I got that out of my system.  It could also be because both in high school and in college I had a group of friends who were very smart people.  So I didn’t  think that I

had to worry about being smart.  It was okay to be smart.


All right.  It sounds like you started to speak up more on your own, in terms of you said you joined into politics and you were going to run?

Yes, yes.  I suspect I was probably quite outspoken.   I was in high school, too. I don’t  have a specific memory of that.  But I think I probably  was.

You know you were an existentialist? Yes, right.

You told everyone.


No, I didn’t  tell everyone.   I just told Gladys. And everybody else in the room who heard?

No.  If they heard, that was their problem.  No, I definitely  was.  I was an intellectual  when I was in high school; I was.  I remember reading and

listening to recordings  ofT.S. Eliot’s  plays.  Gladys and I used to go into New


York and go to the theater.  And we were going to serious theater.  We weren’t


going to see musicals.



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So that would have been before the age of sixteen?


Yeah, yeah.  Fourteen, fifteen.  I was probably insufferable. The theater must have been a lot cheaper then?

Oh, it was; it was.  Everything  was much cheaper. You said that you got involved in politics in college? Yes.

Do you remember  much politics in your high school years? In high school?   No.

You can go on to college.


But in college I think I remember two political things.  One was that Arthur Miller had been invited to speak at the University  and the invitation  was rescinded.  This is my memory; this may not be exact.  Now, this was, I was in college from ’55 to ’59,  and this was the McCarthy era.  And there was a protest about his not being invited.  In some way I was a part of that.  I don’t remember  what we did.  And then Abe Ribicoff was governor of Connecticut then, and there was a proposal  to increase tuition at the University  and I was part of the group that went to Hartford.  And my memory is that we actually met with the governor.   Now, I, of course, was an out-of-state student, so I had no business being there.

It wasn’t  going to help your tuition.


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I remember being there anyway.  I think those are the only two political things I remember from those years.  But the people with whom I was friendly in college were definitely  politically active people.  There would have been some political ….

Do you remember much more about the McCarthy era and how that impacted your education, other than the one speaker?

No.  I remember the Arthur Miller– I remember sornething about the Arthur Miller incident.  And then in my freshman year, I was in some kind of advanced English class that was taught by a wonderful, wonderful man named Charles McLaughlin,  who was one of my– he was, of the faculty members,

he was the one who was most important to tne.  He became my advisor.  And one of the things we did in that class was read essays that took conflicting positions on questions like whether Communists  should be allowed to teach in the public schools.  In my memory, I do remember that that was one of the topics and I think there were other McCarthy era kinds of topics that we talked about in that class and wrote about in that class.

At this time, were you still interested in being a writer? Yes.  I think so.  I think so.

And did that stay with you through college?


I don’t  remember.   When I got out of college, I went to graduate school in philosophy.   And I had a double major in college.  I majored in English and I majored in history.  Because I couldn’t make up my mind which to do.  And I also was conflicted  between academics,  in which I was very interested, and


student activities, student politics.  I don’t  remember what else I was involved in.  I certainly was involved in student politics.  And I never was able to decide between the student activities and the academics or between the English and the history.  I wanted to do it all.  I wasn’t good at making choices.  So in my senior year– at UConn, one can go for what we call distinction, other schools would call it honors, in one’s  major.  And I had a double major.  So, I decided that I would go for distinction in English.  And

going for distinction meant, as I recall, taking two graduate courses and an oral exam.  I do remember the oral exam.  And I thought, well, I can’t do this in both subjects, so I decided to do it English.  And then one of my history professors said …. I had terrific history professors, too.  And the two whom

I remember are Harry Marks and Jacob Lurie, I think it was Lurie, not Louria. Both of whom focused on German history.  They were both terrific teachers. And one of them, I think it was Harry Marks, said to me, so what are you going to take?  What graduate history courses are you taking?  What are you doing with your distinction in history?  I said, I’m not going to do it because I’m doing English.  And he said, well, that’s  unacceptable.  You have to do it

in history, too.  So I did. I did both.



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Because he told you?


I think I probably wanted to do both and I just needed somebody to say, you’re not being stupid by trying to do both.  I think that that was it.  So I did do both. And I got distinction  in both English and history.  I had a good experience in college because I think there probably were relatively few ….





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Florence, you were just talking about how you get, is it distinction …? Right.

In both history and English? Right, right.

At the University of Connecticut.   And you did it in four years, took regular time for college?  Did you work at all while you were in college?

I think I did.  I think I did.  I certainly worked in the Summers.  I think I


probably typed papers for people. Typed?

Yeah.  I was a very good typist. Where did you learn typing?

I don’t  know.  Maybe in high school.  I don’t  remember where I learned, but I was a very good typist and I worked as a typist in the Summers.  And, as you will hear, I worked as a typist for people in law school.

All right, we’re  back on the tape again.  We’re  back on the tape again and we’re  talking about college.  And working during college.  And sometimes working during the semester when you were doing typing, but then you indicated that you also worked during the Summers?

Yeah, right.  I also worked during the Summers.


Would you work during the Summers in Connecticut or did you just go back to New York?

No, no, to New York.


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So, did you stay with your family then? Yes.

So you returned home? Yes, yes.

Okay. Okay.

So did you remember any of the time returning back home after college? Well, yes.  And I will now tell you that story.  When I was getting ready to graduate from college, my father came to me and said, ‘”So what law school are you going to?”  And I said, “I’m not going to law school at all.”  And I think because I couldn’t  decide whether to do graduate work in English or in history, I decided to do graduate work in philosophy.

Where did philosophy come from?  Because you were an existentialist?


I don’t  know.  I really, I can’t  tell you that, but I think it was …. I can’t  tell you that because I don’t  know.  But I think it was probably because I couldn’t decide between English and history, so I got a National Defense Education  Act Fellowship to go to Johns Hopkins in a doctoral  program in philosophy.   And I am embarrassed  to say that part of the DEA fellowship was you have to sign a loyalty oath, which I signed, and I don’t  remember even batting an eyelash about it.  I am very embarrassed  about it.

So I went to Hopkins and was in the program there and by Thanksgiving I knew it was a mistake and I remember– this was a very vivid experience,  the only mystical experience  I have ever had in my life.  I took the train back to


New York for Thanksgiving and then I took the subway from Manhattan up to the end of the Bronx and then my parents were going to pick me up at the end of the subway.  And I had with me the McKeon edition of Aristotle, which weighs several pounds.   It’s a big, thick book.  This was my reading on the



And when I was on the subway, this was pretty late at night, and my memory is that I was on a subway car that had only one other occupant, a little old Jewish man sitting across from me on the subway, and at one point he

said:  “Excuse me, I don’t  mean to be rude, but is this Aristotle that you’re reading?” and I said ”Yes.” And he said, “Excuse me, I don’t  mean to be rude, but with the world in such a mess, how can you be studying

philosophy?” And I said, “That’s just what I have been thinking about for the last six hours on the train from Baltimore.”

So when I went back to school I told the head of my department  that I was going to leave to go to law school and he gave me very good advice.  Well, he gave me some good advice and some not so good advice.  The good advice was, he said, “Whatever you do, you are going to be an academic,’  which I think was very interesting. He said, “If you leave in the middle of a semester you are going to spend the rest of your life explaining  why you left.  Finish the

semester and take your exams and then leave, if you must.”  That was the good advice.

The bad advice, which fortUnately I didn’t take, was about law school.  He asked me where I was going to apply, and I hadn’t  applied yet.  I an1 sure I


told him Harvard and Chicago and Columbia, because those were the places I was thinking of applying to.  And he said, ‘”Go to Chicago.”  He said, “Harvard is a trade school, and you want something that’s  mind-expanding; you will be much happier at Chicago.”

So I finished the semester, and I left and I went back to New York and lived with my parents.  I went back to a job I had had the previous Summer

and maybe the Summer before that, I don’t  remember, at the Zenith Radio



Corporation,  at 666 51


Avenue.  I worked there as a franchise clerk in the



hearing aid division.   I kept track of all the people who had hearing aid franchises and I did that from probably December or January when the

semester ended until I started law school.



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Wow.  So you think that was one of the jobs that you had when you were in college, during the Summer?

I am quite sure I had worked there at least one Summer before that, because I didn’t  have to look for this job.  They were happy to have me.  I know I was going back to a place where I had worked before.  I don’t  know if I had worked as a franchise clerk.  I might have worked as a temp.  I often worked as a temp for Manpower,  so I might have worked there as a temp.

During college, did you serve as a research assistant to any of the professors? No, I don’t  think so.

Did they have those type of jobs? Not that I remember.

Do you think if they had.them that they would be offered to women?


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I don’t  know.  There were very few women on the faculty.  I never had a woman professor in English.  There was no woman professor in the English department.  There was no woman professor in the history department.   I think I might have had a woman professor in French and I know I had a woman professor in philosophy:   Mary Mothersill ….

Could that be why you went into to philosophy? I don’t  think so, but who knows?

Well, you are the one who just said it.


I never thought of it until this minute.  And I had a woman professor of astronomy.   But the only ones I really remember are the astronomy  professor, and Mary Mothersill,  who was the philosophy professor, and I think I had a woman in French.  There were very, very few woman on the faculty.

In your class in Connecticut,  about how many people would have been in your class?

Oh, a great many.  It was a big school.  A big state university.  I don’t remember, but it was a huge class.

Over two thousand? I don’t  know.

Do you have any idea what percentage  would be women?


No, but I think a fair number were women.  Of course, we didn’t  have coed dorms there.  I lived in a women’s dorm, so I was always with women students.

But in your classes?


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I think a fair number of women, and I don’t  know of any ——-


Okay, and the other thing that you had mentioned,  way way back, was in terms of size, in terms of ….

My being short ….


Your being short in terms of your relationship with other students.  Had that gone away by ….

Yes; I don’t  think that was an issue in college.


And then just in terms of socializing,  was there much intercollegiate,  like dating and parties … ?

I was in a group.  I had a group of friends who were– and we were definitely not fraternity/sorority  people.  Although, actually, it was funny, because my two close friends who are still friends from college did start out in, or they did go into sororities, but then they left their sororities.  The group I was friendly with had nothing to do with sororities or fraternities.  It was a group of people who were either intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals. They were people who were politically concerned with campus politics and national politics.  They had cultural interests– music, theater.

So I asked you about the politics in college.  A little bit ago McCarthy was the one and the one guy who couldn’t come and speak ….

Arthur Miller.


Right, and you didn’t  remember much else about it on the national level.


I don’t  remember what the issues were, but I do remember that we were very involved.


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Okay, okay, so you were involved then.


And we were a part of the National Student Association which ended up being some kind of CIA front, but we didn’t  know that.  We were very active, I just don’t  remember what we were doing.

And I hear you acted on tuition. But that was not…[over talk].

But that’s  not.  So when you were on the train and this gentleman said to you, how could you doing this with the state of the world as it is, what indeed was the state of the world?

Well, it was in a mess.  When would that have been?  Igraduated from college in ’59, so this was fall of ’59.  I don’t  remember, I would have to go back …. Changed the course of your life.

Well, that conversation didn’t  change ….


Idon’t know ….


Ihad been thinking that all along; it was just weird to have somebody say to me what Ihad been thinking for the last six hours.

Oh, and that’s what I meant– what you had been thinking, is how can I be doing this or at least —  how can I be doing this with the world the way it is. And so what I am trying to get a handle on is what you saw that you needed to do.

I would be making it up now if I said to you what I thought the issues were, but I’m sure there were poverty issues.  I don’t  think it was so 1nuch race issues.  I wasn’t so into race issues, but I was certainly into civil liberties


Issues.  But Ithink that would have been what was in my mind.  But Ihad always had this conflict between being an academic and being an activist.

That was what Iwas experiencing.



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When you mention the whole issue of race, going back through your education, from whatever you remetnber, do you remember there being children of mixed races in your classes?

You know, that’s  very interesting, because Iwould have said no, except that after our first session, when Iwent back and looked at my junior high school yearbook, there are several’ African-American  students there, and Iwould have said no, there weren’t. Idon’t remember being conscious of race.  There was an African-American  w01nan in tny dorm in college and Ido retnember that, but Idon’t remember it as being of any significance.  Idon’t remember anybody ever having anything to say about her one way or another.  I just remembered the story.

Were there any African Americans in your group that you hung around with?


Idon’t think so.  Not that Iknow of.


What about economic status of the folks in your group, similar or …. Idon’t even know.  Idon’t know.  Imean that wasn’t  something  any of us would have talked about.

But it would seem that one would notice that in terms of what people could afford to do or not do.


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Not in that kind of group.  I mean this was a group where we talked about what people were reading, were listening to.  Nobody had a car.  Well, thats not true; some people had cars, but most didn’t  have cars.

So did you stay on campus all four years?


Yes; yes.  I lived on campus all four years, but in either my junior year or my senior year, I can’t  remember when, I moved to– there was one dorm that was a much older dorm, it was called Sprague  Hall — it was an older dorm, it had single rooms, which the other, newer dorms didn’t  have, and it was where the sort of oddball people lived, and I did move to Sprague Hall.  As I said I don’t remember if I lived there for one year or two years.

Sounds like you wanted to get            _ Oh yes, that was much of a consistent  thing.

Did you consider oddball standard or that was your recounting of it now?  Oh no, it was ….

A nonconformist. That you could say for oddball.


Then you went off to graduate school.   What was your living arrangement then?

I lived with another woman whom I had met.  She was also in the program and we rented an apartment and lived in Baltimore.  I think I started out in my own apartment and then I left it and moved in with her.

How did she feel about your breaking the lease? I didn’t; I paid for a full year.



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Ah, this is just a different kind of question in terms of the family type situation.  Do you have any recollection  of noticing differences in your sister and the family group when you go back and how you fit into the family group when you went back between semesters?

I don’t  think I have any memory of that.  This is early onset Alzheimer’s …. Sometimes  these things are important.   No, but I was wondering because of your Mom and going back after leaving grad school, living at home. (inaudible)

When we stopped,  I was just asking you about how the family life as opposed to just the educational  life and stuff when you go back home, if you had any memories ofhow things were in your family, because at this point in time your sister, who was eleven when you left, would probably be like fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen  somewhere in there and you had had strong feelings about your Mom’s input on your education,  and so I was just asking whether or not you had any recollection  of the family dynamics  at that time.

I think I just wasn’t  focused on what was going on– even, oddly enough, for those months between Hopkins and going to law school.

Right, that would have been like four or five months.


At least, yes, and I just got up in the morning and went to work and I came home, but I have no memory of what was going on at home.

Do you remember  any socializing  or anything outside the home, during that period of time?


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I don’t  and I probably didn’t  do very much because anybody I had been friendly with would be away at school except for the Summer, but I don’t remember ….

Trips to the theater with Gladys?


No, Gladys would have been away.  Gladys was in law school; she went to law school directly after college.

So I assume that you and Gladys had some talks of whether you should go to law school.

Oh, we did, we did– but I can’t  remember the substance of them. Not sufficient to convince you to go, beforehand.

I don’t  know if we talked about it beforehand. Because your Dad said you should go.

We would have talked about it, I’m sure, once I decided I was not happy at Hopkins and that I was going to go to law school.  I’m sure that she and I had conversations about it then.

Now, this is just another kind of like, probably a thing of culture and how cultures change– how would you communicate with your friends.

We wrote letters.  With Gladys, with someone who was distant, geographically distant, we wrote letters.

And same with family?


Well, I think when I was at college, I think I used to call home once a week. don’t  remember whether I wrote letters.  It was very rare for my father to write to me; that was very rare.  I can’t  remember if my mother wrote to me, but I


would talk to them regularly on the telephone, and I think that was true when I


was at graduate school.



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So family contact was by phone?  Friend contact more mail, post. If friends were distant, then yes.

Because today with e-mail it would be different …


It’s very different.  But I don’t  even think Gladys and I talked on the phone a lot because as on long distance telephone calls, that was a big deal — to talk. “Hello, it’s long distance.” I doubt if she and I spoke on the phone very often when we were geographically  apart.

And keeping along with the idea of catching up on some family stuff, what about Montreal during all this time?  Still have trips back and forth to Montreal?

Well, I remember that I was in Montreal when I found out that I had been accepted at Harvard, and that’s  a vivid memory to me.  I can’t  remember how often I had been going but I was there by myself, I had gone up there by myself….

In Montreal?


In Montreal.  And I think my mother called and said you have an envelope from Harvard and she probably had opened it.

And were both grandparents still alive, in Montreal?


Then …. yes, I think both of my grandparents  were still alive. Still in the store?


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Noooooo, no, no, no, retired from the store, and in fact I remember I was dating somebody up there.  I mean, not that I had gone there for the date, but somebody fixed me up while I was there.

And back home in New York, your grandmother  had died, but your grandfather  was still alive.

My grandfather was still alive.  I can’t  retnember when he died.


And I think you told me that your grandmother,  you were about ten or so, eleven maybe, when your grandmother died.  And I don’t  know if in your family whether there was any observance  with respect to death.

I think we sat Shiva for my grandmother,  probably.    I’m sure we did.  You sit for a week.  It would have been in her apartment.   I mean, I was young so …. Right.  But you were also going to Hebrew school.

I was going to Hebrew school and I remember my grandmother  dying.  I don’t remember seeing her die, but I remember the period of time when she died.  It was a very sad, solemn time.

Cause those religious experiences,  those sometimes come with a fairly strong religious experience, and so I was just curious whether or not there was anything involved with that.

I don’t  think it was at all religious.  I don’t  remember, and I don’t  remember the funeral, but my father was very close to his mother– very close to his parents, but particularly his mother.  So it was a very sad time, but not particularly a religious time.

Had you had any encounters  with death prior to that?


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I had, although, I don’t  know how much I remember this right.  My father’s older brother, Meyer, and his wife had a baby, Stevie, who died.  You’re going to ask me how old I was, and I’m not going to remember,  but I certainly remember, and I don’t  know how much of this is that I remember  and how much it is that I heard stories, but I certainly have the memory of Stevie being very sick and then dying and that being a very sad time.  It certainly  had, not surprisingly,  an immense and long-lasting  impact on that whole part of the family, and the other children.  It was a very, very, very sad time.

So, in all, was your family fairly healthy,  your immediate  family?


Yes.  Reasonably.   My mother’s father had diabetes, and my grandmother died young and my father died young, so ….

Chronic illnesses?


Heart.  Heart in the case of my grandmother and my father.  My father died when he was fifty-one, and I don’t  know how old my grandmother was, but she was pretty young when she died.

I’m sitting here talking with you; it always seems like your father has been there for a very long time.

It does.  Well, for a long time I thought  I would die when I was fifty-one; I


expected that I would die at fifty-one.


The things we think of for ourselves.   You had alluded earlier, in one of the other conversations when you were talking about school choices, that when it came time to pick your law school, you struck out on your own.  Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.



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Well, I had been irritated– I’m still irritated– because I couldn’t go to the junior high I wanted to go to, I couldn’t go to the high school I wanted to go to, I couldn’t go to the college I wanted to go to; so when it was time to go to law school, I went where I wanted to go.  And I have to say I wanted the elitism of Harvard.  There’s nothing wrong with Columbia;  there’s  nothing wrong with Chicago; but as far as I was concerned, Harvard’s Harvard; that’s the top and that’s  where I wanted to go.  I wanted the status.

Did your father ever have any conversations with you about where you should go?

I think he wanted me to go to Columbia.   My recollection  is that both Columbia  and Chicago gave me money, and Harvard did not give me money, and of course at Columbia  I could have lived at home.  So Columbia, financially,  would have been easiest.  So, I think he wanted me to go to Columbia.

Did you ever think about Fordham?


No, and I never thought about Yale, interestingly. I don’t  think I thought about any place other than Harvard, Columbia,  and Chicago.

Did you have to take the LSAT?


Yes, I did. And I remember  when I went to take the LSAT.  I don’t  remember where I took it; it was probably at Columbia;  I think it was at Columbia;  I don’t remember.   This was in spring, when I was working as a franchise clerk

at the Zenith Radio Corporation, and I think it was a Saturday that I went up to take the LSAT.  I was so happy to be back in an academic setting, I just


bounced into that room; I couldn’t wait for them to give me my yellow pencil


and my exam.



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You did say you were with the oddballs.


I was so happy and all these people around were looking so glum, and I was just ecstatic that I was back in an academic situation.  I remember that very very clearly.

Having been gone all of four months.


Whatever, I missed it.  I think at some level I knew that law school was where I needed to be, wanted to be.  I think I had just been fighting it. This was meeting up with my destiny.

Well, you had said in our first meeting something about how when your Dad would have you out in the stroller ….

The lawyer-kin.


So then at other times along the way in growing up there were other comments made about you being the next lawyer of the family.

I am sure there were, because I was a feisty, mouthy little thing and I’m sure




Feisty, mouthy little thing. Can you think of anything–        _ No. See if, ask my sister; she probably could.

Yeah, but you don’t remember your sister.


But, I know I remember my sister.  I do remember her when we used to play together, and occasionally do things together.  No, I don’t remember. [inaudible]


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So you put in for the three schools and then Harvard accepted you and the others offered you money and your Dad would prefer that you went to Columbia.  Did your Mom weigh in on this at all?

I don’t  remember if she did.


Do you remember, in terms, you talked earlier about your Mom’s  view of women and how that may have impacted you previously.  Do you recall any conversations  with your Mom in later years about your way of approaching things or your career and the role of women?

No, I don’t,  I don’t. And I think certainly by the time I decided to go to law school, frankly, I don’t  think I cared what anybody else thought.  I knew what I was going to do.

And I think I better call this quits, because I think I have to go do my student stuff.







JULY 26, 2006






This is Mary Wolf and Florence Roisman on July 26, 2006 at the Indiana University


School of Law to continue the oral history of Professor Roisman.



Ms. Wolf:        During our last conversation,  which was several months ago, we had gone through a lot ofProfessor Roisman’s early years and we were to the point where she was selecting a law school to attend.  She spoke at length about her father’s work in the law, and at this point we are going to pick up with her beginning law school.  And prior to doing that I had posed a question to Profession Roisman concerning whether she had any specific objectives or motive, any specific motivation she can remember, which drove her to go to law school or encouraged  her.

Ms. Roisman: Well, I did decide to go to Harvard, and I know that the general motivation  was to do good in the world in a very general sense, but I wouldn’t  be able to tell you that there was any particular way of doing good that I had in mind.  I certainly thought about ACLU kind of work.  That was part of what I thought about.  One of the things that puzzles me when I think back about my years in law school, which was 1960 to ’63  –one of the things that puzzles me when I think back on that is that I do not remember being particular!y engaged by the civil rights movement, which I am today very engaged in studying and

teaching.  And I don’t  remember anybody at law school talking about civil








Interview ofF. Roisman # 3.1 (7-26-06)- Tape 1_{EAST_50260147_1).DOC



rights issues.*  I don’t  remember the faculty talking to us about it.  We didn’t discuss any of the cases that were being decided then.  I don’t  remember discussions among the students.   It’s just a blank which, in retrospect, is really astonishing to me, from ’60 to ’63 there was no discussion.   But, to go back to law school.

Ms. Wolf:        In college you were involved in political type discussions.


Ms. Roisman: Yes, but not about racial justice, not about racial justice; economic justice issues and civil liberties kinds of issues, but not … it took me a long time to figure out that racial justice really was an issue.

Ms. Wolf:        Do you remember anything about the presidential  campaigns of the sixties? Ms. Roisman:             Yes, Iremember– you know, one remembers things because there were

stories that get told over and over again.  Iremember that Gladys Kessler and I had a conversation during the Democratic convention  or the run up to the Democratic convention in 1960.  We were talking on the phone, and I was saying, “Ithink he is going to make it; I think he is going to make it,’and she was saying, “Yes, Ithink he is going to make it; Ithink he is going to make it.” And we figured out that she was talking about Jack Kennedy and Iwas talking about Adlai Stevenson.  Ido remember that.  That’s the memory that Ihave.  I was a Stevenson supporter.

Ms. Wolf:        That’s interesting.  Okay.





*As  I re-read this transcript, I add that Professor  AI Sacks, for whom I was a research assistant, was working on a fair housing law for Massachusetts  or for Boston and had me re-researching that topic. Also, I do remember  Prof. Henry Hart discussing Baker v. Carr (1962), but my recollection  is that he disapproved of the decision.



Ms. Rois1nan: Okay, well this is what I remember about law school.  First of all, 1ny law school class, which was Harvard graduating  in 1963, has become famous because it was Janet Reno’s class.  Janet wasn’t  particularly famous when we were in law school, but she certainly became famous afterward.  And in that class of five hundred and thirty-five people, sixteen of us were women. Harvard certainly was not very hospitable  to women.  It had been ten years since women were admitted;  women were first admitted in 1950.  And there

still were faculty who didn’t  like having women there, and there were, I’m sure, a number of students  who didn’t  like having women there.  I think I said the

last time we talked I thought it was weird that people thought it was weird that women were in law school.  It seemed perfectly natural to me.  But there definitely was some lack of complete hospitality  toward women.  As I recall, the freshmen handbook  for the law school told us that all Harvard law school students were gentlemen. It may not be true, but that’s  my memory.  And at least one of my professors, my torts professor, Professor Keeton, who later went on to become a judge, I always thought very much resented having women in the class.

I loved being at law school.  To quote Robert Bork out of context, I thought it was an intellectual  feast, particularly  as compared to my semester as a graduate student in philosophy  in a department  that emphasized  logical positivism.   Being a first year student at Harvard Law School was mind expanding;  it was challenging;  it was interesting;  it was multifaceted.  I loved law school and in particular  I loved the first year of law school.



I felt a little bit out of place, not because I was a woman, but because I had gone through public schools and had gone to a state university.   I was really kind of staggered by the elitism of the people whom I met.  One asks the

person sitting next to one, “What’s your name; where did you go to school?” And I remember a conversation  with someone sitting next to me in class.  He told me his name.  I said, ”Where  did you go to school?”  He said he went to Yale.  I said:  “Isn’t that interesting?   You went to Yale as an undergraduate and now you are going to Harvard F  And he said, “Well, my family has been doing so for generations,” and I thought, this is not my normal milieu.  And I have a memory of meeting a fellow student who had gone to UMass and we were hugging each other, I think because we were both so thrilled to find

somebody else who hadn’t  gone to an elite undergraduate  institution.



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Do you remember who that person was, a man or a woman?


A man.  Almost everybody  I dealt with was a man.  The women in … well, I do want to inake this comment about Professor Keeton.  It may be that I am misjudging him, but I didn’t  think so.  We had no anonymous  grading then. Everybody knew whose exam was being read.  I loved talking in class, because I loved the whole experience  that first year.  He would never call on me.  I would sit in his class with my hand in the air almost constantly, and he would never call on me.  That’s a year, that’s  two semesters, he wouldn’t call on me, and my grade in that course was remarkably  lower than all my other grades.

So, if my grade in torts had been higher, I might have been on law review.  I


was either forty-second  or forty-fifth in the class.  And the top twenty-five



were on law review.  The next ten I think were on Board of Student Advisors, which runs the moot court program, and, at that time, the next X number of people were on the Legal Aid Bureau, whether you wanted to be or not.  It happened  I was very happy to be, but that had nothing to do with it.  So had I done better in torts, if I had done as well in torts as I did in my other classes,  I would have been on law review.  So, take that, Professor Keeton.  This was all a digression, but my basic point is that in general I loved the first year of law




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When you say you loved the first year of law school, and you have also indicated previously that this was not a cry for civil rights that was driving you, so it wasn’t  a particular  issue development that you were loving, was it?  Do you know what about the study of law ….

It was the intellectual  challenge.  It was …. You are asking me to go back forty some years and what did I think then, but I certainly enjoyed the intellectual challenge and the fact that what we were grappling with were the things that kept society  together and made it work.  And I can even remember  some particular exchanges  in class and …. one I remember.   My civil procedure professor  was AI Sacks, a fabulous  teacher, and this is my recollection  of the exchange.   I think he was talking in some way about the conflict between predictability and doing justice, probably in the context of, I don’t  know what, and I made a point and I think probably the point that I made was that if one took into account  that judges would try to do justice that becomes an element

of predictability– not a very deep point, but maybe for a first year law student.



Whatever it was I said he really liked.  So it was, that’s  what I mean when I say it was a great experience.

And I was generally happy.  Gladys and I lived together.  We had an apartment, and, oh, I know what this is a digression  from, my point about how women in general regarded each other, one another.  At that time, it was declasse to associate with women.  The highest compliment one could get in that environment was that one thought like a man.  If you are one of the boys and

you think like a man, that’s  very good.  If you go to a party, you would never go off and talk to the other women.  First of all, most of the other women

would be, huh, wives, they wouldn’t be other students, they would be the wives of students, and it would at that time have been totally declasse to be talking to the other women.  And now, in my case, I lived off campus, I lived in an apartment,  I lived with Gladys.  We were very close friends, so that wasn’t  so totally true for me, but I wasn’t  particularly friendly with any of the women in my class.  Gladys was [friendly  with women in her class].  Gladys was a feminist before anybody knew what feminism was.

Ms. Wolf:        And Gladys was in your class. Ms. Roisman:            No, she was a year ahead of me. Ms. Wolf:    She was ahead.  Okay.

Ms. Roisman: She had several close friendships  with women in her class.  Now that may also be because I met the man I then married.  He was in my class, so I was pretty busy with school and dating time, and Gladys and I were doing things, so I



wasn’t  looking for new friendships  with other women.  That may have been


part of it, too.



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I guess we’ll  go back to going to law school.  Do you think that Gladys’  being at Harvard impacted your decision?

No, I went to Harvard because I thought it was the best law school, and I was tired ofbeing at schools that were not the best.  That’s why I went.

I think the comment concerning  women is an interesting one, and for example when you were in– did they have study groups in Harvard when you were there?

Probably, but I want to make a point here.  You appreciate  that there were no women on the faculty.  Zero; zero.*  Now, I mentioned there hadn’t  been very many women on the faculty when I went to college, either, but in law school there were none.  And I don’t  think there was an administrator who was a woman.  Certainly not anybody who had any standing in the academic community;  none.

Well, that leads to a different question than the one that I was beginning  to pose, which is, where did you find your role models or your support system within the faculty?

I didn’t  have a role model, nor was there a support system.  There wasn’t.


There was no such thing.  Well, I mean Gladys and I were a support system for








* I believe there was a woman who taught international  law on successive one year contracts.  I

learned from Wikipedia  that Sonia Mentschikoft  had taught at Harvard in 1947.



each other, but on the faculty, there wasn’t, there was no such thing.  There


was no role model, I mean not in gender terms, that just didn’t  exist.



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What about in terms of being a lawyer or being a legal scholar?


I knew some women lawyers who worked with my father, not very many, but a couple.  I didn’t  know any woman who taught law.  When I started teaching

full-time in 1970, there were very, very few women who were teaching law. Soia Mentschikoff  was the one notable female academic when I started full­ time teaching.

If you were to pick someone  who was in a position of leadership  authority within the school while you were getting your legal education, any professors or anyone, any administrators, like today how people go to the faculty and discuss their plans for the future, anything like that.

I would never have walked into the office of any member of the faculty.  I was a research assistant to Professor Sacks in my second year, but I don’t  think I ever had a conversation  with him about anything other than the research assignments  he was giving me, and I do not think I would ever have contemplated  walking into the office of any member of the faculty.

Do you think it was different for men?


I don’t  know.  That’s a very good question, and I don’t  know.  I certainly know from talking to friends of mine, who were men, law professors now.

Sometimes  we tell stories; you probably do, too.  You know, a student came into my office and said the following, and we’ll  both say, when I was in law school I would never have dreamed of going into a faculty office.  So I think



for men, too, for most of the men, too, I think.  I don’t  think there was a lot of going into faculty offices.   I think as people got into upper classes, I think for the people who were on law review, that may have been different.   In my third year, I took Federal Courts with Henry Hart– talk about an intellectual  feast. But my recollection  of that class is that he was interested  in talking only to the people on law review, and I had the impression  that they had conversations outside of class — that there was a clique there of which I definitely  was not a member.   I also had the temerity to disagree  with Professor Hart, which is pretty nervy.  But I did have that feeling.   But, I think, in general, students, at least at Harvard then, were not likely to go to faculty for much.  I certainly




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We were talking about study groups, and whether or not there was any group you joined on your own or with other students.

I don’t remember.   I don’t  remember.   Gladys and I, Tony and I, the people with whom we were friendly,  would certainly  talk about the law.  We would talk about what we were studying, but I don’t  remember  formal study groups. Now, when it comes time for exams you see students clustered and …

I always tell students  that I think they should have study groups, but I don’t think I had.

So it was pretty much a solitary learning experience. I think so.  I think so.

With respect to the other women, you have already indicated  that there wasn’t much socializing, if you were in a group where women would socialize with



each other, [was there] any socializing or recognition  by women of the plight


of each other during law school?



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I don’t  think so, no.  At least in my experience.  As I say, I think Gladys and some of the women in her class had some of that, and I do remember one of the women in Gladys’  class was asked at an interview, an on-campus interview, something about what she would do if she got pregnant or she was told that

they weren’t  interested in her because she might get pregnant, something like that.  Because I remember her talking about how great it would have been if she had looked this guy in the eye and said, “I’m  sterile.”  So, I do remember.

I can’t  remember how much younger you are than I am, but those days were so different from the way things are today.  Not that things are perfect today, but

it was a totally different  world — an on-campus  interviewer felt perfectly comfortable  saying to an applicant, we don’t  want you because you might become pregnant.  And I ….

You remember two stories?


I remember  two stories.  One is:  I got married in the Summer between my second and third years of law school.  And at some point in the second year of law school, I had been offered a Summer internship  with the Federal Trade Commission, and I took it.  This was done through some assistant dean at Harvard, somebody  who wasn’t  on the faculty, he was an administrator,  I don’t remember  who he was.  And then when I got engaged and we planned to get married, my grandparents said they would give us a trip to Europe as a

wedding present.  I went to this dean and said, and this was months before the



Summer,  I said, ‘”‘”I  was offered a trip to Europe and what would you think of my not taking the internship with the Federal Trade Commission  and giving it to somebody  else?”  And he said, ‘”‘If you don’t  take this internship, no woman will ever get another Summer internship.” I don’t  know whether he meant at the FTC or any place ever, but he was very clear that this was do or die for all the women law students.  Of course, I took the internship  and didn’t  go to Europe.  And it’s only in retrospect  that I thought, what a ridiculous thing to say; there must have been twenty other students who would have been glad to take the internship.

And the other story, which I think must have had to do with permanent job seeking, was that there– one of the major firms in Washington  wouldn’t interview  me.  A lot of firms wouldn’t interview me, but this one in particular I knew had interviewed  people in my class who were way below me.  I had very good grades.  I had graduated cum laude and surely was near the top of the class. I was a good writer, and I remember  writing a letter.  It seems bizarre, but I think I actually did this, that I wrote a letter to the law firm.  Somebody must have said to me that the reason they wouldn’t interview me was because they thought  I wouldn’t continue to practice, which was what was always said to women.  You know, you will have babies and you will stop practicing law. And I have a memory of writing in that letter, I will be practicing law when I am old– I can’t  remember the exact language– but I have the memory of writing a letter to the law firm– and it turns out to be true, although I am teaching, not practicing.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:



Did you get a response?


No.  I have no memory of getting a response.

When you said that they had interviewed  people below you, were those people men?



Ms. Roisman: Of course; oh, yes, they were all men.


Ms. Wolf:                    What about some of the women in your class; you said there were ten. Ms. Roisman:              No, sixteen.

Ms. Wolf:        Oh, sixteen women. Ms. Roisman:     Sixteen women.

Ms. Wolf:        Did you know them all by name?

Ms. Roisman: Probably.  But, in the first year there are four sections.   In my section, there were only two women and the other woman who was in my section never went to class.  So, for the most part, every day, sitting in a class with a hundred and twenty-five people, I was the only female.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


And this is for all of your classes?


Yes, we had all our classes together.  She rarely went to class.


That would definitely cut down on the interaction.  And how much interaction was there between sections?

Very little, very little.  I think very little.

So the idea of not having close relationships  with women has to do not only with — so if you were —–in your section one other woman.


But I don’t  think it would have occurred  to me to seek out the other women. There was no women’s caucus, there was no women’s group, and, as I said, it



would be declasse to be associated  with the other women.  The fact that Gladys


and I had such a strong friendship was very counter to the governing ethos.



Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


You indicated also, earlier on, that if you had been in the top twenty-five students you would have been on law review, the next group would have been an advisory board, the next group went to….

Legal Aid.


Legal Aid.  And you went to Legal Aid.  Do you think, and this is all speculation,  but would it have made any difference  in your future course?  Did the Legal Aid experience  had any impact on your future course?

No, I don’t  think so.  It wasn’t  a very well organized experience.   No, I don’t think so.

For somebody  who does this type, I am just curious what type of things they would have people doing.

I remember  making a will for someone,  I mean, nothing like what one would


do today.  The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau today gets its members not by grades, but because people are interested  in it.  It’s a legal services office.  It’s an

effective, aggressive, creative office– not then.  It was very old line, old boy.



Ms. Wolf:        Any other memories about your first year?


Ms. Roisman: I have lots of memories of the first year, but I don’t   know if there is anything that’s  particularly  of interest to anybody else.  I remember walking out of my property exam, saying to myself, I might have flunked that exam.  See, we didn’t  take any exams until the end of year.  None ofthis wimpy end ofthe semester stuff, let alone mid-terms.   You went through two semesters  before



you took an exam.  And at some early point in the year, one figures out that half the people in that class are going to be in the bottom half, which is a stunning insight because you have got five hundred and thirty-five  people who have never seen anything close to the bottom half of the class.  I vaguely remember one of the men’s wearing his Phi Beta Kappa key, and somebody saying to him, what are you wearing that for?  Everybody here has one of those. You know, it’s  a bunch of very smart people, and one has no idea how one

does, and I vividly remember  walking out of my property exam and saying to myself,Jor alii know I .flunked that exam.  Now, as it happens, I didn’t  flunk, I got an A.  But, one did not know.  My property professor was A. James Casner, may he rest in peace, and he sent letters to the students who got A’s,  which is

something  I do now because  ….


Ms. Wolf:                    for property.



Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


I was back, it was the Summer,  I was back at the Zenith Radio Corporation, but then that’s  when I got the letter from Professor Casner, congratulating me on getting an A in property.

And I’m not sure if it picked up on the other side of the tape, but you indicated that’s  why you send letters to students today.

I do that.  I send to all the students who get A’s and A-minuses,  I send them


letters.  I think I have always done that since I started teaching.



Ms. Wolf:        At the end of the school year, then you went back to work, back at your ….


Ms. Roisman: After the first year, I went back, lived with my parents, worked at Zenith, then


I went back for the second  year.  I do remember somebody  said to me, “Oh, I



didn’t  think you would come back for the second year,” and I said, “Why not?,” and he said, “Because the books are so heavy.”  So I take back what I said about people being so smart, because that’s  a really stupid thing to say. When I went to law school, the first year and second year were totally required courses.  You just took what they told you to take.  And then after the second year, Tony and I got married and — I forget what we did that Summer.  I think we lived with my folks in Mt. Vernon and worked.

Ms. Wolf:        You took the internship,  right?


Ms. Roisman: Right, yes, thank you.  Okay, we went to Washington, that’s  right.  How could I forget that?  That’s right.  That Summer we were in Washington.   I was an intern at the FTC; he was an intern at Justice.  And then we went back for our third year, and then I — now here are more gender issues.  I wanted, I don’t know why, I wanted to be an antitrust lawyer, and my third year paper was on an antitrust issue, something  about mergers, I don’t  remember now.  And so I wanted to work in the Antitrust Division at Justice.  They didn’t  have any women.  I don’t  think they would interview me, that’s  my memory, they wouldn’t  interview me.  So I ended up going back to the FTC, which offered

n1e a job.  I had been there …..



Ms. Wolf:


This is after school.



Ms. Roisman: Right, right.  They offered me a permanent  job, so I went there, and it was very easy to go back there, and that’s,  I am sure that’s  when I wrote this letter to whatever– I remember  which law firm it was– that wouldn’t interview me.

So it was hard to get a job in 1963.  So I went to the FTC, and I made trouble at



the FTC.  You wouldn’t think one could make trouble at the FTC, but I did.  I had been there a very short period of time, maybe a couple of weeks, and some rule was handed down that’s  going to sound perfectly reasonable,  but it didn’t sound reasonable  to me at the time.  It had to do with timekeeping,  that we would have to keep track of our time and what we were doing.  And I found

this very insulting  and offensive,  and at a meeting that had been called with the professional  staff to discuss this new procedure, I got up and said, “this is insulting and demeaning.   How dare you ask professional  people to fill out

time sheets and keep track of what they’re doing?”  Well, the FTC was abuzz. This was a very conservative, old fashioned agency.  I don’t  think they had any women in professional  positions, of any authority.  I don’t  remember any other women working there at all.  And the Summer that I was there as an intern I became friendly with an African-American man who was there.  He was a lawyer.  He had a masters.  Jerry Schuman.  He later went on to teach at Howard.  And Jerry and I became friendly, and we would have lunch in the FTC cafeteria, and people would stare at us.  A White woman and a Black man having lunch.  You remember  Jack Kennedy’s quip that Washington  was a

town of southern  efficiency  and northern charm.  It was a very southern city. And so my mouthing  off at this meeting about the timekeeping was a big deal. People said, you’lllose your job.  But what actually happened to me was a good thing….

President  Kennedy had appointed some interesting  people to the


Commission.  He had appointed  Leon Higginbotham, who went on to become



a judge on the Third Circuit, and he appointed  Phil Elman, who had been in the


SG’s office and then went into teaching.  And each of the Commissioners,


there were five Commissioners, and each of the Commissioners had maybe one attorney advisor who drafted opinions.   And I don’t  remember this exactly, but

I think they were going to get, each of them was going to get a second attorney advisor, and Phil Elman had an opening in his office.  His attorney advisor was Richard Posner, who is now on the Seventh Circuit.   Dick Posner was his attorney advisor.  But Phil Elman invited me to come and work in his office, and I know it was because  I had mouthed off.

Judge Higginbotham had, his attorney advisor was someone named Ed Becker.  And I think Ed Becker was impressed  that I had spoken up, and I think he suggested  to Phil Elman that Phil Elman hire me.  I don’t  really know how this happened,  but I think that that was it.  So, this was terrific because I had some stupid staff attorney  job in the Mergers  Division — it was really a stupid job — and Phil Elman invited me to come and work for him.  It was a

temporary  job, I think it was for six months, before he would hire his full-time help.

And one of the things the Commission was working on at that time was a tobacco ruling.  This was just after the Surgeon General’s report had come out, and I remember  working on that.  But I worked on a lot of things.  I drafted opinions for him.  And I thought I was doing a terrific job.  So then when he was advertising for his permanent  attorney-advisor, I went to him and said, “Why don’t  you hire me?”  And he said, now this is my memory, who knows if



this is true or not, but my memory is that he said to me, ‘”‘”Right now I can hire people who had been on law review.  If I hire somebody who wasn’t on law review, I am going to lose that capacity.”  And he didn’t  hire me.

So I left the FTC.  I went to the Justice Department in the Civil Division, the Appellate Section of the Civil Division.  I have no memory of how I got that job, I just– I have no memory.  I don’t  know, but that’s  where I went and

…. You want to ask something.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


No, I was going to go back a little bit.  Finish what you were talking about. No, no, I was just going to go on and get out of Justice into Legal Services, which is what I really want to talk about.

Back in the law school stage of things, somewhere  in here you met the person that you married.



Now, was that person in your section or. …?


Yes, he was in my section, although of course there were a hundred and twenty-four  men and one woman.*  Oh, you want to hear the story about how we met.  It’s a funny story.  Do these things get sealed for some period of time? If you want them sealed for a period of time, yes.

Because Gladys wouldn’t like my telling this story.  Gladys and I were walking to school one day, and Gladys at that time did not like to wear her glasses on

the street, which meant she couldn’t  see.  So we are walking to school and on


the other side of the street a car stops and a man leans out of the window and




* Really, 123 men and 2 women,  but the other woman  rarely attended  class.



says, “Do you girls want a ride to school?” So Gladys says,  ‘Oh, yes, Henry, wed  love a ride to school,” and she goes tripping across the street and gets into the car.  And I go tripping after her and I get into the car.  And the car starts

and she looks at the guy who is driving,  ·Aah, you are not Henry,” and he says, “No, but I am Henry’s  roommate and this is Henry’s  car.”  So it was a reasonable mistake.  And I said, “Oh, Gladys, that’s  so stupid.  How could you possibly do that?”  And he turned to me and said, “Well,  you should know me because we are in the same section.”  Of course I had no idea who he was, except that was Tony, and we ended up getting married and being married for seventeen years and having three wonderful children and one wonderful




Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


So there was enough time in your first year of law school to socialize? Oh, sure; there was a lot of socializing,  and there was a lot of going to symphony,  and, you know, Boston is a wonderful place to be.

Another thing that I was curious about when you worked at the FTC you spoke about the African American  you would have lunch with.  Did you have in your class at Harvard ….

Uno; one Black man, Peter Eccles, who has since died.  They usually had one person of color per class.

Because earlier, when we began, you spoke about how you didn’t  really get


any civil rights orientation  at the time you entered school.  So the other part of







* At the time of editing  this (Jan. 2009), two wonderful  grandchildren.



my question, with respect to that, is, in your upbringing to this point, had you


had much association  with African Americans?



Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:











Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:
























Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


No.  And I remember  there was an African-American woman in my donn  at college, but no.  Other than thatI don’t  think so.

Was it at all strange for you when you began to have a friendship  with the


African American at the [FTC]?


No, I really… I was totally oblivious  to race.  It just– it had no impact on me. I didn’t,  I was aware that people, because people made comments about the

fact that he was Black and I was White, but it didn’t  have any impact on me.  It


took me a very long time to figure out that race was an issue.  I never. ….


With respect to race again, was the lack of diversity ever something  you were aware of?

No.  In the same way that I was, I don’t  think I was ever, aware when I was at law school that there were no women on the faculty.  It didn’t  register with me. I thought it was perfectly normal for all the faculty to be male and at college

too for most of the faculty to be male.  And I don’t  think there was an African American or any person of color on the faculty at the University of Connecticut when I was there, either.  And there certainly  wasn’t  at law school.  There were no Blacks on the faculty at law schooL  No, that absence of women and people of color never registered  with me.  I thought this is normal.  This is the way things are.

And with respect to your jobs at the FTC and the … Justice.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:



Prior to Justice.  It was FTC and then …. And then Justice.

And then Justice, but weren’t  you somewhere else before then. No, I worked for Phil Elman, but that was at the FTC.

Anywhere       1nore diversity  in those work forces.


No, also when I was at Justice, so I was at Justice from ’64  to ’67, and I know now, I don’t  know that I knew then, that Bobby Kennedy as Attorney  General had really focused on getting more diversity.   I was in the Appellate Section of the Civil Division.   The Appellate Section was a fairly elite office, and there was one African American, Fred Abramson,  who became a very dear friend. And he was the only African American  in the Appellate Section, and there was only, I think, one woman, Katherine  Baldwin, who had been in the Appellate

Section  forever.   Is that possible?   It may be that she was the only woman there, and then I joined the section.  That seems so …. Well, given when it was, it isn’t  improbable.  I don’t  remember  another woman in the section.  And there were several  African Americans  in the Civil Division, in the different trial sections, and a number of those people went on to become judges in D.C.  Fred went on to a very distinguished legal career, and he was President of the D.C. Bar.  He has since died.  But Norma Holloway-Johnson, who was a U.S.

District Judge.  John Penn was a U.S. [District  Judge]; is, I think he is still on the bench.  He must be senior.  But a number of African Americans  were at

Justice.  Not a big number, but there were severaL*





Gene Hamilton also was at Justice;  he became  a judge on the D.C. Superior Court.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:



Do you remember what year you joined Justice? Sixty-four.

So all these other activities took place within a short period of time, after the




I was at the FTC for one year.


Where do you remember the Kennedy assassination?


Oh, I remember it vividly.  I was at the FTC.  I think everybody who was sentient remembers it vividly.  I was sitting in a hearing room, a big hearing room at the FTC.  There was a big hearing being conducted;  I think it had to do with pharmaceuticals. My recollection  is that there were a lot ofbig New York finns  there and Paul Rand Dixon was the chair of the Commission. And he

was handed a note, and he stopped the proceedings and said, “I have just been handed a note.  The President has been shot.  The hearing is adjourned.”   And then everybody went for the nearest television set to see what was going on and then….  Tony was in military training; he was at Fort Knox.  I was living in Southwest  Washington.   I am sure I spent the weekend watching television.

That’s what everybody did.



Ms. Wolf:                    military training, so you were separated during this





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:


Yes; I think he had six months of basic training. And what did he do after the military?

He went to Justice, he was in the Tax Division at Justice.




Ms. Wolf:


Because he had been in Justice for that






Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:



































Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:



He had been an intern, he had been in the honors program in the Summer.   See now, there, too– I don’t  think there was a woman in the honors program.

So the internship that you had was not an honors program.


I was at the FTC, but Justice had an honors program, and I am trying to visualize — there’s  a picture of all the people who were in the honors program that Summer.  A picture of them with Bobby Kennedy.  I don’t  think there was a woman in that program.   And the really interesting thing is that that probably didn’t  register with me, at all.  I probably thought that was normal.  It probably didn’t  register.

When I was at college,  when I was at the University of Connecticut, there were very strict rules for the women students.  There was a dress code, there were parietal rules about when you had to be in dorms, there was a demerit system, and I was very active on campus issues.  And I never batted an eyelash about that stuff.  I thought it was perfectly normal.   I never protested that.  It never occurred to me to protest it.  We couldn’t wear slacks on campus except on Saturdays.  It never occurred  to me to protest that.

Do you have any recollection  of when you became aware, when it became an issue, or has it become an issue?

Oh, well, it certainly has become an issue, although it’s  not the dominant issue for me, but it is certainly  is an issue.  I don’t  think I could say when it became an issue, but it wasn’t  an issue.  When I was teaching at Catholic, from ’70

to ’74,  that’s  when the first Women and the Law courses were being developed. And Brooksley Born, as she is now, she was Brooksley Landau then, and



Mama Tucker taught a Women and the Law course at Catholic.  And Gladys taught a women-in-the-law  course at GW, I think.  She was one of the first people to teach a women-in-the-law course, and the Women’s Legal Defense Fund was set up.  As they say, ten women in a phone booth set it up.  I am sure I know all ten of them, but I wasn’t  part of that; that was not my issue.  So, I didn’t  get into teaching women-in-the-law, I wasn’t  involved in setting up

WLDF, even though some people who were very close friends were very much


involved.  It wasn’t  my issue.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


And that from what you have said up to now, I’m  not really registering as an issue, or did it register as an issue?

No, it really didn’t  register as an issue.  I was, and I probably still am, making up so much, but I am very much inclined to be an equality feminist rather than a difference feminist, though if you really push me, I will say, yes I think, on the whole, more women tend to be more empathetic and compassionate  and so forth, but that’s — you’d  have to push me to get me to say that.

Unless there is something else that you would like to talk about.


No, I don’t  think so.  Well, I thought Justice was a fabulous place to work.  I loved my job at Justice.  What we did was brief and argue cases in the federal courts of appeals.  All kinds of cases, and occasionally  one would work on a Supreme Court brief, and at some point you would get to argue in the Supreme Court.  I loved arguing in court; I loved writing briefs.  The people in my section were really good; my supervisors  were really good; I learned a lot.

just thought it was a fabulous job.  Do you want to stop?



Ms. Wolf:        No, I was just              _ Ms. Roisman:            No, okay.

Ms. Wolf:        I didn’t  want to get to something  good and have to change it.


Ms. Roisman: And then, now I can’t  — two things happened.  Two kind of negative things happened, but I can’t  remember what happened first.  But one was that I was asked to work on a Supreme Court brief, and Ithink this was the first Supreme Court brief Iwas asked to work on.  It was a case called Dombrowski v. Eastland, which you may be familiar with.*  Dombrowski  was the head of the Southern Conference Educational  Fund; Eastland was James 0. Eastland, United States Senator from Mississippi and Chair of the Senate Internal Security Cmnmittee.   And to make a long and fascinating story fairly short,

Senator Eastland and the Chief Counsel of his Committee, J. Sourwine, I think, arranged to have all the papers of James Dombrowski  and SCEF seized.  And when Dombrowski et al. went to court to challenge the seizure, Eastland and Sourwine had the papers taken over the border from Louisiana to Mississippi

to escape the injunctive relief from the federal court.


So, now it’s  1966 probably.  By now I had figured out that racial justice is


a problem.  I had becmne aware and this is not the side of the case with which I am in sympathy and one could always ask not to work on a case, that was   . perfectly okay.  So I had to consider whether I should ask not to work on the case.  Well, the problem was that the issue that we were briefing was

legislative immunity and this was an issue I had worked on in other cases.  So



*Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82 (1967).



here was a situation in which I had defended this proposition.   I just didn’t  like the people for whom I would be defending it, and I decided that was not a basis for asking not to work on a case, so I worked on the brief.

This case– somebody  I am sure should write a scholarly  article about this case, because Bobby Kennedy was Attorney General and Thurgood  Marshall was Solicitor General, and you know that neither of them wanted to touch this case with a one hundred foot pole.  And, as I recall, this is all subject to correction by the facts, but I don’t  think Thurgood  Marshall’s name appeared on the brief in the Supreme Court, even though he was Solicitor General,

which would be extremely unusual.  And the case was argued by Roger Robb, who had been Senator Eastland’s roommate at college or law school and··then went on to become a federal judge, which is not an odd thing to do when your college or law school roommate is chair of the Senate Judiciary  Committee.

I wasn’t  the only one at Justice who really didn’t want to have anything  to do with this case, but I did work on the brief, and to leap ahead for a moment, the case was argued in the Supreme Court, I think a day after I started working at Legal Services.  And I went to the argument.   Arthur Kinoy was arguing for Dombrowski  and the other plaintiffs.  And I went to Arthur Kinoy before the argument, I think it was before or maybe it was after the argument,  and I introduced myself, I told him I had worked on the brief and that I had left Justice and I was now at Legal Services.  And he was very nice to me, which made a big impression on me.  I am not good — when I was practicing,  I was not good about being nice to people on the other side, but if they were young



lawyers, I tried to remember  that Arthur Kinoy did not say to me:  you disgusting  person, how could you possibly have worked on this brief for those evil people?  He was very nice to me.  And he argued brilliantly.   He was fabulous.   I have heard him argue a couple of times; he was really a great …. He did a great job.  So that was one thing.  You know if you want to stay there

— we had a lot of leeway, but still you are going to be on the wrong side of a bunch of cases.

One of the things we used to do, particularly  as newer lawyers,  was disability  cases, and we would represent  the Department  of Labor, defending these horrible disability decisions.   And I remember  one case, the Secretary’s decision  was so terrible, just absolutely  awful, and I am sure I went to my supervisors  and said, are we going to have to defend this; and the answer was yes.  But I ended up writing a memo which went to the Assistant  Attorney General.  John Douglas was the Assistant  Attorney General.   He signed — we sent a memo over to the Department  of Labor, and basically said, if you ever do this again, we won’t  defend it.  So, you know we did have leeway.  I was a baby lawyer, and I was able to write a memo that the Assistant  Attorney General sent to the Secretary saying,  if you do this again we won’t defend it. But still, you would be on the wrong side of cases.

So that was one thing that happened,  and the other thing that happened was I didn’t  get the raise I thought I should get.  You know, there were a number of people, young lawyers moving up in the section, and as….  You know, you’ll  think this is so funny,  I don’t  think I have ever before thought



about the fact that I might have been the only woman other than Katherine Baldwin, who was a very senior attorney, but I might have been the only one who was a young woman, and I never thought about the gender issue before.

What a dummy I am.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


So you were not mad that you were not getting a raise because you were a wmnan?

1 wasn’t  getting any– that’s  right, 1 mean I don’t  think the gender issue was part of my thinking, but I did consider that I was not getting as big a raise as other people were getting, and I thought I deserved it.  So that played into it. Now, this is what happened, somehow  I found out that the ACLU …. [END OF TAPE]






JULY 26, 2006





Ms. Wolf:











Ms. Roisman:


Before we broke, Florence was talking about her experience at the Department of Justice with respect to raises.  And she’s  also commenting on some awareness coming forward as we are talking about this.  I’m going to turn it back over to her to continue that conversation.

I was saying that, as we talk about this, I’m  astonished that I never thought about that as a gender issue.  I don’t  think I thought about it as a gender issue.  I don’t  remember if, in fact, I was the only young woman in this section.  There was this much more senior woman, Katherine Baldwin.

But all the other people I can think of with whom I worked were men.  I can’t  think of another woman who was in the section at the time.  So I was oblivious to the gender issues.  Although I think I might, I might have, I don’t  know.  Maybe I did think that it was because I was a woman.  But anyway, I was irritated that I didn’t  get the raise that I thought I should



So this is how I got the job that changed my life.  Larry Speiser was a lobbyist for the ACLU, a wonderful man.  Hes been dead for a long

time.  In Speiser v. Randall,* he had challenged  the loyalty oath provisions


of the National Defense Education Act, and I understood  that he was





*Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513 (1958).





Interview ofF. Roisman # 3.2  (7-26-06)- Tape 2_(EAST_5026069l_l).DOC



looking for an assistant.   I didn’t  really want to be a lobbyist, but I had always thought I would want to work for the ACLU, so I figured this is a good opportunity  to meet him, talk about what might be available.  So I applied and he interviewed  me.  And it was clear that I didn’t  really want

to be a lobbyist; I probably didn’t  have the skills to be a lobbyist.  So there were no further developments with that job.  But not long after that interview, I got a call from David Marlin.  David Marlin introduced himself and said he was a friend of Larry Speiser’s.  Larry Speiser had given David my resume.  David had just taken a job as Deputy Director at the Neighborhood  Legal Services Program — Project.  And he wanted to know if I might be interested in doing some work for them.  And I said

yes, I’d be very interested,  but I worked at the Justice Department. So I was concerned that it might be some conflict of interest issues if I were doing volunteer work.  And he said, “”No, no, you don’t  understand.  I’m not talking about volunteer work, I’m asking if you would be interested in a job.”  And I said, “”Oh, I don’t  think so, I have a commitment  here.”  I don’t  remember.  It must have been a three-year commitment.  I don’t know what the commitment  was, but I had some kind of a commitment  at Justice.  And I said, “”I went to talk to Larry Speiser, because the ACLU

has always been something  I wanted to think about doing, but I can’t  leave


Justice now.”


Then came the incident with the raises.  When I didn’t  get the raise I


thought I should get, I went to the head of the section.  He basically said:



what you see is what you get.  He wasn’t  doing anything about it.  So then, and this was several months later, I think.  And then I called David Marlin and I said, ‘”Florence Roisman.   Remember,  you called me, and I wonder

if you are still looking for someone  to work at Neighborhood  Legal Services.’  And he said, “Well,  it depends on whom you are talking about. Are we talking about you?” And I said, “Yes,  we’re  talking about me.” And he said, “Yes,  I’m very interested.” And I said, “Fine.   I’m interested.” I don’t  know if I told him why I now felt not bound by whatever the commitment  was, three or four years, but I felt they were not treating me appropriately,  and I didn’t  think I had to stay there.

So then I went and interviewed  with David and I also had to


interview  with the Board.  I remember  Dan Freed, who’s now at Yale, was on the Board, and he interviewed  me.  And Howard Westwood,  who was a very senior partner at Covington,  was Chairman of the Board, and he interviewed me, probably some other people on the Board.  And I’m sure the director of the program, Julian Dugas, also interviewed  me.  I don’t remember that.  And they hired me.  So on February  20, 1967, I went to work for the D.C. Neighborhood  Legai Services Project, and it changed

my life.  That was it.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


The interview with Larry Spain? Speiser.

Speiser,  I’m sorry.  Did that come before or after the raise incident?



Ms. Roisman:





















Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:



It had to come before, because when David Marlin first asked me, I said no because I had the commitment.   So it probably was a very exploratory, this is a chance to meet somebody who’s  significant in the ACLU and talk about.  In fact, I think, I think that it wasn’t so much that I applied for the job as I wrote to him and said, ”I don’t  want this job, but I do think some day I want to work for the ACLU.”  I think it probably wasn’t so much an interview for the job as it was, I’d like to meet you and have you meet me and have you think about my doing something in the future.

And with respect to the raise issue, how did you learn that your raise wasn’t  (INAUDIBLE- OVER TALKING)

No, I probably talked to other people in the office. So people in the office would talk about raises?

Probably.  My– we shared offices, and the person with whom I shared an office was senior to me and knew a lot about what was going on in the office.  He may have told me, that’s  possible.  I don’t  really remember. Because that was — and that your memory is that you were probably the only young woman working in there?

I think so.


Whether or not you felt socially excluded or–


I did not feel socially excluded — no.  I was — I had friends there and friendships, as it happens, didn’t  last for decades.  But that’s  for other reasons.  No, no, I had good friends, I wouldn’t  say good friends, but I had



friends there.  The reviewers thought my work was very good.  I went out


to lunch with people all the time.  I was– I felt totally socially accepted.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:



















Ms. Wolf:


Which goes along with what you’ve been saying up to this point of the recognition of the raise thing issue.

Actually, my office mate at Justice, Ed Berlin, and Gladys and Tony, my former husband, formed a law firm in 1968.  And so I was the glue that put that law firm together.  There were many, many, many connections. Did they form that in 1968?  By then you had moved on over to Neighborhood  Legal Services?

I  was at Legal Services.


The other question that’s  kind of in my mind was respect to the raise at


Justice.  Did Legal Services pay more than Justice?


It was a little bit less, but not a lot less.  I mean, the disparity was nothing like what the disparity would be today.

But you were going to be paid less at Legal Services?


Yes, yes.  But I didn’t  care– it wasn’t  the money; it was the principle of the thing.  I didn’t  want to be paid….  If other people were getting raises of X amount, I didn’t  want to get less than X, because my work was at least as good as theirs and probably better.  So it wasn’t  the money, it was

the inequality that bothered me.  No, money, money, the amount of money wasn’t  an issue.  I took a pay cut to go to NLSP, but it wasn’t  a big pay cut.  As I remember.

Now also, at this point in time, you were married like about four years?



Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





And in terms of your husband who was working at Justice still?


Well at some point, he left and went to a private firm doing tax work.  I don’t  remember exactly when he left.  But he was a tax lawyer, until he and Ed and Gladys set up this public interest law firm in ’68.

And in terms of– just because today, the whole issue, two working members in a family, was that ever an issue in your situation?   Where both of you are working and who takes care of things at the house?

No, I don’t  think that that was ever an issue.  But I do think that, at that time, I thought if and when we had children, I would stop working and stay home with the kids.  I think I thought I would do that.  I don’t  know why I think that.  I never did anything like that, I hasten to say.  But I think at that time I thought that I would do that.

So both of you were in fairly high powered jobs in Washington, D.C. in terms of working?

No, they weren’t  high powered. Well, work demanding,  no?

Yes, oh yes.  Definitely work demanding,  and we both worked very hard, but they weren’t  high powered jobs.

Well, I just meant in terms that they would demand a lot of time.


Yes, they definitely demanded  a lot of time.  The Legal Services job was declasse.   I remember one of our friends discouraging me from taking it. Saying, basically, this isn’t  an elite, high class kind of job.  But I don’t–



and Tony certainly would have encouraged me to take it.  But I don’t remember its ever being an issue.  I think the only issue was my commitment  to Justice, and once I felt that they were not treating me fairly, I was gone.

Ms. Wolf:        Divisions of responsibility  in your household, with two people — what kind ofhours did you work?

Ms. Roisman: We worked all the time.  Well, that’s  probably not true.  We probably didn’t  work on weekends.  I don’t  remember; that wasn’t an issue.  We had a housekeeper  who came in probably once a week and did things.

Ms. Wolf:        Who did the meals?


Ms. Roisman:  .           I don’t  remember.   I do remetnber that at one point, I hate to say this, I ironed Tony’s underwear.   Doesn’t  that seem amazing?  I actually don’t remember that, but friends have told me that I did so.  I assume they have good memories.  I don’t  remember that.  It seems incredible.  And I don’t remember about the meals.  I don’t  know.  I don’t  know.

Ms. Wolf:        Okay, you want to start talking about Legal Services or do you want to –? Ms. Roisman: Oh, Legal Services, that really did change my life.  There had been a DC

Legal Services program first funded by the Ford Foundation.  It was one of the three earliest legal services programs.  See Earl Johnson’s book, what’s it called, Justice and Reform?*  I forget.  Anyway, history of legal services.  And then with the Economic Opportunity Act and the funding of



* Earl Johnson, Jr., Justice and Reform: The Formative Years ofthe  American Legal Services Program (Russell

Sage Foundation 1974).



Legal Services  programs by OEO, the DC program got federal money. And at some point, the decision was made to graft onto the DC Legal Services Project a law reform unit.  And to add– there was a Director, a Deputy Director, and some number of neighborhood  offices.  At one point it was ten neighborhood  offices.  I don’t  remember if they had ten when I started in ’67.   So David Marlin, who was coming out of the Civil Rights Division at Justice, was offered the job of Deputy Director for Law Reform.

And, let me say, they were building in racial issues.  The Director of NLSP was Julian Dugas; he was Black.  The Deputy Director, a man whose name I forget, was Black.  And whatever number of neighborhood offices, had some Black lawyers, and some White lawyers.  I couldn’t tell you what the mix was.  And then the Board created this add-on of a

Deputy Director for Law Reform who would be in the headquarters office. He was White.  And he had five lawyers, all White.  All the products of elite, I think, all the products of elite law schools.  It took a while for this

to explode, but it did at some point.  So there were five of us and we were






Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:


So you were in the Law Reform Unit? I was in the Law Reform Unit.

How many years after             job was this. No, I was hired to be —



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:



You were hired for that particular job.  So this is ’67?  (INAUDIBLE­ OVERTALKJNG)

David Marlin hired for– this is ’67 — that’s  my job.  And the others in the Law Reform Unit were Larry Silver, who had been working at NLSP, and Peter Smith, who perhaps had been working at NLSP.  I can’t  remember what Peter had been doing.  And Maribeth Halloran, who was hired when

I was hired, and she was going to be the consumer person.  I was hired -­ maybe there were only four of us.  Hummm.  Maybe there were only four ofus then.

And people ask me how it is I came to do housing.  I always say that David lined us up and said:  you do welfare, you do consumer,  you do private housing, you do public housing.  I think Kirk White might have been there then.  It’s funny, I thought maybe he came later.  Maybe he was there at the beginning.   Because when I was hired, I was doing private housing, not public housing.  We had two housing people, and I was hired to do private housing issues.  And David said, ”Go out to the

neighborhood offices.  Go meet people.”  I mean, there was no system, there was no structure.   Go out and see if you can be helpful.  Go do something.  (Laughter)   So, we did, and I — I don’t  remember everything now.  My experience  was as an appellate lawyer.  I had never been a trial lawyer.  And I don’t  remember  what all I did, but I remember,  I remember the highlights.



One was that I worked on a case called Adams v. Lancaster. The lawyer with whom I worked was Paul Fred Cohen, who was in one of the neighborhood  offices.  And Ms. Adams, Lena Adams, had gone basically to rent a room.  And Horace Lancaster was the owner of the building.

And she never actually moved in.  And this is what I remember.   I could be all wrong.  She wanted her money back.  And the room was in terrible shape.  So Paul and I — and he may have done the trial.  No, I think we both did– I can’t  remember.   But we won the case.  We argued that it was an illegal contract, because the owner of the apartment  was not in compliance with the housing code.  And we won the case.  And this may have been the first time a tenant had won a case since World War II rent control.  And it was big news.  There used to be two newspapers  in Washington, the Washington  Post and the Washington  Star, or the

Evening Star.  And I think there was a lot of press about this case.  And I probably  argued it, I can’t  remember  now, except that we won the case.  It was important  that we won the case.

And then there was a case kicking around the office.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


Before you go to that one, finish this case.


Well, that’s  it, we won it.  That was it, we got her money back.






That was it.  And then there was a case that was kicking around the office. The lawyers who had handled it at trial had left the program.   And the



client was gone.  Nobody wanted to argue it.  It may have been briefed.  I can’t  remember if it had been briefed already or not.  But nobody wanted to argue it, because everybody thought it was a waste of time.  It was in the local Court of Appeals, the D.C. Court of Appeals.  Brown v. Southall Realty.  And I said, oh, I love to argue cases in court.  So I argued

Brown v. Southall.  The case was considered so ridiculous  that nobody showed up for the landlord.  This is all my memory, go check this against the records, but this is what I remember.  Nobody showed up for the landlord, and I argued to the local Court of Appeals.  And I just argued straight contract law.  And when I tell the story I always say, this was then a very conservative court.  And they knew there had to be something wrong with what I was arguing, because if I was right then the tenant was going to win.  And tenants don’t  win.  But they couldn’t figure it out.

They weren’t  very smart.  They couldn’t  figure out what was wrong.


Well, what was wrong was that I was arguing contract law in a lease case.  So they ruled for me, because they couldn’t figure out what I was saying that was — I mean, it was just hornbook  law.  It was an illegal contract case.  I mean, it’s  a contract and it’s against the law and this party is in business and this party is an injured person.  So they ruled for us.*

And then, you know, newspaper stories, big headlines,  lots of excitement.   And then I think AOBA, the Apartment  Owners and Builders Association, paid an outstanding  landlord lawyer, Herman Miller, to file


*Brown v. Southall Realty, 237 A.2d 834 (D.C. App. 1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1018 (1969).



for rehearing and reconsideration. And I think there was a reargument.   I think we then had an argument with both sides represented, but the court didn’t  change the decision.  And Herman Miller filed a cert. petition, which was ridiculous, as this was not a case for the Supreme Court.  But there’s  a cert. denial on the case.  And, you know, that case got a lot of attention.

But then the really big case involved Clifton Terrace and that became the Javins case and Richard Chused has written an article about this in the Georgetown Journal on Law and Poverty.  It’s been reproduced.  He did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people.  So, he’s got more of the details.  But here is the story as I remember it.*

Clifton Terrace is a three-building  complex on Clifton Street, between 13th and 14th.  Actually, these are beautiful buildings, designed by Henry Wardman, who was a noted architect.  They are on a hill and

they have a beautiful view of downtown Washington.  But there was racial transition; Black people moved into that neighborhood  and into those buildings.  When that happened, the buildings changed hands and came to be owned by Sidney J. Brown, d/b/a First National Realty Corporation. Sidney J. Brown, as I have had occasion to say, was a certified public slumlord.





* Javins v. First National  Realty Corp., 428 F.2d 1071 (D.C. Cir 1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 925 (1970); Richard H. Chused,  Saunders (a.k.a. Javins) v. First National  Realty C01poration, 11 Geo. J. on Poverty Law and Policy 191 (2004),  reproduced  in Property Stories 121 (Komgold and Moriss, eds., 2004) (abridged).



There was commercial space on the ground floors of these buildings. And NLSP had an office there, and the famous incident is that one day the ceiling fell in, on the office.

There was virtually no maintenance in the building.  I remember going to a tenant meeting at night.  It was freezing cold; there was no heat in the building.  The wind was — the doors were off the hinges in the lobby, so the wind whistled through.  It was really horrible.

Gene Fleming was the Managing Attorney at that office.  And there were organizers  then, so there were organizers  who worked in the building with the tenants.  Gene was working with them, and they [the tenants]

went on rent strike, and the landlord sued everybody.   It’s a famous trial, because Gene offered to prove that there were between 1500 and I 700 housing code violations at the premises, and the landlord’s lawyer objected to the offer of proof on the ground that it would tend to inflame the jury.  The judge rejected the proffer and ruled for the landlord.  And then Gene took the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which ruled for the landlord.

In those days — this was before the Court Reform Act of 1970 -­ there was discretionary  review from the local court of appeals to the federal court of appeals.  So you filed a petition for allowance of appeal, and if that were granted then the federal court would hear the case.  Now, this was the federal court of which David Bazelon was the Chief Judge, and Skelly Wright was on the court with Spottswood  Robinson.  It was a



magnificent court.  Although we were all so young and stupid, what did we know?  But, anyway, there was a petition for allowance of appeal to the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. Circuit granted it.  So Gene was working on the brief, and several of us in the Law Reform Unit were working with him.  I was working with hi1n. Patricia McGowan  Wald, who later

became, among other things, Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, was working in the Law Reform Unit.  And Margaret Ewing, as she then was, she’s

now Margaret Farrell.  These were totally elite, fabulous, fabulous lawyers.  So Margaret, Pat, and I were working with Gene on the brief. And at some point, we had a disagreement  about how to handle the brief. I don’t  remember what it was.  But we withdrew as counsel and sought leave to file an amicus brief, I think on behalf ofNLSP. Possibly on behalf of the ACLU.  We often filed amicus briefs for the ACLU.  But I

think it was for NLSP.  And the court let us do that.  So Gene filed a brief, and he argued the case.  And we filed an amicus brief.

Richard Chused’s article is an analysis of the brief.  Now he doesn’t say this, but this is my memory — that the important  thing that we did with our amicus brief was to set out the facts.  You’re a litigator; you know the principle:  let me state the facts and I don’t  care who states the law.  I

think we did the facts well and then of course the D.C. Circuit ruled for us, which was revolutionary, big, big.

Judge Wright’s clerk was Rick Cotton, who’s  wonderful.   I could talk about Rick for another hour on tape.



And then Edwards v. Habib, the retaliatory eviction case, was


handled by Brian Olmstead, who was a brilliant, brilliant, creative lawyer.* Brilliant.  Brian just made up the doctrine of retaliatory eviction.  The

client came to him — I’m sure you get clients like this all the time– client came to him with a default judgment.   I don’t  remember whether she had a notice from the marshal that there was a writ.  But there was a default judgment.  Brian went to the local court and moved to set aside the

default.  The judge was Harold Greene, who was then on the local court; later he was on the district court.  He was a great judge, may he rest in peace.  Great judge.  As you know, to set aside a default, you have to show good cause and you have to show that you have a defense which if proved would suffice to defeat the claim.  And Brian said:  it’s  unlawful to evict the tenant if the reason is that she reported housing code violations.  He

just made it up– put those two words together,   retaliatory” and “eviction.” Judge Harold Greene granted the motion.  Default is gone, case is set for trial before another judge in this– what was then [the] horrible, horrible Court of General Sessions.  Horrible court.  Really, for the most part, really terrible judges.

And Brian appears before another judge who says, “I don’t  care what Harold Greene says; that isn’t  the law in my court room.”  BANG. Judgment  for the landlord.  And it went to the local court of appeals,

which affirmed.  Also, you know, this is a judgment of eviction, so Brian



*Edwards v. Habib, 397 F.2d 687 (D.C. Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1016 (1969).



had to keep the tenant in.  He asked the trial judge for a stay pending appeal, conditioned on her paying rent into court; the judge said no.  He wanted an appeal bond, which is what the law seemed to require.  Brian went to the local court of appeals; they also said no:  appeal bond.  So on the stay pending appeal issue, Brian filed a petition for allowance of

appeal to the D.C. Circuit.  The D.C. Circuit allowed a stay conditioned on paying rent as it came due each month.

And then, of course, the merits had to be briefed in the D.C. Circuit, and I worked with Brian on that brief.  I don’t  remember; I don’t  think we filed a separate brief; I think Brian and I worked on the brief together.  But this, now this was Brian’s  case and Brian was already on this – it was always Brian’s  case.  And Brian’s theories were constitutional  theories.  I don’t  remember now, one was an ex parte Young theory, and one was some other constitutional  theory.

[End Side One]



Ms. Roisman:


We are back to Edwards v. Habib.  And I will take credit for this, this was my idea.  I said, Brian, there is a statutory argument; let’s just argue that if you interpret the statutes that deal with the eviction consistently  with the D.C. Housing Regulations,  then this kind of eviction wouldn’t be permitted. And he said, ‘””No.”  He didn’t  really like it, but finally he said, “Okay,  but we are going to make that argument last.”  So, I think this is the way it was in the brief, and I am sure it was this way in the argument.

I haven’t  seen the brief in years; I don’t  remember, maybe the briefhad


the statutory argument first, but the argument didn’t. When Brian argued the case, he argued one constitutional  theory and then he argued another constitutional  theory, and then he said, “And then finally we get to ….” And I remember that one of the judges on the panel said to him, “Why finally?  Why don’t  you argue the statutory argument first?” which of course was what one would do.  And, anyway, there is a long opinion by Judge Wright in which he develops at great length the constitutional arguments,  but he says we don’t  have to decide the constitutional arguments because here is this nice statutory argument.  And I think it was Judge McGowan who concurred in that portion of the opinion without expressing a view about the constitutional  speculations in the rest of the opinion, and I think that the other judge might have been Judge Robb, who dissented.*  I don’t  remember, but anyway that was a great case.  And actually Brian and I for years afterward would go back and forth, you know, is it better to decide a case on constitutional grounds or on statutory grounds?  What helps other people in other jurisdictions better?

And also I did a number of– we could talk for days; I represented tenants on rent strikes.  We had one big case that went to the D.C. Circuit, when I was sued personally.  We should probably talk about that.  And some other cases.  I had a case, my clients were Mr. & Mrs. Olen Lee, and they came to us I think with a default judgment, and I went in to vacate the default judgment, and we had an evidentiary hearing.  And their testimony


* It was Judge Danaher who dissented.



was that Mr. Habib, who really was a certified public slumlord,  that Mr. Habib — he used to go and collect his rents in person — and their testimony was that he had said to thetn, “”It’s okay, you don’t  have to pay this amount.”  They had paid something, and he had said, ‘”It’s okay, you don’t  have to pay this amount.”  And then I got him on the stand and, not that I am a, I am not a trial lawyer, but I asked him how many apartments he goes to on a Saturday,  and it was a large number, and does he do this

and that.  But he absolutely testified that he absolutely remembered  that he had not said to Mr. and Mrs. Lee that they don’t  have to make this payment.

This is a bench trial.  It’s a motion to vacate the default, and I thought, I sat down, smug, I have done it, and this horrible judge says, “‘I believe Mr. Habib; I don’t  believe your tenants,” and denies the motion.  I couldn’t  believe it.  And I am walking out of the courtroom and this man comes to me and he says, I found out later it was Frank Reeves, may he rest in peace.  And he said, “‘Young lady, I don’t  know who you are, but

anyone who could have Nathan Habib on the stand and not show him to be a liar isn’t  a very good lawyer.”

So I did a lot, I was doing a lot of stuff.  For Clifton Terrace, to go back to Javins, in addition to the Javins case, we were trying to get the District to prosecute Sidney Brown for housing code violations.   And part of that involved the tenants’ sitting in, in the Office of the Corporation Counsel, to get the Corporation  Counsel to do this prosecution.   And


Richard Chused’s article has a story that I do not think is totally accurate. I certainly was there in the Office of the Principal Assistant Corporation Counsel, Hubert Pair, and I certainly read the law to Hubert Pair.  That’s true.  Richard says I went behind Pair’s desk; I don’t  think that’s  true.  So the Corporation Counsel agreed to prosecute.

The prosecution  was really dramatic.  The courtroom was full of


tenants, and the tenants testified and, well, the testimony  was just



heartbreaking —-


.  They had to send their children to other relatives



because the apartments  had no heat; they of course kept their ovens on all the time to get heat.  They talked about the rats.  I think they had dead rats in the court.  I mean, just horrible.  And the judge — who was the judge? I forget who it was; a very conservative  judge, but he was just so shocked

by the testimony that he was hearing.  He, on the spot, found Brown liable and said:  ‘”Mr. Marshal,  walk him back,” meaning send him to jail.  And, you know, this is all my memory, maybe it isn’t  exactly right, but my memory is that the tenants applauded in the courtroom.  It was really, really dramatic; it was the first time a landlord had been found responsible for housing code violations,  probably ever.

And all of this got a lot of publicity.  And the Washington  Post kept this issue, the Clifton Terrace issue, on the front page of the Metro section. I am sure this is an exaggeration,  but it seems to me that they had this on the front page of the Metro section every day for months.  And the local reporter who was handling it was Carl Bernstein, later to become very



famous.  But he wasn’t  famous then; he was just a young reporter on the city desk.  And in, I can’t  remember exactly what year this was, it must have been in connection  with the criminal conviction for code violations. I mean Brown actually did get walked back to the holding cells, but then he got out on bond, and he didn’t  actually serve any time.  I don’t remember exactly what happened, but his lawyer I think moved for a

change of venue.  Now you are in the District of Columbia local court; one might ask to what venue will we change?  But anyway, whatever it was,

he [Brown] subpoenaed  me and Carl Bernstein.  Well, when you subpoena a reporter for the Washington  Post, what you get is what I think then was Williams, Califano and Connolly, and possibly– this can’t  be, it can’t  be that Edward Bennett Williams came to this local court, but some very high partner, because this is the Washington Post.  I mean, they don’t  mess around when you are dealing with a Washington Post reporter.  So there were very, very spiffy lawyers representing The Washington  Post.  I do

not remember who represented me.  I mean, I’d been represented.  So that


was a very interesting  piece of this….



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


What happened?


What happened is, I think, he never served jail time.  I think that was vacated.  I’m glad you asked that question.  But there was a fine and that was not vacated, but the District didn’t  collect it.  And then Monroe Freedman, who is now a professor at Hofstra — Monroe was teaching at GW then, and Monroe was very active.  He was very active in the ACLU,



and Monroe filed a motion asking the court to appoint him as a Special Prosecutor to collect the fine.  I think he was then at — there was for a couple of years there– Phil Stem funded something  that was called the Stem Community  Law Firm.  And I think Monroe was at the Stem Community  Law Firm, and I think it was in that capacity that he was doing this.  But he filed a motion to have himself or the Stem Community Law Firm appointed as a Special Prosecutor to collect the fine.  And I think that, I think that was granted, but I am quite sure that the fine got

paid, that, however that happened, so the fine did get paid.  And then there


were — how many of these stories are you up for, Mary?



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


With respect to the… what did they subpoena  you for?


Oh, I don’t  remember.   Brown also filed a complaint against me with the grievance committee,  which was then the grievance committee  of the U.S. District Court.  He filed a grievance against me and the grievance committee sent me a notice and said I had to respond to this complaint  that had been filed, although,  in fact, the complaint didn’t  comply with the grievance committee’s rules.  My recollection is that it wasn’t  notarized.

It had to be notarized.   And also, you know, here is a landlord filing a grievance complaint  against the tenants’  lawyers, because I was doing whatever he said I was doing, maliciously.   So the Board ofNLSP- now, the Chair of the Board of NLSP, Howard Westword, may he rest in peace, was a very senior partner at Covington  and Burling.  He was the Chair of the NLSP Board.  He was very, very, very active in all legal aid, legal



services, ABA, pro-bono activities.  He was a really wonderful man, and


he paid a lot of attention  to what was going on at NLSP.  Whenever any of us won a case or a motion or something, the next day we’d get a letter from, we used to call him Uncle Howard, but we would get a letter on this thick, creamy Covington  stationery.  “My Dear,” he usually addressed it, “My Dear Roisman,”  and a letter of congratulations from Howard Westwood, and his big sign of affirmation  was if he called you a son of a bitch.  And I think initially he couldn’t  bring himself to call a woman a

son of a bitch, but I remember when he finally called me a son of a bitch, it was a victory.  So now, he’s,  I’ve really made it.

So the Board discussed  what to do with this grievance.  And Howard Westwood — I mean, just picture to yourself a very senior partner in a leading law firm in Washington,  D.C., and he said, “Don’t worry about a thing.  We’re  going to take care of this.  We’ll  be all over this.”  And I

said, “No, I don’t  want to take of it.  They shouldn’t be making me answer this complaint.   I don’t want this handled.  I want it challenged.” And he said, “No, no, that’s  not the way we do things.  We do things in a lawyer­ like way.”  So Monroe Freedman represented  me, and we sued the District Court grievance committee  for having entertained  this preposterous complaint that didn’t  satisfy their requirements.   And we ended up settling it.  But, you know, it was significant  because, you know, you’re  always asked the question, has any complaint ever been filed against you, and Monroe said you need to be able to answer that question.  No.  So that was



part of the settlement.   I never had to answer that question,  yes.  So, there


was a lot of stuff about …



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


Like, what period of time are we covering?  There are a lot of these cases. Well, ’67  to ’70, roughly.  There also– there was a whole other set of issues with Clifton Terrace, because there was a nonprofit housing development corporation called HDC (Housing Development Corporation) that also had been set up with OEO funding.  It was chaired, he must have been President, by Channing Phillips, who actually was nominated for President, who was nominated for the Democratic

nomination  for President, I think.  Channing was a minister, may he rest in peace — all these people are dead — and Channing was the Director, Arnold Sternberg was the General Counsel, Lafayette Jamison, Don Humphrey,  I forget, they were wonderful.  And HDC proposed to

purchase Clifton Terrace and rehab it with federal subsidies under the 236 program.  Robert Weaver was Secretary of HUD then, and HUD didn’t want to do this because it didn’t  want, it didn’t  want to use 236 for rehab projects.  I think that was it.  They were using 236 only for a new developments. And I said –there were organizers working with the tenants. There were three organizers who worked for the CAP agency, the Community  Action Agency, UPO, United Planning Organization.    Joan Cole, I think Ralph Fertig was one, and there was a third, whose name I don’t  remember.  They were fabulous organizers.  And I remember  we had a sit-in, in Secretary  Weaver’s office.  This was in the old days when you



could just walk into HUD.  And I remember,  I was so impressed, the organizers, and one of the organizers was an African-American  man and he was talking to the security guards who were, of course, African­ American men, and persuading them of the justice of the tenants’  cause. It’s very, very interesting.   And HUD did end up funding the rehab of Clifton Terrace, and they did a gorgeous job of rehabbing it.

The tenants had significant  control over what was done in the rehab and in the management.   I remember we had an agreement.  We represented the tenants, but part of our agreement  was we wouldn’t  do any evictions, because, as you may know, once tenants get control of a building, [often,] the first thing they want to do is evict a bunch of people who aren’t  doing what the other tenants think they ought to be doing.  So we said we won’t  do evictions, but we represented  the — it was kind of

like a tenant management  corporation.   And a lot of the tenants were hired by the construction  company that was doing the development.

Clifton Terrace– you could write a book about Clifton Terrace.  It’s been up, it’s  been down, it’s  been up, it’s been down.  But that was a very hopeful time; that was a very hopeful time.  We felt we had the secret. This is the secret, this is the what to do about bad housing– get it into the hands of a nonprofit, with HUD subsidy, get it fixed up.  The probletn

with that is that the HUD subsidy programs never had enough money to do the maintenance  and operation and still keep tenant rents low.  HOC really knew what it was doing and they knew.  They said from the



beginning:  this subsidy program doesn’t have enough money to keep tenant rents low and keep maintenance  up.  We are not going to raise tenants’  rents.  When push comes to shove, we’re  going to go into default and give the buildings back to HUD.  They always said that.  They said it from the beginning and that’s  what happened.  The subsidy programs  just don’t  work.  We need to talk about Arnold Sternberg and Don Humphrey

in some later ….



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


The directors?


Well, Arnold was the general counsel and Don worked there, but if we’re talking now about housing stuff that we did at NLSP, there are at least two other cases I should talk about.

One is the one when I got sued.  There was a tenant group in, I think, a privately owned — it must have had some kind of subsidy, but I can’t  remember what kind of subsidy– a privately owned development that was in bad shape, so that the tenants went on a rent strike.  And I was representing them, and the tenants were putting their rent into an account which, at the time, I think I controlled.   Something I learned never to do.

I was, I think, in New York.  I was away.  I think I was at a conference  in New York, and I got a phone call from a reporter from the Washington  Post who said, ‘”I wanted to get a comment from you on this law suit.”  I said, ‘”What law suit?”  He said, ‘”Well, you’ve  been sued for some enormous amount of money by the owners of this building.” So when I came back to Washington,  it turned out — the case is called



Dorfmann v. Boozer, in the D.C. Circuit– they had sued me and the


tenants’ association. *


So I was representing  the tenants’  association,  and I was represented by the ACLU, the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union, in the person of Elliot Lichtman, a friend who represented  me several times as a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU.  And they were so stupid.  They filed the case in federal court.  Federal court was our turf; the local court was the landlords’ turf.  It was really hard for us to win

cases in the Court of General Sessions or the local court of appeals.  It was very rare that we could win a case there.  We could win cases in federal court.  So they foolishly filed this case in federal court, and Elliot immediately moved to have me dismissed  from the case.

I’ll  tell you, I was so young and stupid I didn’t  know how lucky I was.  Think about what could have happened with that.  I think it was Judge Barrington Parker who dismissed  me from the case right away.

was no longer a defendant  in the case.  And then I represented  the tenants and I think that Judge Gasch, I’m pretty sure it was Judge Gasch, gave relief to the landlord.  I think he granted a preliminary injunction  to the landlord and I took it up to the D.C. Circuit.  I think I got it summarily reversed.  I remember afterward Judge Gasch’s making some observations

about that, so I think that’s  what I did with this case.



Ms. Wolf:


What was the basis on which they were suing the tenants and you?




* Dorfmann v. Boozer, 414 F.2d 1168 (D.C. Cir. 1969).



Ms. Roisman:
























































Ms. Wolf:


Oh, who knows? I don’t  remember.   They wanted an accounting and– I don’t  remember– but all the stuff was dramatic, because nobody– you know, tenants had not been winning very much of anything before and now tenants were winning things.  It wasn’t  because we were such good lawyers.  It was Judge Bazelon, Judge Wright, Judge Robinson; we just

had to live long enough to get a case in front of them, and they were doing it.  But there was a lot of publicity about it, and I got a lot of publicity, not because I was the only one who was doing this, because every one of these cases had other people– including Dor:fmann, although I actually don’t remember if there were other lawyers on Dorfmann –but in all the other cases, somebody else was the principal lawyer or I was co-counsel with people.  There were always other people.  But I think it was two things. One was that I was involved  in all these cases:  I was the common

element.  And also because I was a woman, and I was short and young looking, and I think that appealed  to the press.

There was a reporter for the Star, Harvey, I forget his last name, who referred to me in one story as the “fiery female attorney.”  And there was a column in the Post that began, I blush to recall this, ‘”She looks like a

gentle brewer of tea and baker of patty-cakes,  but Florence Roisman is really a hardnosed blah blah blah.”  I didn’t  live that down for a long time. I have friends who still talk about that.

Did this comment strike you  , at that point in time?


Ms. Roisman:










Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Reisman:





Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


I just didn’t  think about gender issues.  When I think about it now and I think, why is it that I got so much attention?    I think the fact that I was a woman was definitely part of it.  But I don’t  think I thought about gender. I don’t  think I thought about it then; it just wasnt on my screen.

I just wanted to talk a few minutes about the way the office was set up. There was the law …..

There was the headquarters  office on Fifth Street.  The building has long since been torn down.  And in that office were the Director of the Program, the two Deputy Directors, and the Law Reform Unit.

Right, and the Law Reform Unit was the one with four or five lawyers and a director, and the other one, the head of the neighborhood offices, right? Right.  The other deputy had jurisdiction over the neighborhood offices. David Marlin was the deputy for law reform.

But this law reform group that you were a part of would go into the neighborhood  offices and work with them.  So for any case that you were doing you would be connected to …

Not necessarily.  Sometimes  we did cases on our own.  I think Doifmann


— I can’t  remember somebody  else working on Dorfmann.  There were some cases we worked on on our own.

And this is the first time that you really began doing trial work.


I never did trial work.  I did some evidentiary proceedings.  I did a few, yes.  I think the only time I actually did a trial was a couple of years later,


in a case called Cooperative Services v. HUD, before Judge Waddy.*  It should have been a summary judgment case; he made us go to trial.  It never should have gone to trial.  I have done some evidentiary




Ms. Wolf:










Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:


That was one of the cases; that’s  what you were talking about in there.  So it seems that you were connected to an office for the issues that you were coming out with, like there’d  be issues of your cases somehow surfaced in the neighborhood office?

That certainly was true at the beginning, when we first started, because we had nothing, no docket, but later on, I would work directly with tenant groups and community groups.  There’s  one story about my doing a really bad thing.  We should talk about that, too.  I would work directly with community groups or tenant groups.

I am trying to get the feel for how one would go to the neighborhood office, whether or not they were looking to you as a welcome resource or




Sometimes they were, and sometimes they were very resentful of us.  At the beginning, we went really hat in hand.  Is there anything we can help you with?  We’ll do anything.  We’ll do windows.  We’ll do whatever you want.  But we didn’t  have any control over them.  It was totally voluntary, and some of them were very resentful, and others were glad to have us

work with them.




* Cooperative  Services, Inc. v. HUD, 562 F.2d 1292 (D.C. Cir. 1977).


Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:











Ms. Wolf:





























Ms. Roisman:


Were there any issues of gender or race in that?


Well, I don’t  remember  any gender issues.  We certainly had racial tensions in the program, but I think they surfaced — they surfaced later. I’m sure they were always there, but, basically my leaving NLSP, which was in 1970, was certainly connected with racial issues in the program. And I think probably setting that for another time would be good, but that’s one of the things that I was wondering about, as you talked about your transition from the inequities in terms of the raise.  Now you place it into the neighborhood  legal services as law reform, because when you

described the power structure of the large number of African Americans in the neighborhood  office operation and probably using a descriptor that I felt more than heard as an elite group of high-named, high law school, and the other unit within the same building that that was the group that you walked into, and you describing that now, in light of later events, and I wondered if you had any recollection of this striking you in any way when you did your interviews for the group.

I don’t  think so. A lot of the neighborhood  lawyers were White and then a number of the managing attorneys were White, too.  I would have to think about how many were Black and how many were White.  But some of the White lawyers resented us.  So …









JULY 27,2006






  • Ms. Wolf:
























Ms. Roisman:










Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


Florence Wagman Roisman, at the Indiana University School of Law.        It is July 27, 2006.      We’re  continuing the oral history of Florence Roisman. Yesterday, we went through some of her first employment following law school. And today we are going to begin by going or just asking or talking about a few issues, questions, during the time that she was developing professionally and making choices about law and those various other things.   And one of the questions I asked prior to our meeting this afternoon was whether or not there was much family reaction to her marrying during the middle ofher law school career.

I don’t  think there was– my parents were thrilled that I was getting married, I think.         I don’t  think there was any particular reaction.    They liked Tony.        They were pleased that I was getting married.             Nothing exciting there.

And your Dad had gone to law school while married anyway, as well? No, I don’t  think he was married when he went to law school.

Oh, okay.


No.      He was ….


But, I’m sorry about, while working?


He was working while going to school at night.        But he wasn’t  married. Okay.            So, then the other thing that I had asked about is whether or not you had any guidance, counsel or felt any pressure, advice from your


#4.1 parents during your decisions concerning what type of career to the follow


and how to handle your law profession?



Ms. Roisman:


Well, certainly, my father wanted me to be a lawyer.             That had been established when I was very young.             There wasn’t  any secret about that. And he was delighted that I decided to go to law school.                         And when it came time to take the bar, Tony and I knew we were going to be going to Washington to work. But my father said we should take the New York Bar.          He said, ”If you’re  going to be in the theater, you wouldn’t  consider yourself an actor or actress until you’d  been on Broadway.                     New York is where it’s at; take the New York Bar.” So we did.       We took the cram course in New York; we lived with my parents in Mt. Vernon and traveled into the city every day to take the cram course.             And then we’d sit up in bed at night with these big notebooks asking each other questions.            And when we’d come home from the bar review course, my father would be waiting for us with questions.      He’d say, “Okay, so what did you study today?                 CPLR?             Well, what about blah, blah, blah?”   He had a wonderful time.             He really, really, enjoyed that.                       And then we took the New York Bar exmn, which is a nightmare.

And, as I told you after we finished the taping yesterday– you had asked when my father died, and he died that Fall.          In the Fall of ’63,  right after the following exchange of phone calls.            He had called me and said, “I have bad news for you.    You passed the Bar, thaf s wonderful,  but Tony didn’t  pass.”          And we moaned and groaned about that.   And then


#4.1 he called me a little while later, and said, “Oh, it’s okay, he did pass, but


he’s on a separate list of people who haven’t  yet established  New York residence.”           Because of my father’s  position, he was able to find out the results the night before they were published. That’s why he was calling me.      And then he died that weekend.         It really was as if he were just waiting to be sure that we were set and we’d  get admitted and that was that.

I did think of another thing after our conversation  yesterday.          It’s funny, I don’t  think I ever thought about this before.        But, as I

mentioned, when we first got out of law school, I was working at the FTC, which was a very declasse job, and Tony was in the Honors Program at Justice. My grades were much better than Tony’s,  and I think that’s gender.            I don’t  think there is any other explanation  for that.             I’m a perfectly personable person.             I will ask you to attest it wasn’t  personality;

I think that’s all gender.



Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


But at that time, what you talked about yesterday, do you have recollections of this being something that you thought about or it being an issue at the time?

I honestly don’t  remember.    I honestly don’t  remember.


One of the other comments,  I don’t  know if it was during the tape or afterwards, you spoke about the Honors Program at the AG’s office and whether or not there were any women.




Ms. Roisman:






















































Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:



Right. I said that on tape, that I don’tremember.       When I visualize in my mind the group who were in the Honors Program together, I’m not sure there were any women.        And I do know that when I applied to the Antitrust Division, people told me that there was no way they were going to hire a women at the Antitrust  Division.         So, I mean, there isn’t  any question that there was gender discri1nination.

And, in fact, I remembered  also last night, thinking about our discussion,  when I was at the FTC, the following incident occurred.   And this must have been the Summer that I was there as an intern, because a group of us, and it must have been the ten or so Summer interns, were in a very large room together.       We didn’t  have separate offices.   This is going to sound amazing, but this is true; I remember this happening.

They were all men except for me.      I was the only woman.            And one of the interns had a secretary  at the FTC sit on his lap in the office, and I went out of my mind, I was so offended by this. Now that won’t surprise you because in today’s environment  that would never happen and nobody would do it.    But that wasn’t  the environment, this would have been 1962.            I think his doing it was not remarkable, and my fussing about, fussing doesn’t begin …. from my being outraged  about it.    I think that was remarkable.

How did you express your outrage?


I don’t  remember,  I just remember that I expressed outrage.           And she got offhis lap.            But I think the general reaction was that I was being


#4.1 inappropriate, not that he was being inappropriate.       It was another time; it

was very– it was very, very different.           When people say law can’t change the way people act, I have no patience with that.       That’s not true. I can have patience with people who say·that if they’re  young and ignorant, but it’s a ridiculous point of view, I think.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





















Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


Have you seen law change ….?


I’ve seen the law change the way people conduct themselves.          And the impact …. it’s  not just Title VII.             Title VII is part of the women’s movement, but when Title VII was introduced, when sex was proposed as an addition to Title VII, it was done because the people who proposed it thought that was ridiculous.       They thought it was a way to defeat Title VII altogether.      It was so silly to think that discrimination  on the basis of sex would be unlawful.         You know, we need to get into that whole discussion.

Because one of the interesting parts of all this is not that it happened, but how people like you reacted to it.

Well, this is– I’m thinking about these things because of these conversations.                     I think I was totally oblivious to the women’s movement of the ’50s and the early ’60s.   I don’t  retnember knowing about Betty Friedan.           All the things that people take as givens in women’s history now, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I probably knew who Susan B. Anthony was.            I don’t  think I knew who Elizabeth Cady Stanton was.    And I certainly didn’t  know anything in depth about the




women’s movement.   And I didn’t know anything about very many





significant women in U.S. history.                 In fact, I know that when I used to think about a strong woman–  you’re going to laugh when I tell you this, but it’s literally true.        The person I thought about was Elizabeth Tudor. The first Queen Elizabeth of England.           I was very interested in English history.         I knew a lot about Elizabeth Tudor and Henry the VIII and that era.        I can remember situations, probably when I was in college, I’m not sure at what point, but I can remember situations in which I was being challenged and I would think about Elizabeth Tudor.   You want a role model?          She was my role model.          That’s probably, she probably was

more of a role model for me than anybody else was.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:










Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


Is that a weak woman?


No, she was not a weak woman; she was a very powerful and intelligent woman.   But lots of other women, about whom I now know and whom I admire, I didn’t know about. So somehow the women’s movement just didn’t register with me.

How do you think colleagues today would react to that insight?       Do you think they would believe it?

(Laughter).      I don’t know.   It would depend on how old they were.


We also talked about the fact–  while we didn’t talk yesterday about Dr. King’s assassination and race, and I think we should.          We should talk about that because we are talking about the period of time that I was at


Neighborhood  Legal Services in D.C. and thafs ’67  to 1970.          I think there are at least three things to talk about.





One is that, as I’ve said several times, I was pretty oblivious to the

Civil Rights Movement,  which, in retrospect, surprises me a great deal. don’t  think that I saw a connection between the antipoverty work that I



was doing and the civil rights movement, even though all my clients were Black.   The client community in Washington was almost entirely Black. There were some poor Whites, but I don’t  think I ever had a White client. But it didn’t– the civil rights aspects of it didn’t  –really register with me until 1987, and if we live long enough to get to 1987, I can talk about it.

There were people working at NLSP who had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement.         Ricky McDew was there; she had been married to Chuck McDew, who was a leader ofSNCC.   I don’t  know if Ricky herself was in SNCC, but probably she was.   And Mary Ann Efroymson Stein, Efroymson from Indiana, who became a very close friend of mine and still is a very close friend — Mary Ann worked for NLSP when she was a law student, and she had just come back from the South where she had been doing voter registration.        So there were people around but ….

Now, it isn’t  that I continued to be totally oblivious.            I certainly remember  when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed and the four little girls were killed.      But I was in Washington during the March on Washington  in August of’63, and I didn’t  go to the March.                     I was there. People expected, at least the people I knew expected, that there was going


#4.1 to be violence.     That’s when Tony  was in military training, and I think


he’d  probably  asked  me not to go, but I don’t think  I had a particular….


If I had had a particular interest  in going,  I would  have gone, but I didn’t, I


didn’t go.


And then in ’68,  actually  the weekend  before  Dr. King was killed, friends  were visiting,  a couple  who are Episcopalians, and Dr. King was preaching at the National  Cathedral.        And we were going to go.       We talked  about going to hear him, so by then I was paying  attention to the Civil  Rights  Movement.            We were going to go to hear him preach,  and then we decided  not to. You know,  it was probably a nice Sunday and we were going to do smnething frivolous with our friends.

And then he was assassinated.            I think  it was a Thursday.      And the next morning, there was — this is my memory, I don’t know  if this is true

–but I think the next morning there was a service at the National Cathedral, and I went to it with some other  people.            And my memory is we went to the service at the National  Cathedral and then we were in the downtown, Connecticut Avenue, K Street area.        And then we went from there over to our office  which  was at 5th  and E, NorthWest.            And that’s when  we realized  that parts of the city were in flames. My memory is

that it was a beautiful  day and that I experienced this very dramatic change from a beautiful  day, to a very sad, but kind of– I don’t know,  serious, solemn, ennobling day from the service, and then going back to the office


#4.1 and realizing that the city was in the middle of a riot.   I remember it as a


Friday.             I don’t  know if it was a Friday.


For the next couple of days, we basically lived in the office.                        We were right across the street from the courts.           Tony and I then had a house on Capitol Hill and we had a dog.        No kids, but we had a dog. We expected the house to burn to the ground, so we went home, we got the dog, brought the dog to the office, and that was it.             We were in the office, as were a lot of other people who were there, 24 hours for several days. The courts were open 24 hours a day, with judges purporting to process applications for release on recognizance  and on bail.             We were in court

all the time.     We were doing that work.      At that time, we did some juvenile work, we did some minor criminal law work in Legal Services. But, you know, this had nothing to do with Legal Services necessarily. This was just a crisis, so we were in court.

There were military– where were you in April of ’68?



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


In Chicago.


In Chicago.     Well, you saw some of this.    There were military police, there was a curfew, and we had credentials  that let us be out at night, but we would be stopped by the military police.                   There were machine gun embankments  on Capitol Hill, and I remember being in court one night and saying to a judge– it was either Judge Halleck or Judge Murphy, I don’t  know which judge.   I was trying to get a young man out on — not on his own recognizance but under his mother’s supervision.         I forget



what the word is.         And I said to the judge that I had spoken to his mother and she was willing to take responsibility for him.            But in light of the circumstances, she was afraid to come downtown to say that, and he said,

”Well, she has more sense than you do, Mrs. Roisman.”


So, anyway, we did that for several days.      And I think on the Sunday things were a little bit quieting down.             And Tony and I went to visit friends of ours who lived in Potomac, Maryland.       And we drove–  I remember this so vividly.       It’s probably the only time in my life that I’ve ever come remotely close to becoming hystericaL               We drove through the city, which was like a war zone– military police, machine guns.             And

we cross the District line into Maryland and go into the Maryland suburbs. And it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday and people are out playing golf, and playing tennis, and mowing their lawns, as if nothing had happened.            By the time we got to our friends’ house, in Potomac, a very ritzy part of Montgomery County, I was beside myself.

That really was a dividing line.          There was before April 4, 1968 and after April 4, 1968.       It was two different worlds in Washington. Before then, I traveled all over that city alone at night in our car, which

was a Morgan.            Do you know what a Morgan is?



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




It’s a British sports car. Oh, okay.




Ms. Roisman:



British sports car.        We had gone to Europe.         This was Tony’s  big dream. I loved the Morgan, too, but this was his big dream, to have a Morgan.

And this was our car; this was the only car that we had.    We had a car and it was a Morgan.    It’s made out of wood and it has no suspension. It looks like the old MGs, if you ever have seen the old MGs.    It was a

gorgeous car; I loved it.          But totally insecure.    I mean, you can’t  lock it. (Laughter)  You can’t  lock it and “very distinctive” doesn’t  begin to say.

I used to drive that car into the poorest neighborhoods  in Washington.       I was in Southeast;  I was in Northwest, the poor areas of Northwest, not Ward 3.            I’d go to tenant meetings.        I used to go– Paul Cohen, the lawyer who worked on Adams v. Lancaster, was a drummer. And sometimes  he and I would go to some of the jazz places on 14th Street.          I mean, after April of 1968, you just wouldn’t  do that.

I don’t  remember what I did about meetings.    I must have still gone to meetings.     But I probably met with other people.     I don’t  know what I did.    But I know I wouldn’t have gone into a jazz place with Paul Cohen. And sometimes  when he and I did that he would be asked to sit in for a

set, to play drums.       He was a drummer.     No way that would have happened, no way.

In fact, we had an office on H Street, NorthEast.       The managing attorney of that office was Dick Carter, who went on to run — he was the executive director of ALI-ABA.   He just retired.            I’m going to get some of this mixed up, but here is the important part of this story.   One night



Paul Cohen and Susan Shapiro, who was — Susan was a classmate of mine at law school. She and I later practiced law together.           And at this point, she was also at NLSP.        So Paul and Susan had gone to some kind of tenant meeting or something.   And they were on the street.   They’re

both White, and they were stopped by a group of young Black men. Kids, I think, as I was told the story.             Teenagers, but big teenagers.

And one of the kids said to Paul, “Hey, man, is that your girl?” And Paul said, “Yeah, she’s my girl.”       And the kid said, “You think I could take her away from you?”     And Paul said, ‘”No, I don’t think you could.”             Not in a challenging way, I’m sure.                But he said no.            So the kid said, “Well, you know what, I think I’m going to try.”           And Paul said, he said, “Don’t  talk to me that way.  I’m your lawyer.            You can’t be so rude to us because we are your lawyers.                   We work for the Legal Services Program, and we are here to defend your rights, and you have to have a good relationship with us and not be challenging us.”          This is before 1968 –needless  to say.          And here is the really amazing part of this story.   The kid said, “You’re  not my lawyer.            My lawyer is the tall guy with a limp, on H Street,” referring to Dick Carter, who was the Managing Attorney for our H Street office.              Now that’s before 1968.

During the riots–  I’m actually not sure which office.           I think I have the wrong office.          But during the riots, someone went into one of our offices, one of our neighborhood offices, and said, “This building is going to bum. Get your files and your people out of here.”




Ms. Wolf:




And did it burn?






Ms. Roisman:
















Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:
















Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


I don’t  remember; I don’t  remember.            But, to me the point of the story was that we had a sufficiently  good relationship  with the people in the neighborhood that someone  would come in and say that.           To me, that’s the point of both those stories.       I don’t  remember what actually happened.    I don’t  remember which office it was.     But after ’68, it was very different.

Could you describe how?       You already talked about going in and out of the neighborhoods.

You know, it’s funny, as I think back, I don’t  remember a period of time when I wasn’t  driving around in the morning, at night, and going to meetings.      But it’s hard for me to imagine that I was doing it after April of’68.   But maybe I was.        I honestly don’t  remember.    But there was certainly a different atmosphere.             For one thing, whole neighborhoods had been burned out, so there was a lot of suffering.

What about the role of the attorney for the community  and the way they operated prior to that.    Did that change?

I don’t  know. Probably not, because the, the, the– it wasn’t  an incident, but the set of experiences  that led to my leaving NLSP arose from a rent strike in public housing that I was very involved in.    And I left in 1970, so that clearly had– I don’t  even know when it started, but it was probably after Dr. King’s assassination.             I don’t  know, I don’t  think.    I don’t  remember that there were.




Ms. Wolf:



But life was different then based on what you were doing.   You spoke


about how different ….



Ms. Roisman: The city was different; the city was different.            You know — one thing we did; well, there’s  so much to talk about.            We were involved in a number

–several cases, several cases that went to the Supreme Court on the merits.            I think, in particular, of Shapiro v. Thompson, the interstate travel case.        Well, durational  residency requirement.       The case that struck down durational residency requirements.             You want to hear this story about Shapiro v. Thompson?*   It has nothing to do with gender.

Ms. Wolf:        It’s part of your story.


Ms. Roisman: Well, maybe it does, because I think all the lawyers were men.        Maybe it does have to do with gender; I never thought of that.  But there were three or four cases coming up from different places.             There was a case from New York, there was our case in D.C.          I think there was a. Connecticut case, and there might have been a fourth case — all

challenging durational  residency  requirements  for public assistance.        And the cases went to the Supreme Court, and they were argued separately, and then the cases were set down for reargument the next term.  And the Court consolidated  them.             It was clear that one person had to argue these cases.            Well, we had three or perhaps four egomaniacs.           One from each

jurisdiction.     Maybe they weren’t  all egomaniacs,  but that’s my memory. You know they all were young lawyers.



Shapiro v. Thompson, 394  U.S. 618  (1969).            In fact, the cases were from Connecticut, DC, and  Pennsylvania.




Ms. Wolf:




Very invested?






Ms. Roisman:


Very invested, very invested in the cases, no question.         But also, very ambitious,  interested to do this.             So everybody agreed, all these people agreed that there was one person in the United States of America who

could argue this c_ase at least as well as they could, maybe not better, but at least as well as they could.    And that person was Archibald Cox, who had just finished being Solicitor General of the United States and had gone

back to his position as a professor at the Harvard Law School.         And so we asked Professor Cox or General Cox, I don’t  know what he preferred being called, if he would do this, and he said yes.    He got no money for it.   I don’t  think we even paid his expenses.       We certainly didn’t pay hitn for doing it.

He had a reputation at Harvard and elsewhere for being a very, very arrogant person, not without reason.             He couldn’t  have been nicer to the people involved in these cases. He could not have been nicer.             He treated all of– I say them because I didn’t  have– this was a welfare case, so I didn’t  have anything  to do with it.    But I was in the office and almost everything  happened  in our office because we were in D.C. and we had

one of the cases.          He treated all these baby lawyers with great respect, as totally equal colleagues or as people who knew more than he did.

He wrote the brief– now, I’m sure they had a lot to do with writing the brief, but he supervised  the writing of the brief.          It was the most beautiful brief I had ever seen.          I remember it as a crystal.       Just a


#4.1 concise, clear, compelling,  really beautiful brief.         And then he argued the


case.    We were there, of course, for the argument. He was phenomenal. He knew all the facts.    He knew — there were probably 12 or 14 different plaintiffs in the different cases — he knew the details about each one.             He knew which one had cancer and had moved so that her children could be brought up by her brother.            He knew which one had moved to get a job. He knew everything.   And the part of the story I often tell when I’m training is that during the argument, he shook like a leaf.          You couldn’t tell it from his voice but I was sitting close enough to him that I could see he was shaking.            This was a man who had argued innumerable cases.

So I always tell trainees, don’t  worry about being nervous; you are supposed  to be nervous.         The trick is to do a great job even though you

are nervous.     He was fabulous.        He handled a number of cases pro bono, some for Legal Services, some for others.        He really was an heroic




Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


When you argued, were you nervous?


Oh, yeah, but I was good.       I was good.      My first argument, when I was at Justice, the first case that I argued was a customs case that had been briefed before I got to Justice, and whoever briefed it was gone.             So I got to argue it in a court that doesn’t exist anymore, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, which was right across the street from the Justice Department.                    It was in — is that the Commerce  Department  building?            I think it is.      Anyway, it was in the building right across the street, so that


everybody  in my office was able to go (Laughter)  to listen to my first argument.





It involved — it was a customs classification  case.    I remember, it involved  machine called the Eleroda D1.    It was some kind of a machine and it had to do with conducting  electricity.    That’s  all I remember.

think there were seven judges on the court — either five judges or seven judges on the court at that time. And my reviewer, the Assistant Section Chief who reviewed that brief, was Alan Rosenthal, who was a great lawyer.            Really, really, terrific; you know, a career government lawyer, really good.            And so he was there at counsel table with me and going over to the argument, going across the street, I had only two questions. One, would the shade of green that my face was contrast too badly with my blue suit?              And the other was whether I was going to throw up before, during, or after the argument.         I was totally, totally nervous.

And as soon as I said, ‘”‘”May it please the court,” everything  fell away and I just– I’m sure I was wonderful.             I felt totally confident,  I knew what I was doing, and I did it.          Of course I’d been mooted, you did moot arguments  before.         I loved it; I loved to argue in court.    And I do think I was good.

I remember  years later arguing a case before Harold Greene, before whom I appeared many times, and I began as I often did, ‘”‘”May it please the court; the issues in this case are simple.”             And he said,

‘”‘”Ms. Roisman,  you always say that.”         Which was probably true.




Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:



One question. When you talked about you living in the office, you spoke as if that was both you and Tony?

Oh, yes.


So did other people have their families living there?


Well, I don’t  think anybody brought his or her kids.             I’m not sure any of us had kids then. Larry didn’t, Maribeth didn’t.          Peter– I don’t remember anybody– I don’t  think any of us had kids then when we were in the office.    Yes, we were in the office 24 hours during that weekend after the assassination.       Also, we used to work very long hours.            We worked early and late; we worked weekends.     People would go out after working late.              They’d  go out and go someplace and have beer or wine or whatever they drank. We were all very, very engaged in our work.

You had asked a question after yesterday’s session about how this related to Tony’s work.             Tony was in the Tax Division at Justice, and then, at some point, he went into a small tax firm.             After I went to Legal Services, it really bothered me that he was doing this tax work.         We came very close to splitting up.                         One of the issues was that I was so engaged with — I mean there were always a lot of issues, but one of them was that I was so engaged with my work and he was making rich people richer,

doing tax work for them.        He ended up leaving that firm and setting up a firm — a public interest firm — in 1968, with Gladys Kessler, who’s  my friend who’s  now a District Judge.   And Ed Berlin, who had been my officemate  at Justice and then had gone to the Federal Power Commission.



I think he was General Counsel of the Federal Power Commission.             So


they set up this public interest law firm in 1968.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:








































Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


There must have been many stops between the disagreement and ….


I don’t  remember.       I do remember that at first they were saying, well, we have to have X number of clients before we can do this.             And then they ended up setting up the practice without that number.           I don’t  know, they may have had one or two clients.   But they certainly didn’t  have anything significant.

That firm still exists.   It went through a number of permutations, but it survives as Harmon, Curran, Spielberg,  I’m not sure.          Gail Harmon

— who is a very old friend of ours — Gail went into that firm when Tony was still there, and she’s  the principal partner who survived all the changes.         Ed left and set up a firm with Joe Swidler, who had been at the FPC.      Swidler and Berlin, which was just a normal law firm that makes a lot of money.   Gladys went on the bench.   First on the local court and then on the district court.            And Tony did other things.     He was at

NRDC, he was at Justice in the Carter administration.          But Gail kept that firm going, and it’s still a public interest law firm.

How did the– differences  in your views towards the practice work out? I mean these were discussions  that you had.

Probably; I’m not sure I remember.    But I think that Tony would say, I think he has said this in the past, that he saw how engaged I was with my work and he didn’t  feel that way about his work and he wanted to feel that




way about  his work.   From  my point of view, there were all these





dragons out there.       My colleagues and I were out there slaying dragons and Tony  wasn’t slaying any dragons.          But I don’t remember the




Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:


But you said it was almost  a cause for a break  up of your relationship. Well, it’s definitely the case that we almost  did split  up then, and that was part of it.       There are always  other  reasons.

And that was one of the other  things  that I asked  about.     You spoke  today about  how  you worked  long hours  and were very engaged with things. How one learns  to balance that with a personal  relationship?

I don’t have any memory ofhow that played  out before  we had kids. Once we had kids,  then it was a very plain  problem, which  we talked about,  and I’m  happy  to talk about  how we did that.    But we didn’t have kids until  ’71, so it wasn’t during  this period  oftime.

You want  to talk about  why  I left NLSP.    Well,  before  I do that I said there was one thing I did that was terrible and I think  that ought  to be on the record.   I probably did other  things  that were terrible, but one that I know  about  and that was when  the model  cities program [was created].

Well,  let me say a preliminary thing first.     When  you and I were talking,  we talked  about,  well, it was the Kennedy administration, and then it was the Johnson administration, and then it was the Nixon administration.            Which,  of course, is the way any of us would  think about that now.           I didn’t think about  it that way then.              Now, maybe  that was




just my naivete, my obliviousness.     I didn’t  appreciate the relative





progressiveness.             I wouldn’t even say relative.            I mean, in hindsight, knowing what I know now, as a scholar, I think Lyndon Johnson was the greatest social justice, civil rights President we had in 100 years, give or take.    I have immense admiration for his domestic policies.                       But I think I took all of that for granted when it was happening, and I mentioned yesterday we had a sit-in in Secretary  Weaver’s office.             I don’t  think I ever focused on the fact that he was the first African American to be a member of the cabinet.            I mean, he wasn’t  giving my clients what my clients wanted.          I was going after him hammer and tongs.      It was

completely  irrelevant to me that he was.       And he, I know now, he was an extremely distinguished  person.             He had done more for social justice in his life then I had even thought about doing.                       What a presumptuous  little jerk I was to be attacking Robert Weaver.                  But I didn’t  think about that at all.             I didn’t  know anything about his background.          He was just standing between what my clients had and what they wanted and I was after him.

I had no sense of depth or history about what was going on.             I had no


perspective on what was going on.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


That kind of addresses some of what I was wondering about — how you saw politics if at all?       Or if you were involved in politics?

Well, I certain}y was a Democrat  rather than a Republican.            And (END








Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:




the role politics played, and if there was any involvement  in it?

Well, we certainly  were against, I say we, Tony and I, certainly were antiwar.       We participated  in what must have been the May 1





Mobilization  at the Pentagon, as lawyers.     We were legal observers or whatever we were called.           And I think in a couple of demonstrations, we marched.   I always marched, because I felt that whenever there was a march.. . .                 But not August of ’63.             That one I didn’t  participate in.

But the antiwar things and then other marches.         Because I always felt that, living in Washington, it was so easy for me to go, it would be shameful  for me not to go.

I don’t  remember other political . . . .            I remember something at the National Cathedral, some antiwar thing at the National Cathedral.

You asked about Robert Kennedy’s assassination.     I don’t remember the struggle for the nomination.     I’m sure I was a McCarthy supporter before Kennedy announced.          I don’t  remember whether I shifted.   I don’t  remember  that.             I certainly remember when he was killed.      Because I remember  waking up and hearing “his vital signs,” and just instantly knowing that it was Bobby Kennedy.         I remember that.

don’t  remember where I was about Bobby Kennedy at that time.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Rois1nan:


You were going to talk about the model cities?


Okay, model cities.     There was a — the UPO organizers, Joan Cole, and the other organizers,  had put together a group of people.     The model cities program required citizen  participation.      They wanted to be the



citizen participation.   They had a number of meetings, and I went to all these meetings.    All the meetings were directed toward getting the District to work with this group and give this group some status as the citizen participation component,  and to be involved in developing the model cities plan.              Then there was a big meeting, an important meeting, where– probably what had happened, I can’t  remember for sure, but

probably what had happened was that the city had refused to designate this group as the citizen participation  [component].   It [the city] refused to let it [the group] participate in the development of the plan. It certainly was the case, unquestionably was the case, that leading up to this meeting I had understood and had said I was the lawyer [for the group].        I had looked at the law, I had said·that there would be grounds to sue the city, to make the city designate this group, and allow this group to be part of the planning process.         No question that I had presented that as what would happen if the city didn’t  do it voluntarily.           And at this important meeting, David Marlin was there, he was the Deputy Director for Law Reform.             And the Director of the [Neighborhood Legal Services]  program was there, Julian Dugas. When the issue was presented — I cannot remember what the interchanges  were– but the upshot was that I was saying to the group, ”I can’t  say to you at this moment that I will do this litigation.          We have rules about group representation.                        We have to satisfy those rules.           We have to go through the processes.”                        There is no question that I was the one who was betraying that group.



Now, I will do myself the justice to say that I  think that David and


Julian were at fault, too.         Because I think if I were there now, I would


say, screw the rules.    You are representing  them; go for it.             I would have figured out a way to do it.                         They didn’t  say a word.          They said nothing while this was going on.   But I take full responsibility for having– putting that kind of group together and doing the organizational  work, and then to have the lawyer say something like that.        All of a sudden you are

a stickler for the rules.


I knew I had done a terrible thing.      I knew it was terrible and the next day I called the organizers.          I must say they were very kind to me. There wasn’t  any question  I had done a terrible thing.          But they were, they were very generous  to me, which was undeserved on my part. They got Donald Rothschild,  who taught at GW, and Donald Rothschild filed

the suit for the group.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:











Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


Have you had discussions  with the neighborhood  legal services group, prior to that meeting, that made you say that?

Well, they certainly knew what I was doing. David certainly did.


Julian probably did.    They knew that I was working with the group; they knew that everything  was pointing in this direction, which I think is why I expected at that meeting that they would say, yes, we are going to do it. Had you talked to them before?     I can’t  imagine you ….

I don’t  know. The only thing I remember about that is that I did a terrible thing.   That I betrayed the organizers and the group.       That was




my personal responsibility.     And also that David and Julian sat silent





when they could have prevented that from happening.          I’m not saying this to blame them; I don’t.     I blame myself. But they had responsibility,  too.

I learned some really important lessons from that.     One of the lessons I learned was just to do what I thought I had to do.     Some time thereafter, I had drafted a cmnplaint.       I had written a complaint against the city.           Walter Washington  was the so-called mayor of Washington, and it named him.    He was the first named defendant.            I forget what it

was for; it may have been for failing to enforce the housing code at Clifton Terrace.          I think that was it, actually.          But it was a suit and I took it into the director’s office because you were supposed to have complaints approved or something.    And Julian told me told me not to file it and I said, “I’m  filing it.”   I walked out ofhis office and walked down to District Court and filed it.                   There was a direct connection between those two stories.           That was the lesson that I learned.      It was just, do what I think I need to do and devil take the hind quarters or whatever that expression IS.

When we get to talking about why I left NLSP there’s  a similar situation. So I learned just to heed my own drummer and not to get caught up in organizational  rules or bureaucratic  requirements.   I mean, you’re laughing, I’m laughing, but that’s  the way I was, and that’s  the way I was after that incident, and I was that way for the rest of the time that I


#4.1 worked for NLSP.           I was that way when I worked for the Housing Law


Project.            I was that way when I was in private practice.


I had a little law firm, and we represented,  we did a lot of tenant advocacy, but we also represented  housing authorities.      And the housing authorities knew– I mean, we didn’t  take a housing authority  client unless they knew what I did. And then the New York City Housing Authority General Counsel objected  to something  I was doing as a tenant advocate. And I said, “screw  you,” and I left the firm.             I mean that’s  just — but all

of that goes back to that first incident when I learned to follow my gut and do what I think I have to do.

We could cite some incidents here at the law school that would demonstrate that principle,  too.   But they wouldn’t be particularly relevant to this tape.             So I’m a good team player, in the sense that I contribute to the institution  and I take my institutional  responsibilities seriously,  as I think you would agree from your experience  here.         But when it’s a matter of conscience,  I follow my conscience,  I don’t  follow the rules.             And that experience– I probably had that in me anyway, but

that experience  solidified  it.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


At what point in time did that happen?          Do you have any recollection  of when this started?

Well, I think the model cities program was created in ’68, maybe.   So it probably was ’69.

Were you getting further along in your tenure?




Ms. Roisman:




Yeah, I think it was “69.






Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


So what else do you remember in terms of your developmental  progress in this position?

Well, probably the big thing is the public housing rent strike.          This is– · this goes back– now, today, as you well know, rents in public housing are based on a percentage of income.         But that didn’t  happen until I 968.   So this was before 1968.                     Before the Housing Act of 1968, public housing authorities  just charged whatever they wanted to charge for rent.      And, in fact, rents in public housing were going up because the buildings were getting older, and, as buildings get older, the maintenance costs are higher. With only a few little exceptions, there wasn’t  any federal subsidy for operating expenses.        The federal government  paid the capital costs and said, “”Have a nice life.”      Then, as the buildings got older, it cost more to maintain them, and the housing authorities  would just raise rents.  So there were cases in which people were paying 80 percent of their income for rent in public housing.

So during this time, the National Capital Housing Authority announced  that it was going to raise rents for many, many tenants, by a fairly significant  amount.             And this happened when the person in the Law Reform Unit who was responsible for public housing was away.     I think

it was Kirk White.       He must have been there from the beginning.            I was unclear about that.         But he was on vacation.     So, since I was the other


#4.1 housing person, because I did private housing, I had to learn about public


housing.          So I learned about public housing.


As I said, there were organizers  from UPO, and the organizers worked with public housing tenants, oasically trying to find a client who would sue.            We had a theory.         But of course you need a client in order file a lawsuit. And the organizer,  I remember in particular for reasons which will become clear, was a man named Herman Kitchens, who

worked for Friendship  House, which was a long-standing settlement  house in SouthEast.            It’s on Capitol  Hill; I think it was SouthEast.          But he had had a grant through UPO.             So he was –but there was a group of organizers  and there was a group of lawyers and we were working with

the organizers and– you’ll  be interested in this.


We said we had a terrific legal argument to stop the rent increase for a while and that was that the housing authority hadn’t given thirty days’ notice.       This is a very solid legal argument.    So the organizers said,

”Well,  what will happen if you win?”           “Well,  we’ll  get a preliminary injunction.     And then, if they can figure it out, they’ll  go back and give proper notice.      And it will be 30 days from the anniversary  date.             So it’ll be X number of months before they can implement  the rent increase.”

And the organizers said, “No.”           They said, “We’ve never been able to get the public housing residents together.          Bad conditions, oppressive management, didn’t rouse the people.     The only thing that roused them was this rent increase.    If you ameliorate the rent increase, the whole




movement will be destroyed. The oomph will be gone, there won’t be…..”

So we had a real crisis of conscience.            What do you do in that





situation?         Ultimately, we decided we have to try to get what relief we can get, and that we couldn’t sacrifice the immediate likely benefit to the clients, of saving three months’  rent increase, in the interest of keeping the movement  together.

Oh, but I get ahead of myself.            We had, we had two clients and one of them withdrew the day after there was a story in the Washington  Post about the law suit.           She was afraid, she said; her neighbors had told her she would lose her social security, so she withdrew.     One client.

I don’t  remember all the details now, but I know there was somebody on the NLSP Board who was also on the Friendship  House Board and Friendship House fired Herman. So, having learned my lesson, I said, “We’ll sue them and I’ll represent you.”         My basic line, by the way, what I’m famous for, is “We’ll sue them.” When I left D.C., I had been on the Board of the Washington  Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and they were saying, “Oh, we are going to miss you so much,” and I said, “No, you’re not; we’re  going to cut a tape that says ‘let’s sue them’ and you’ll  play it

at appropriate moments at the Board meetings.”        That’s  what I used to


be, not now.    But that’s  what I was —-


So I said, ‘”Don’t worry about it, Herman; I’ll  represent you.”          The lesson that I learned is:    you’ve got to be faithfuL      You can’t  betray




people.            It isn’t  a question of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.





probably never had said to that [model cities] group, yes, I will under any circumstance represent you, whether or not.            I probably had been careful about what I said, but there wasn’t  any question that they understood  that when they said sue, I would sue.     I wouldn’t  say come to my office and fill out forms.             I learned that lesson, so I said, ‘”‘”Don’t worry about it, Herman.”

So I did an internal grievance.                        I’m not stupid; I don’t  go to court first.          I did an internal grievance and Friendship  House rejected it and I filed a suit.          And it, at some point — I’m leaving out things because there was a new director ofNLSP and that’s  pertinent, too, but anyway, at some point the new director or the Board, I think the director, had me served with an order to show cause, period.       Not to show cause why anything. And to appear before the NLSP Board basically to justify why I was representing  Herman in this suit when somebody  from Friendship  House was sitting on the NLSP Board.       So that was a piece of it.    Another piece of it was there was a new Director ofNLSP who was very hostile, we thought, to the White lawyers who were there.    That was when the racism and the race issue really just bubbled up.

I can’t  remember  the details, but I’ll tell you what I do remember. remember it was very painful.             I remember going into a meeting and one of the Black lawyers, Tony Cramer, bless him, when I walked in –I’m going to cry when I say this after all these years.            I walked into the


meeting and Tony Cramer said to me “hey, sister.”   I learned a lot of lessons and one of the big lessons I learned is that a lot of people who





should have been supporting  me and others didn’t.  Only because they didn’t  want to oppose other Blacks.             So I’m talking about Black people in the program, who I know believed that what we were doing was right

and wanted to support us, wouldn’t  support  us because they didn’t  want to break racial ranks.     They didn’t  want to oppose this Black director who was using race as a very divisive thing.      And when Tony Cramer said,

“hey sister” to me, it just —



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


How many years later is this?


It’s almost 35 years later, it’s  breaking me up.           So– and there were some very funny things, and ….

This is at the hearing where you have to justify …. ?


Well then, no, no, no. This was at some meeting.      This was at some meeting, Board meeting, where all this race conflict was being dealt with. And two of the lawyers, two of the White lawyers in the program, and they were Dick Wolf and Roger Wolf, no relation to each other. I can’t remember  now who was in which office.             But one or both of them were in the office in Anacostia, one of the offices in Anacostia,  we had two. And this new Director, Jerry Byrd, sent staff to physically displace– I

can’t  believe that I can’t  remember whether it was Roger, Dick, or both of them. But, anyway, he sent staff to displace the White lawyer, and a group of clients chased the messengers  away from the office.             There was


#4.1 a lot of really– some of it was very gratifying; some of it was very funny.


But it was all deeply painful, deeply painful.             So that really, that was why I left the program.         I just said, “I’m representing  Herman.        I’m doing what I do,” and I left.

We filed Herman’s case in federal district court, because at that time if you wanted injunctive  relief you had to go to federal court. And we wanted reinstatement  and back pay.            This is so funny.         I forget who the judge was, maybe Judge Jones.    It must have been on cross motions for summary judgment.             The case is set for argument, and I go to court, and at that time outside the courtroom  would be posted the docket for the day.

So we are first and after us are the luminaries of the progressive bar.           Bill Kunstler from New York, Phil Hirschkopf,  who was a leading progressive lawyer in Virginia, and other people. Because they had a group of big cases against the Defense Department,  because the Defense Department was contracting  with textile mills in the South, they were segregating  their work forces.            I don’t  remember the details, but it was a big social justice law suit.       And this was– I had left NLSP, I was no longer working for

NLSP, but I was still representing Herman.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


You were representing him on your own?


Yes.     I’m in court on this case, and I say to myself, this is it, my career is made.               We are first on the docket;  I’m going to make this brilliant argument.    Bill Kunstler, Phil Hirschkopf, and all are going to say, ”who is that magnificent  advocate?   Who is that masked woman,” right?


#4.1 “Who is that woman?”    They will bring me into their legal activities and


my career is made as a progressive, left wing lawyer.


So our case is called, Kitchens vs. Friendship House, and I stand up and I do think it was Judge Jones.     And he says to me, “I understand your position, Mrs. Roisman.   I’ll hear from the defendant.” I often tell this story when I train because the lesson is to know when to keep your mouth shut. I said, “Thank  you, Your Honor,” and I sat down.            When a judge says that to you, you know that at this moment he’s on your side, unless the other side persuades him otherwise.         So, okay, ‘”Thank you, Your Honor” and I sat down, and the other side got up and whatever they said, they didn’t  persuade him.                        And he ruled for us on the spot.                But, of course, I didn’t get to show how brilliant I was.                     But we did win the case; we got Herman reinstated.      So — and that case went on.    The rent strike went on, the case went on, but I was gone from NLSP.

Ms. Wolf:        But that case went on with NLSP without you?


Ms. Roisman: Well, there were several pieces of that.          There was an affirmative suit that we had filed against the housing authority and that was in federal court and that went to the D.C. Circuit.          I think we won it; I can’t remember.        That was McKinney  vs. Washington,  I think.          No.      Yeah, I think it was McKinney  vs. Washington.*                         But the bulk of the rent strike activity was in defending individual  landlord/tenant  cases in

Landlord-Tenant Court.          That was done by a lot of the lawyers in the





McKinney v. Washington, 442 F.2d 726 (D.C. Cir. 1978), see also Thompson v. Washingron, F.2d 626 (D.C. Cir. 1973).


#4.1 program. Chris Brown, who teaches at Maryland; do you know Chris?


He’s a dear friend.          Chris was a Reggie with us, and he says that I sent them all into Landlord-Tenant  Court to defend these cases.**           He’s  very funny about that.    Our thing in Landlord-Tenant Court was always to make a jury demand and have a jury trial, so there were a lot of jury trials.

















































** “Reggies” were  Reginald  Heber Smith  Fellows, funded by the  Legal Services Corporation.



A funny story, if s not relevant to anything.   The judge who was handling those cases was Byron Sorrel.             He was from Prince George’s County, Maryland; he was White; he was very conservative.           I certainly thought he was a racist, and he was very hostile to our lawyers.    He once threatened to jail one of our lawyers.    It was a rule that you didn’t  go into his court alone. Somebody always had to be with you.             Because if he sent you to jail we wanted somebody [there]. It was like being– it

wasn’t  really like being in Mississippi– but it was pretty bad.


He had the public housing rent strike cases and he was being terrible to the clients.                        There were lots of people there, and he made a pregnant woman stand up for hours and he was terrible to the lawyers.             There was some story about his having held in contempt somebody who was wearing sunglasses.             So I –by now I was teaching. I was teaching at Catholic, but of course I was keeping track of what was going on. So I went to his court one day wearing sunglasses.   I sat in the front row of his

courtroom.      At some point his bailiff came over to me and said, ”Judge Sorrel would like to see you in chambers, at the recess.”         I said, okay, and went into his chambers at recess.    He wanted to talk to me about his son, who was a student of mine.     He could not have been nicer to me.

He never commented on the fact that I was wearing sunglasses.


Ms. Wolf:        So he knew you were teaching?         For the whole series of things that you talked about at the end of your career with the Neighborhood  Legal Services Program, it was wrought with all kinds of emotion?




Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:





And at the same time in your personal  family  life, your husband  was starting  his firm.   Any tangential memories from that?   Supportive?






Ms. Roisman:








Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


Tony was always  very, very supportive.       He was supportive when  I left Justice  and went to NLSP, and I’m  sure he was very supportive during this, but I don’t remember.

One would  think you needed  to have support then?


Yes, I’m  sure he was.             I don’t have specific memories, but I’m  sure that he was.     He always  was.

And this is in D.C. and your family  was still in New York,  your Mom, your sister?



Was their reaction  about  your career  or activity with them?


No.      No.      I was pretty  much out there doing  my thing.            (Laughter) Did you go back for holidays?

I’m  sure I did.              Yes, I’m  sure.            I’m  sure  I did.            And Tony’s family  was in Oklahoma.            We went there from  time to time and they came.

Oh, was Tony  also Jewish? Yes.

So your holidays were the same. Right.

Did you have a way of splitting families and holidays, where  you would be?




Ms. Roisman:











Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:




No.      I mean it’s  not like Christmas.           There isn’t  a holiday like that. Probably Thanksgiving — is not a religious holiday.        It would be Thanksgiving.      I don’t  remember what we did, but we probably did divide it in some way, but I can’t  remember.

When your family grew did you get to keep your little car?


We kept it through the second child, which is really horrifying  to





remember, because this is a two seater sports car with a little well in the back and we had two child seats bolted into the back.   Very unsafe. really cannot believe that we did it, but we did.           After the second child, we thought, well, it might be time to get a grown-up car.        So that would

have been “74, the second child.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:


You mentioned  the other day that you liked to have parties -­ We always entertained  a lot.

And how did you balance that and with everything else going on? Well, we didn’t  have kids, and, I don’t  think we considered  that particularly burdensome.   I liked, liked, making this in the past tense, to

cook, and I used to cook if we were having a dinner party.   I would spend a day cooking.             But if I cooked, Tony would clean up.            That kind of division. But —

This also may seem a strange question, but in terms of your professional career and your awareness of the civil rights and how things were going, in terms of your social groups, were they very diverse, during that era?




Ms. Roisman:
































Ms. Wolf:











Ms. Roisman:





Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:



I wouldn’t  say they were very diverse.          No, I certainly don’t  think they were very diverse.   Fred Abramson, whom I mentioned,  who was at Justice when I was there.            Tony and I became very friendly with Fred and with his partner, Clyde.                       We used to play bridge with them.     I used to play bridge; that’s  pretty funny because I have no card sense.       We used to play bridge, and when I think about it, Fred was a Black gay man.             So, so burdensome, so hard.   Because this was in the ’60s,  the early ’70s.        I don’t  think a lot of people knew that he was gay then, although later he

was very public about it — afterward.            But other than that, the people we were particularly  friendly with were White people, except for Fred.

Well, after I started teaching, I became very friendly with some people who are not White.

And that’s  the next era that I think we got to because there’s  all this development  and things that you are now keenly aware of that weren’t front and center in your life.         So I was just curious about that portion. And–

I don’t  even think I was keenly aware.          I didn’t  become keenly aware of race issues until 1987, I would say.

Even with the rent strikes and everything?


I never thought about them as race issues.     At least not predominantly as race Issues.      In fact, there’s  an issue that divides the housing

community– the low-income  progressive housing community– did then, and does now. John Calmore  wrote a fairly well known article called


#4.1 “”Fair Housing Versus  Fair Housing” that raises this. *           The basic problem


is that the federal  government has essentially said to the country,  if you let us segregate housing on the basis of race, we’lllet you have subsidized housing, and if you insist on its being racially desegregated, we are not going to let you have the housing.      That’s pretty  much  the deal and in those years I was very much on the side of:            I want that housing.    I don’t care whether it’s segregated or desegregated.             Iwant more housing production; Iwant more housing subsidies.  Idon’t care where it is or whether it’s integrated or not.             Iwasn’t focused  on that [racial segregation] as an issue.       Iwas focused  on antipoverty and didn’t see

how connected it was to race.             Ithink one of the reasons Iam as focused on race as Iam now is because it took me so long to see it.     That light bulb went off in 1987.

Ms. Wolf:        Shall  we go ahead  to “87, for that light bulb, since  we are talking  about  it?

























  • john 0. Calmore, Fair Housing vs. Fair Housing: The Problems wirh Providing Increased Housing Opportunities Through

Sparial Deconcentration, 14 Clearinghouse Rev. 7 (1980).




Ms. Roisman:



Well, we can do that and — what was I doing in “87?            I must have been in my firm then, I guess.     And there was a — yes, I was in the firm.   And there was a privately owned housing development  in Virginia, in suburban Virginia, that changed hands.         It was a big development,  I think like 500 units.      And the new owners announced that they were going to

rehabilitate  the develop1nent and make it into a gorgeous new development.         And in order to do that, they were sadly going to have to evict all of the people who lived there at the time.           I know this was in The Washington  Post and I’m sure it was on television and Northern Virginia Legal Services was kind of involved in it, and one of the Georgetown  clinical programs, the Institute for Public Representation. There was a fellow there, Mercedes Marquez, who [had] graduated from

law school.      She was there on a two-year fellowship, getting her masters, and she was very involved in it.             And she in particular, but also other people, from time to time would call me.        Because, you know, I’m a housing expert, allegedly.          So they would call me and say, “”What can we do, what can we do?”             I asked them questions.           Well, Virginia

landlord-tenant law was still in the I ih century, so there didn’t  seem to be


any handles there, and so far as anybody knew, there wasn’t  any federal money involved, and I asked about other things, and there didn’t  seem to be any handles.          And finally I said, “”Well what color are the tenants?” And the answer was, “”They’re all Black and Hispanic.”   And I said,


“Well,  then, we’ll  make it a fair housing case.         We’ll  make it a civil rights case.”





When I tell the story I say, and it’s true, at that time, I didn’t  know what Title VIII was Title VIII of.       I knew there was a Fair Housing law. I did know that, and I knew it was called Title VIII.   I knew nothing

about civil rights law, because I considered. . . .        After all, it was 1987, so I had been doing this for 20 years, right?    But I did low-income  housing. And other people do civil rights housing.    The National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, which existed for a number of those years.           I would sometimes go to their meetings, and I felt what they were doing was really interesting.      But I thought it was something else.           It wasn’t  what I was doing.    I didn’t  see any relationship. I thought, okay, well, we’ll  use Title VIII, whatever Title VIII is, let’s  go find out what Title VIII is Title VIII of.

So we brought this suit and I say we.             It was my law firm –but we probably did it on behalf of the National Housing Law Project, because at that time they were, I don’t  remember exactly what our relationship  was, but we probably had a contract with them.           And also Northern Virginia Legal Services.          And maybe our firm. Maybe we were in it — I can’t remember.       And we had figured out this bizarre theory to file the case in D.C., because everybody  said filing it in Virginia, forget it.         Yeah, state court was impossible. District Court; we have to file it in D.C.        So we had this very, very tenuous theory to file it in D.C.           We filed it in D.C.




And cases in D.C. at that time and still today get assigned by rotation,





blind rotation, by the clerk’s office.    It was assigned to Harold Greene. May he rest in peace.       I’ll  tell you in retrospect he was probably the only

judge on that court who would have given us relief. Harold Greene.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


Would have given you … ?


Would have given us relief.    So we went in and I can’t  remember if we went in on a TRO, first. We wanted to stop the evictions, and keep the people there and then litigate about the legal issues.      I think we went in on a TRO and he denied it, and then we went in on a preliminary injunction.          Something  like that.

Here’s  one of the very good things that I do.             I’ll tell you another story another time that illustrates this.             I don’t  go into these cases to be

the big shot.    I go in to help younger lawyers learn how to do things.        So I didn’t  argue this.             I think it was argued by a young woman from Northern Virginia Legal Services, either that or by a young person from

my firm.          One of the two.           But I remember sitting at counsel table and thinking to myself, if he imposes Rule 11 sanctions I’rri going to have to pay them because I — I mean I made up this law suit.             That’s what I do, I make up law suits.            And he– as I say, I think he denied the TRO.            He did give us a preliminary  injunction, and put us on a very fast trial schedule.

At that point I went to the [NAACP]  Legal Defense Fund. Barry


Goldstein was then head of the Washington office.   And I said, if you


#4.1 guys don’t  come into this case I assure you I will screw it up. I said, first


of all, I’m not a trial lawyer.   I don’t  know how to try cases.           And, secondly, I don’t  know civil rights law.                 I went to another who shall remain nameless civil rights lawyer who didn’t  respond.         But Barry responded and so they came into the case, LDF came into the case.   So Barry, and Barry was the lead lawyer.            He knew what he was doing. didn’t  know what I was doing.                        But we were doing two or three depositions a day.           A lot of document discovery, really heavy duty pretrial stuff           And I remember sitting in court listening  to Barry argue a discovery motion — when that light bulb went off             [END OFTAPE 3







JULY 27, 2006




This is Mary Wolf and Florence Roisman on July 27, 2006 at the Indiana University


School of Law to continue the Oral History of Professor Roisman.





Tape #4



Ms. Roisman:















































And the light bulb went off and I realized — we’re  in court.  Judge Greene had said that we would have to prove intentional discrimination.  Not disparate impact, intentional  discrimination, which, as a matter of law,

with all due respect to Judge Greene, was not accurate.  But that’s  what he said we would have to prove.  And sitting in the court listening to Barry argue this discovery motion, I realized that there really was intentional racial discrimination  here.  That if this had been a development  full of White people, the developers  would have handled the rehabilitation  in a different way.  They wouldn’t be evicting everybody.  They wouldn’t  have brought this heavy duty machinery  onto the place and started tearing down empty buildings without taking into account what the impact would be on the other tenants.  We had gotten stuff in discovery that was very strong evidence of intentional racial discrimination  with respect to marketing and other aspects.  That light bulb went on, and I thought to myself, you imbecile,  what have you been doing for 20 years doing this work without taking race into account?


And then, like all converts, I became a zealot.  I started doing a lot of reading and paying attention  to race issues, and that’s  why now, I teach in this area, I write in this area, I train.  Almost everything  I’ve done for

the last — since 1987, deals with racial issues.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:

Ms. Roisman:


So many years after the experience  you had with Dr. Martin Luther King. Can you tell us if there was ever a race issue in it?

I just didn’t  focus on that until that light bulb went off, I saw it. What happened with the case?

Oh, we settled.  We did get a preliminary injunction, as I mentioned,  and then we got a very good settlement  that kept the tenants, got them subsidies, I don’t  remember the details.  But it was a very good settlement and it included — Barry was a fabulous lawyer, fabulous lawyer. Thorough, careful, smart.  And there were other lawyers at LDF.  They had a whole team.

Some of our clients were undocumented. I remember there was an issue about that and that Judge Greene took care of it, making sure that they weren’t  going to get into any trouble because of their immigration

status.  And some years later, not years later, maybe a year later, sometime later.  I am sure that he knew, there’s no doubt in my mind that he knew, that he was pushing the envelope.  He was pushing the envelope to keep

the case.  That was the pushing the envelope.  Once he had the case, we had a case, we had a good case.  But it was pushing it, to keep it in D.C. And sometime  later, maybe a year later, I was at some kind of bar


luncheon and I happened to see him and he said, “”Well, Mrs. Roisman, how are your clients in Alexandria?” He knew what he had done.  After he kept the case, I wanted to send him flowers.  I wanted to fill his chambers with flowers.  I had a number of cases before him …. and he was quite wonderful and certainly maybe the most wonderful … .

The first time I represented  Mitch Snyder and the Community  for

Creative Non-Violence,  in 1980 …. Oh, we’d need several hours to talk about Mitch.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:





















Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


Now you’re  talking seven years prior before this light bulb on?


But it’s Judge Greene.  It’s a Judge Greene story and we’ll come back at some point and fill in about Mitch and CCNY, but the City had been using [as shelters] two public schools that were not being used as schools.  The City had been using them for shelters, emergency shelters for homeless men.  This is in 1980 when homelessness  first became a real problem.

And then the City said it was going to sht  down the shelters.  And so, we were in court on an application  for a temporary  restraining order to prevent that from happening.   Mitch had come to us on a Friday.

We’re back on the tape to continue the story about Judge Greene.


I think Mitch and Mary Ellen Hombs and the other people from CCNY


came to us, I think it was on a Friday, and Ilene Jacobs, who is now


co-litigation  director at California Rural Legal Assistance,  was then a law student co-oping in our office, I think.  She was at Northeastern.   And I went to Ilene and I told her what was going on and I said, “”If you’ll  work


with me this weekend, I’ll represent them.”  And she, of course, said, ‘”Yes, do it.”  So, we worked all weekend, and I remember we drove out to Judge Greene’s house to leave the papers for him, I think Saturday night, and we had to have a hearing on the TRO Sunday morning.

Mitch used to say, ”You  get the judge G-d wants you to get,” and although I’m not a religious person, my experience certainly bore out Mitch’s  comment.   Anyway, we went into court before Judge Greene and we’re  arguing that he should issue a TRO to prevent the District from closing these two shelters, and our argument is a due process argument, procedural due process.  I argue and the Corporation Counsel argues.  The courtroom is full of homeless men and press.  And at the end of the argument, Judge Greene delivers from the bench an oral opinion.  He says, “…The plaintiffs are asking this court to take the due process clause

further than anybody’s taken it yet.  But in light of the grievous irreparable injury that’s  threatened  and what I’ve ….”blah blah blah blah blah.  He says he grants the injunction. The courtroom, the men in the courtroom, break out into cheers and applause.  It was a great moment.

We’re walking out of the court room, Ilene and I and these people from the Corporation  Counsel’s office, and the Assistant Corporation Counsel says to me, ‘”We’ll house them, but we won’t  feed them.”  They had been giving the men a hot meal at night.  So I said, ‘”Come with me to the judges chambers,” and we go back in chambers and I tell the judge

what this lawyer has said and the lawyer says, ‘”Oh, we’ve got this catering


contract and we ended the contract and so we can’t  feed them.”  And Judge Greene says, “”You feed those men.  I don’t  care where you get the food; you can get it from the Statler Hilton, but you feed those men.”  This is why he was a wonderful judge, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful judge. And Mitch was my all-time most favorite client, we’ll  have to talk more

about Mitch.



Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:


So we have the story up to the 1970s, and we’ll start it there at the Legal Services Project and then move out from there.  That’s where we’ll  pick up, okay?

Okay, great.  Thank you.






MARCH 30, 2007





Ms. Wolf:


We are at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.   Professor Florence Roisman is continuing  her oral history with Professor Mary Wolf and we left off when Professor Roisman had stopped working with the D.C. Neighborhood  Legal Services Project, and we are going to begin when she

left that position and so I would tum it over to Florence and ask what







Ms. Roisman:


happened at that point.


Thank you.  We should say it’s  2007, so we have the right March 30t11





I left



NLSP and went to teach at Catholic University School of Law in D.C.  Clint Bamberger was the Dean.  Clint had been the first person to hold the title Director ofOEO’s Office of Legal Services and– I don’t  remember

exactly — I think he had run for attorney general of Maryland when Sargent Shriver ran for governor  and then Clint went to Catholic as Dean of the law school.  He brought in a number of young, progressive,  legal services kinds of people to teach and he brought in a number of minority students and I was

one of the people who went to teach at Catholic.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


What did you teach?


I taught property and I taught a housing law course; I think I called it urban housing; I don’t  remember.   I taught a somewhat  untraditional  property course. I used to begin the course with Goldberg v. Kelly to discuss new notions of property.




Interview  ofF. Roisman  # 5.1  (3-30-07)_(EAST_50332786_1 ).DOC


I had said previously that there were relatively few women teaching law at that time and that’s  true, although Clint hired several women.  There were several women, Jane Dol kart, I remember, was on the faculty then.  Jane and I were both teaching property and we used to meet with two young faculty members at Georgetown  who also were teaching property.  All of us were progressive people; we were looking to change the property curriculum.  The two young Turks at Georgetown  were Richard Chused and Judy Areen.  Judy, of course, went on to become the dean, a very successful dean, at Georgetown.

I stayed at Catholic for four years.  One of my vivid memories is that the


Summer before I started teaching there, Clint kept talking about how important it was that this was a Catholic law school, Catholic, Catholic, Catholic, and I kept thinking, what is a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx doing at this Catholic law school?  Then at some point that Summer I realized that when Clint said “Catholic” what he meant was social justice.  So we were always fine and we didn’t  have any issues at all.  I thought Clint was wonderful; I still think he is wonderful.   He had said at one point that he was going to teach me to be politic; that certainly was one ofhis failures.  He did not succeed in that.

I know you are interested in gender issues.  I don’t  remember any particular gender issues at Catholic.  What I vividly remember is Clint’s putting together a really diverse student body.  One of the people who was in my class who has become a lifelong friend was Ginger Patterson, who has long been a professor at Georgetown  and then was Deputy Director of AALS.


She has told the story about how Clint persuaded her to go to Catholic rather than I think Georgetown.   And Karen Hastie Williams, the daughter of Judge Hastie and the goddaughter  of Thurgood  Marshall, was in that class at Catholic.  Jon Lash, who is the head of World Resources Institute- Jon is not a person of color but he too is a lifelong friend.  Great students.  A number of

people who have continued to be friends since then.



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Ms. Wolf:


One question, do you have any recollection of what percentage would have been female?

I don’t  remember;  I don’t  remember at all.  It was in 1971 that I had my first child, so I was pregnant when I was teaching at Catholic,  which was very. funny.  It was funny because I was teaching property and at some point when we were talking about landlord/tenant law a student said that someone had been “sort of evicted” and I said, “you can’t  talk about somebody being sort of evicted:  either you were evicted or you weren’t  evicted.”  I said, “it’s like saying that someone is a little bit pregnant,” and this was just at the point when I was either gaining weight or was pregnant and the students of course didn’t  know which and so a titter of nervous laughter ran through the classroom and I told them that I was indeed a little bit pregnant.

They were wonderful.  They had a shower for me at the end of the year. My first child, my son, was born in June, just when I finished grading exams. It was good timing.  So the students had had a shower for me at the end of

that school year.


This was your first year teaching?


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Ms. Roisman:


It was my first year full-time teaching.  We had team-taught a poverty law course at Georgetown for several years.  We, the people in the law reform unit, Larry Silver, Maribeth Halloran, and I think Peter Smith was part of that.  It was just the three or four of us.

I was curious about the transition  from representation  of individuals and groups to instruction.

Well, actually, I continued to represent people.  I became associated  with the National Housing Law Project, which was the legal services backup center located then in Berkeley, California.   I became their D.C. person in 1971, I think, but certainly in that first year of teaching, I did some litigation  for them and I did other things for them, so we were litigating and students worked on those cases.

I remember that Ted Voorhees, who is now a partner in Covington  and Burling, worked on a case that we brought in federal court involving  a project, Brentwood Village, that was being rehabilitated  without making any effective provision for relocation of the tenants.  So I was teaching and litigating and doing other advocacy at the same time.

What I do remember, and it’s  funny in retrospect– although I did publish two articles during that period of time, I taught at Catholic for four years, from seventy to seventy-four,  and I published two articles then but I really didn’t  have any focus on publication.   I didn’t  have any focus on getting tenure.  I think I was an associate professor.   I don’t  remember ever even thinking about promotion or tenure; maybe I just knew I wasnt going to


keep doing that for a very long time, but I do know that I wasn’t  thinking


about that.



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The property course, was that a first year course?


It was a required first year course.  It was full year, probably six credits.


And do you have any recollection  of the classroom instruction, the students, or the exchanges with students at that period of time.

Well, one of the things I remember is I started out teaching the way I had been taught.  I went to Harvard Law School.   I don’t  know whether it’s  Professor Casner or Professor  Byse who was supposed to be the model for the professor in The Paper Chase.  I have actually never seen the movie or read

the book, but one or both of them was supposed  to be the model and I had had them both.  And I taught the way I had been taught, which was a fairly intimidating  way of teaching,  I think.

When Jon Lash was in my class, which I think was that first year, seventy to seventy-one, Jonathan had done his undergraduate work at Harvard, he had a masters in education from Catholic, and he had been a trainer in the Peace Corps.  He thought I had potential as a teacher.  He didn’t  think I was very

good, but he thought I had some potential.  So he used to send little notes after class.  This sounds very presmnptuous,  but it wasn’t  presumptuous.

Because he was your student?


He was my student.  He was charming.  This was not at all presumptuous and I didn’t  at all take offense.  He wasn’t  very much younger than I was at this point.  That hasn’t  changed.  He would send me little notes after class and


they would begin, “Professor  R.,” and then he would comment on how I had done things in class.  One of the things that he pointed out was that there was a student in the class named Don Helrung, who had just come back from service in Vietnam.  I had called on Don and he had put his hands to his chest and said, ”Don’t hurt me,” as he began his answer.  Jonathan  pointed out to

me that this was someone who had just come back from combat duty who was afraid of me, which suggested  that I was being unduly intimidating  in class and I took his point very much to heart.

I don’t  think I knew then that Jonathan’s father was Joe Lash who was the friend and biographer  of Eleanor Roosevelt and I am quite sure that I didn’t know then that Joe Lash used to send notes to Eleanor Roosevelt that were headed, “Mrs. R.”  But at some point I learned that and I realized that, wittingly or unwittingly,  Jonathan was reproducing  that in his “Professor R.” notes to me.  I wish I had kept them.  I wish I had them.  I did not keep them.

So I learned a lot of lessons from Jonathan and then I learned a lesson from his father.  His father came to Jonathan’s graduation and by that time I had read some of Joe Lash’s  writing and I wanted to tell him and probably did tell him how much I admired his work.  He wasn’t  at all interested in anything I had to say about him; what he was interested in was what I had to say about his son.  I loved his son; I thought his son was fabulous; and that was what

Joe Lash wanted to hear.


Also, Jonathan  was the victim of my mission to encourage students to go into public interest work.  I wanted Jonathan to go into public interest work, I


wanted probably all my students  to go into public interest work.  Jonathan clerked for Frank Coffin on the First Circuit and then went to the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. which I would consider as public interest work but wasn’t  really what I wanted Jonathan to do.  I didn’t  want him to be a prosecutor.  Some years later he sent me a postcard that said he was floating in the ocean off Martha’s Vineyard (his family had a place at Martha’s

Vineyard) and thinking about his career and he realized that he shouldn’t be a prosecutor.  He had specific reasons that he discussed about why he shouldn’t be a prosecutor and said he was going to do real public interest work.  What he did then, I think, was to go to work for NRDC, but in any event he has been an environmental  lawyer since then.  He worked for NRDC.  He was head of Vermont’s environmental  department  when Madeline Kunin was governor of Vermont and he later came back to D.C. to head the World

Resources Institute when Gus Speth left WRI, so he has had a great career.



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Ms. Roisman:


And an impact on your teaching?


Oh, he had a very powerful impact on my teaching.  People here still say I am inti1nidating, but they have no idea what I used to be like.

Do you have any recollection  of how you changed your teaching after those comments?

I don’t  remember specifically,  but I certainly thought about trying to be not intimidating  and trying to be supportive and affirming while maintaining  high standards and that’s  what I try to do now.  Jonathan certainly did alert me to


being less intimidating  and I am sure he had other suggestions that I followed


but I can’t  remember now what they were.



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Ms. Roisman:


You indicated that students worked on cases with you.  Did this happen from the very beginning, your first year teaching?

I think so, because I remember Ted Voorhees in particular working on the Brentwood Village case and I think Ted and Jonathan were classmates and they were classmates with Ginger and Karen Hastie Williams, so I think that was all the first year that I was teaching.

And then, perhaps, I don’t  remember in which year, but Antioch Law School had started about that time. Jean and Edgar Cahn started it.  Jean had been at G.W.; she had established  the Urban Law Institute there, to give, as I recall, masters degrees to people who were going to do legal services kinds of public interest work.  Then Jean and G.W. had a falling out and my sense of it was Jean said, “Phooey  on you, I will make my own law school,” and she and Edgar got Antioch to create a law school in D.C.

I had two relationships  with Antioch.  One was that after Antioch’s first year, a large number of students left Antioch and came to Catholic.  They had not had property because property was not a first year course at Antioch and so I taught a property course to those students from Antioch; again, a number of them have become friends for life.  Bert Mason, Dave Morrison, Craig Livingston, Bob Firehock, and other people who were in that group.  They were a special group of people– Antioch attracted very remarkable people, so that was a wonderful class.


And my other relationship with Antioch was I that I taught there as an adjunct.  I sometimes taught property there and I sometimes  taught my housing law course there, over a number of years.  I can’t  remember what I taught when, but I often taught students from Antioch.  For many, many years it was the case that whenever I did a legal services training or met legal services people there would be at one person who had been at Antioch.

often ran into those people.



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Ms. Roisman:


Yet you stayed at Catholic?


I taught at Catholic for four years and that’s also when we started to have our children.

So you mentioned that during your first year of teaching was when you had your son?



And was that the beginning of the Summer?  Did you continue teaching during the Summer?  Did they have Summer school?

No, I never taught in the Summer, but I would come to work in the Summer preparing classes.  I remember, I used to bring the baby with me to the office and I remember once Clint’s coming to the door of my office with someone and saying, “Oh, we can’t  talk to Professor Roisman right now; she’s  nursing her baby.”  I brought the baby to the office in the Summer.  The children were born– Abram was born in June of ’71, Rachel was born in June of ’74, also when I was teaching, and then BJ was born in March of ’76.   I wasn’t

teaching in ’76.


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Did you specifically choose to begin your family at a point and time when you were teaching?

No, it was just a coincidence  that I was teaching then. Because you were also practicing at the same time.

Yes, I was practicing, I was teaching, and we had the baby.


And so one of the question sometimes  I think women frequently ask is how did you balance?  How did you have time to do all these things?

Well, one of my dear friends of long standing is Judith Lichtman, who recently retired as founding Executive Director of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund.  Judith of course is an ardent feminist.  She is now in her retirement raising money for Hillary Clinton.

Judy and I used to say that we often were presented with this question by young women, ”Is it possible to do both, perhaps to do all three, to be a wife, a mother, and a lawyer?,” and we would say, ”Yes,  as long as you don’t  care how badly you do each of them.”  I do think there is something to that.  I

think one has to lower one’s  standard of perfection to do all those things.  But I said then and it’s true that I had a very liberated husband who actually took an equal role in responsibilities with respect to the kids.  I think that’s  how we did it.  I don’t  know how we did it.  When I look now at our colleagues who have young children, the women who have young children, I have no idea

how they manage to teach and write and raise their kids and deal with their spouses, but somehow they do.  And we did it, somehow.

Because your husband also had a demanding job.


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Ms. Roisman:


Yes, he did.  But we had a very effective arrangement.   I think this was our arrangement  from the time the kids were little.  First of all, I had almost two months before I went back to really full time work.  We had a housekeeper who would come, I think, at ten o’clock  in the morning and stay until three, something  like that.  I am a morning person and Tony wasn’t  a morning person, so I would get up early in the morning.  I would nurse the baby, and I would go to work, but I would be back at three.  Tony would stay with the baby or kids or however many we had at the time until ten o’clock  and then he would go to work and he would come back at six or seven, whenever he came back.  So we had about equal amounts of time with the kids.  I think I did do most of the cooking.  I usually did the cooking, because he would usually clean up after dinner.  So it was a pretty even division.  Then we

divorced in 1980 and we had joint custody of the kids.  He had them for half a week and I had them for half a week.  So then, too, he had half the responsibility  for the kids and it worked very welL  In fact, we had friends who said they wanted to have that kind of division but without the divorce. Going hack to the continuation  at Catholic, do you have any other memories of your teaching career at Catholic after your first year and then I assume Antioch was your second teaching experience.

No, I taught full time at Catholic from seventy to seventy-four.   I doubt that I was teaching at Antioch then; I think my teaching at Antioch was probably after that.  I have lots of 1nemories from Catholic  but I think the things that are significant  are that I was teaching a somewhat  unconventional  property


course.  I was teaching poverty issues.  I don’t  think I was teaching race issues.  And I was teaching this urban housing course which certainly focused on low income housing.  Again, I don’t  recall to what extent I talked about

race issues in the housing law course.



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Now this was between ’71  and ’74-75? Seventy and seventy-four.

And so your children were still preschool at that point and time? Right.

Did they stay at home with the housekeeper?


They did until they were three.  When Abram was three we sent him to a wonderful preschool which originally was called Columbia Road School and then was called the Barbara Chambers Children’s Center.  Barbara Chambers had been director of the preschool and she died very young, a very terrible loss.  It was a racially and economically  integrated preschool.  It took kids who were three, four, and five and the student body was racially and economically  integrated, the staff was, too.  It was a fabulous place, and both

Abram and Rachel went there and then went to Georgetown  Day, which was a private school.  BJ went to Columbia Road school when she was three, but early on was identified  as having very significant learning disabilities  and other issues and so after that she always went to a school for kids with

learning disabilities.


When you spoke about the racially and economically  diverse group at the preschool  I was interested, you know, did folks receive funding to go to the


school?  Did this have anything to do with the movements at the beginning at


that time or…



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Ms. Roisman:


I am sure they did, because Columbia Road School was set up after 1968 but I don’t remember anything about how the funding worked. One of the things that was wonderful about the school was that there were rich White kids and very poor White kids and there were rich African American kids and very

poor African American kids and there were rich Latino kids and very poor Latino kids, so the stereotypes that many bring to that kind of mixture didn’t work at that school.  You couldn’t tell by looking at someone’s color or ethnicity whether that person were from a wealthy family or a poor family. We had White kids whose mothers were on food stamps and the kids had wonderfully diverse best friends.  It was really a fabulous, fabulous place. Hearing about this makes me wonder if you have any observations on how

that experience may have changed your children’s development as opposed to development of other folks whom you knew along the way or yourself.

It’s a good question and I don’t know an answer to it. We lived in a neighborhood called Crestwood that was a racially diverse neighborhood. One next-door neighbor was an African American family and in one of the families across the street, the woman was African American and her husband was White, so there were a lot of households of color.  Ginger and Jerry

Patterson moved into that neighborhood a while later and their kids were very close to my kids when they were growing up and we all had a neighborhood Summer day camp that had diverse counselors.  In fact, I think all the


counselors might have been African American.  We hired the counselors and the kids were every color, shape, and size available.

I don’t  know how that affected my kids.  I do remember that when Abram was very young, maybe four or five, he came home and used the N word.  I was of course horrified and I said, that is a horrible word, you should never use it, it’s used to denigrate people and it’s  used against people like-­ and I mentioned our next door neighbors on our left and Kathy across the street, the African-American  woman who was forever giving Abram cookies. So, he certainly took that lesson very much to heart.  The older kids went to Georgetown  Day School, which was a very progressive school that had been founded to be a racially integrated school during the New Deal.  People who came to work for the Roosevelt Administration  and the New Deal faced a

public school. ..



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Ms. Roisman:


And Florence Roisman was talking about the Georgetown School where her children attended and its origins.

Yes, it’s  Georgetown Day School.  It actually wasn’t  in Georgetown  at this time; it probably started out in Georgetown.  It was created — I remember that Phileo Nash was one of the founders.  It was created to be an integrated

school and that was one of the reasons that Tony and I sent the kids there. had had lunch one day with friends and colleagues,  all very progressive people, and asked them where they sent their kids to school and they all said Georgetown  Day.  It was really an easy choice for us to send the kids there.


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You had talked about the racial and economic diversity in the preschool.  Was the economic diversity also present in the Georgetown school?

No.  That’s a very good question and unfortunately  the answer is no.  They


had some scholarship  money but I don’t  think they had nearly enough.  It was


a very progressive and good school.  When Rachel was in maybe fourth grade, the kids did some sort of program, probably for Dr. King’s birthday, and

Rachel and one of Judy Lichtman’s daughters and one of Marcia Greenberger’s daughters  were in this program.  Judy and Marcia and I, along with many other parents, went to the program and at the end of the program everybody stood and clasped hands and sang “We shall overcome.”  Judy and Marcia and I were totally dissolved in tears.  And my daughter said to me afterward, “I am never letting you come to school again; you embarrassed  me terribly.”  She did not want me to come to school again.

Because you cried? Because we cried, right.

This takes off from your going to the school with your child then and when you were previously speaking about the Summer camp in your neighborhood you indicated we hired the counselors.  So in addition to the child rearing in the home and the teaching and your work with the housing group, you found time to spend in extracurricular  activities with your children.

We all did that.  We had a neighborhood  play group for the kids and wonderful people.  Ginger and Jerry Patterson were part of it, certainly in the Summer; I am not sure they were part of it during the year.  Gail and John


Harmon — Gail is the one who ended up taking over the firm that Tony, Gladys, and Ed had started and John is a surgeon — and Rob and Mary Ann Stein, Mary Ann now runs the Moriah Foundation; it funds a variety of public interest things.  They are now divorced but Rob also has done a lot of public interest work and a lot of fundraising  for the Democratic  party.  I am going to forget, Suellen and Bruce Keiner.  Suellen is an environmental  lawyer.  We had a fabulous neighborhood  and people did these things together.

We used to carpool to take the kids to school and had playgroups  in the afternoons,  although often it was the housekeepers  who took the kids to the play groups but sometimes  the parents were there, too, and in the Summer




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Ms. Roisman:


So it sounds as if there was a strong support group of friends which you were able to maintain through all of this.

Absolutely;  it was an idyllic time.  In fact, for a couple of Summers several of us vacationed together.  We all went to Popponesset, a place on Cape Cod,

and spent two weeks vacationing together.  It really was idyllic; we had a lot of support; the kids had a strong network of friends.  It was quite wonderful.  Do you have any memories of any special cases that were coming in or any other political movements during the period from ’71  to ’74 while you were at Catholic and beginning your family?

I don’t  think I do.  I don’t  think so and then in ’74 when I left Catholic I continued  to do the work for the Housing Law Project but I did it with Arnold Sternberg.  Arnold and I had a law firm called Sternberg and Roisman  and


initially we had two clients.  We had the Housing Law Project and we had the Housing Assistance Council, which was an OEO-funded  organization  that provided technical assistance and policy support and loans for rural

subsidized  housing development.


Seventy-four  is when the legal services corporation  was created.  So yes, there were big political issues about the attempt by the Nixon administration

to destroy the legal services program and then the somewhat miraculous creation of the Legal Services Corporation.  I am forgetting a lot of the details, but yes, I was definitely  involved in that.  Clint Bamberger became Vice President of the Legal Services Corporation, which was quite wonderful.

Tom Ehrlich was the president.   We didn’t  know anything about Tom then, but the selection of Clint certainly was reassuring to those ofus who were proponents of an effective legal services program.

In ’74  the legal services back up centers were very much under fire and (this is all my memory so it all has to be checked against the facts) the Corporation  hired a group of consultants  to do a report on the backup centers and this was going to be life or death for the backup centers.  Those of us who were, as we say, in the legal services community  were very concerned  about this.  Then someone said to me, “oh, a terrible thing has happened;  they have hired as a consultant  some mergers lawyer from Chicago.”  And I said, “Who is the mergers lawyer?” and the person said, “His name is Alexander Polikoff.”  Alex may have done mergers work during his career, but that certainly  wasn’t  was what he was noted for.  He was and still is lead counsel


in the Gautreaux  public housing desegregation  case.  He had been a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU in a number of very high profile cases.

I think I first met Alex when he came to Washington to argue an army spying case in the U.S. Supreme Court.*  I can’t  remember when that would have been, but he was a wonderful choice from our point of view and then, as I recall, Pat Wald was made a member of that consulting committee.   In any event, it was a wonderful  committee;  we couldn’t  have asked for a better committee. I think Dave Tatel might have been on that committee,  too.  It was a wonderful  committee  and it issued a report that was very, very affirmative  about the backup centers and pretty much saved us at that point. We always came under attack and that’s because we did very effective work. We were really very good.

Ms. Wolf:        Now, in order for us to understand  the L.S.C.  history a little bit, were the backup centers begun under 0EO?

Ms. Roisman: Yes, the backup centers were begun under OEO and I think each of the backup centers had an association  with some university.  The Housing Law Project was part ofThe Earl Warren Legal Institute ofUC Berkeley.  The Welfare Law Project was associated with Columbia;  the Education  Law Center was associated  with Harvard.   I think each of the centers had some educational  institution  as kind of a host for it.  I should have mentioned,  by the way, that Henry Freedman  was on the faculty at Catholic for a year.  That


*   Alex has told me that he did not argue such a case.  We’re not sure what was the occasion for our first meeting, but we think we may have connected through Larry Baskir, who then worked for Senator Sam Ervin.


first year that I was there he had left the Welfare Law Center when it made a mistake and hired somebody  else as executive director and then he went back

there to be executive director and he still is executive director.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


How did you come to leave Catholic?


I don’t  remember;  I think probably I just wanted to focus on the practice. That’s  probably why; I don’t  remember.   At some point I had gone to Berkeley to be part of a group that was monitoring the Housing Law Project for what must have been OEO’s  Office of Legal Services.  It was the first

time I had ever been in Berkeley.       don’t  know if there was a third member of the group but the other member of the group whom I remember was Bob Spangenberg,  who is the head of the Spangenberg Group in Boston.  Bob and

I went to do a report on the Housing Law Project and we said very favorable things about it but we said that the Housing Law Project should have an office in D.C. because so much of importance to housing went on in D.C.  I think we said in that report, I think we recommended  in that report that the Housing

Law Project retain Arnold Sternberg to be the D.C. office and that happened. Arnold did become the D.C. office for the Housing Law Project.

And then at some point I joined him and it was after I was teaching the Catholic, in ’74-75. Arnold had been at the Housing Development Corporation,  which we have talked about.  He and I had two clients, we had the Housing Law Project and the Housing Assistance Council, and for the most part Arnold did the HAC work and I did the Housing Law Project work. That was pretty much the division.


And then in ’76,  I started to do some training for the Legal Services Corporation.   At that time, the Legal Services Corporation had an in-house training program that was run by Dick Carter, whom I had mentioned before in this interview.  He had been at NLSP; later, he ran ALI-ABA; but at this point he was at the Legal Services Corporation.   I am not sure if he was there at this point, but at some point he was at LSC.  In any event, in ’76 the Corporation  funded a federal litigation training event that was put together by Art LaFrance and Art asked a number of experienced litigators to do this training, which was some place in Colorado, and I was one of the people who was asked to do it.  I had a baby then.  BJ had been born in March and– I don’t know when the training was; it might have been at the end of ’76 –and

I was still nursing BJ, so I took BJ with me to the training.  This became highly controversial.  I took BJ to the training and we did the training.  It was two or three days and she was with me.  She was in her stroller; she did whatever she did; and at one point I was doing a training session on motions and appellate practice and I remember that I was talking about how to do an emergency  motion to the court of appeals, because that was one of my specialties.   I had done a number of emergency motions to the court of appeals.  So I was talking about this and at that moment BJ needed to have her diaper changed and so while I was doing the training session I changed

her diaper.  Well, this was my third child; you don’t  have to think to change a diaper; it didn’t  take any intellectual  effort on my part; but I found out afterward that some people were just horrified that I did this and other people,


mostly women, thought it was fabulous, although there was at least one woman trainer who thought it was disgraceful that I had brought the baby and particularly  disgraceful that I had changed the diaper in the middle of a training session.  At a meeting afterward of the people who were working

with Art to plan a whole series of training events– I wasn’t  part of that meeting — this woman objected vigorously to my being asked again to do any training because she didn’t  want any more babies [at trainings].  Some years later she had a baby and I was told that she used to bring her baby to training




Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


A good role model?


A good role model.  For many, many years I would regularly run into women who would say, “I saw you at that training event with your baby and that made me know that I could be a lawyer and a mother at the same time.”  It definitely was a significant occasion, and I was asked to be part of the core group oftrainers. A majority of people there either affirmatively  liked my having brought the baby or were neutral about my having brought the baby.

I did become part of that core group and thereafter until about 1980, as I recall, we did federal litigation training all over the country.  About every two months we would do training someplace and it was fabulous training.  I could give you a list of people still doing legal services or other public interest work who came out of those training events.

And I should say also that I was very much involved in efforts to save the Legal Services Corporation.  I don’t  think I could remember the details


but in the Nixon administration  and then in the Reagan administration  the Legal Services Corporation  was very much under threat.  There were constant meetings to develop strategies for dealing with this.  I was very much

involved in that effort.  When my kids were young I used to take them to those meetings.  My kids spent a lot of time in legal services strategy meetings.

At one point we set up a separate organization  to lobby for legal services. I can’t  remember exactly when this was but I was involved in setting it up and Howard Eisenberg was the head ofNLADA then. He died; he was a

wonderful defender and he was the dean at Marquette when he died.


But at this time he was the Executive Director ofNLADA and he and I were a subcommittee to select an executive director for this new organization that had been set up to save legal services.  We had advertised in the Washington  Post and the New York Times and we had hundreds of applications.   Howard and I were sitting in his office at NLADA and I said, “Howard,  how are we going to go through this?” and he said, “Trust  me, it’s not going to be hard.”  And he was right, because half the letters were illiterate; half of them were dear sir or madam form letters; a quarter of them were from people who had absolutely no credentials  to do the work we needed done.  So we were able to eliminate a large number of them very quickly and we put those all into a trash can, and then were left with a very

small stack and Howard said, “And now I’ll show you what we do to the ones we have rejected,” and he lit a match and threw it into the trashcan.  And


flames came up and the sprinkler system went off and his whole office was deluged with water.  It was very funny.

Then we picked somebody  and made recommendations to the steering committee  and set up this organization. (I can’t  remember exactly when that was.)  We also litigated against the Legal Services Corporation.   The case was

National Senior Citizens Law Center versus Legal Services Corporation.*


Well, this goes into the eighties.  Do you want to talk about this?



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:




I am looking at my resume, so I see this case as 1985.  Well, this of course was the Reagan administration. The Corporation  had published a notice in the Federal Register I think, or published a regulation in the Federal Register, saying that the backup centers were no longer going to have Washington

offices, they were no longer going to do direct advocacy, they were no longer going to do a whole bunch of things, I can’t  remember.   But it was a death sentence for effective advocacy by the backup centers.  And so we wanted to sue and when I say   we” now I am talking particularly about Burt Fretz, who was then the head of the National Senior Citizens Law Center, he has alas since died.  May he rest in peace.  Adele Blong, who was at the welfare law center, and I; we were a subcommittee for the backup centers, for OLSBUC, the Organization  of Legal Services Backup Centers.  We went to Rick Cotton, whom I had mentioned before.  Rick had been Judge Wright’s clerk when the

Javins case was decided.  After clerking for Judge Wright, Rick clerked on




*National Senior Citizens Law Center v. Legal Services Corp. 751 F.2d 1391 (D.C. Cir. 1985).


the Supreme Court.  I think he clerked for Justice Brennan; I atn not sure about that, but I think so.  Then he went to New Hampshire, where he baked bread and then went to work for New Hampshire Legal Assistance.  I don’t remember what he did then but at this time in the mid-eighties he was a partner at Dewey Ballantine in D.C.  We went to Rick and we asked him if he would represent us and he said yes.  This was just before the holidays,

because I remember we had to go in for a TRO and Rick’s  family were coming from Chicago I think and I don’t  think he saw his family at all because we had to put together TRO papers.  We went in for a TRO.  We had Judge Barrington Parker, I believe, and he gave us the TRO.  It was absolutely a great moment.  I remember going out and buying a bottle of champagne  and walking over to Rick’s  house to leave the bottle of champagne for him.  It was just a great moment.  But we worked hard on those papers.  Rick was a fabulous lawyer.  Did a wonderful job.  I think we got a TRO, then we got a preliminary  injunction, and the backup centers got

saved again.



Ms. Wolf:








Ms. Roisman:


Going back then to when you left and you went to the law office and then you had two clients and began training with legal services.  During this period of time were you also litigating?

Yes.  In the mid-seventies, yes.  What were we litigating?  I have to look at my resume to see.  Well, I was doing litigation for the Housing Law Project


and we did a displacement case in D.C., Jones v. D.C. RLA, that was 1973 so


I was still at Catholic.*


The Housing Law Project was very involved in litigation all over the country about operating subsidies for the Section 236 program. There was a case in California, there was a case in Connecticut, there were a couple of other cases, and then there was a national class action that was brought in D.C., Underwood  v. Hills, and that case went to the Supreme Court.** I was involved in that case only peripherally. I don’t remember having a significant role in it, but after the case was settled, two of the people who had been involved in litigating one of these cases decided that they personally, not for their programs, but they personally wanted to get attorneys fees. And I was very involved in an effort to prevent that from happening. I don’t know that I want to talk more about that because one of those people still is somewhat active but there is a story there. There is a story.

And we did litigation involving displacement by HUD; this was a case that involved an Indiana lawyer, Dick Zweig. You must know Dick’s wife, Sally.

This is what happened.  In D.C. there was a Section 236 project that had gone into foreclosure, so HUD owned it and HUD sent out notices to all the tenants that said, ‘”Good morning; this is your government; you have to leave.”  I remember having conversations with the local program about

*Jones v. D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency, 497 F.2d 501 (D.C. Cir. 1973).

** Underwood  v. Hills, 414 F. Supp. 526 (D.D.C. 1976), aff’d, Hills v. Underwood, 429 U.S. 892 (1976).


litigating to stop this from happening.  I thought they were doing it and then I heard on the radio one morning that the bulldozers were out tearing down buildings at Sky Tower.  So I called the lawyer at the local program and said,

‘”What’s going on?  We had all these papers,” and the lawyer said, “‘Well, the clients never came to the office to sign their affidavits.”  You can imagine how furious I was; I see your eyebrows going up to the ceiling.  I said,

basically, “‘Screw it; we will do the litigation.”  We filed the lawsuit, probably for the Housing Law Project; I can’t  remember.  I do remember Don Humphrey, may he rest in peace, Don had worked at HDC and ultimately became the president ofHDC. HDC had done the rehab of Sky Tower and Don walked me through that project.  He was a construction  person.  He had started as a carpenter.   He would pick up something from the ground and he would say, “You see this screw?  This is the best screw on the market, and

this rehab was fabulous and to demolish this project is terrible.”


I didn’t  know what he was talking about, but I knew we had to try to stop the demolition,  so we filed suit.  We had Judge Gesell, may he rest in peace, and Paula Scott, who is now at PDS in D.C., was at legal services for a long time.  Paula represented those tenants in Landlord Tenant Court to keep them in while we were litigating in federal court.  Somebody could write a book about this litigation, but the short of it is that although some of the buildings got demolished  we did prevent the demolition  of the rest.  And Paula kept the tenants in and we ended up having the development  fixed up and the tenants could come back.


One of the issues was whether the tenants were entitled to benefits under the Uniform Relocation Assistance  Act and Judge Gesell held that they were and then the D.C. Circuit affirmed.   At the same time, Dick Zweig was litigating a case involving Ithink a HUD financed nursing home that went

into foreclosure.  HUD told all the people in the nursing home, “Good morning; this is your government; get out” and he was claiming Uniform Relocation Assistance Act benefits.  He lost in the Seventh Circuit.  So he was petitioning for cert in his case and HUD was petitioning for cert in our case and the Supreme Court took both cases and they were consolidated  under the name of the Seventh Circuit case, which was Alexander v. HUD. *

My job at that point was to persuade Dick Zweig that neither he nor I should argue this case in the U.S. Supreme Court, which Idid; Idid persuade him.  Iam positive that Sally has never forgiven me for that.  May Dick rest

In peace.

























*Alexander v. HUD, 441 U.S. 39 (1979).






MARCH  30, 2007







Ms. Wolf:











Ms. Roisman:



























Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:












We are back on the record, back on the tape talking about the litigation  before the Supreme Court with the housing relocation assistance and Florence Roisman is talking about opportunities to argue at the Supreme Court and

what happened in this case.


Well, Dick Zweig had the case coming up from the Seventh Circuit and I had the case coming up from the D.C. Circuit.  It was very clear to me that neither of us should argue in the Supreme Court.  Only experienced  Supreme  Court advocates should argue in the Supreme Court.  If somebody  wants to become a Supretne Court advocate,  it’s okay to have your first argument, but neither Dick nor I  was in that situation  and so Dick did agree.  John Vanderstar  from Covington and Burling, who was an experienced  Supreme Court advocate, argued the case for us.  John did a fabulous job; he did a wonderful  job.  We lost 9-0 with Thurgood  Marshall writing the decision  against us.  How bad is that?  And, oh, the big litigation  ….

Before you go for that, did you ever have second thoughts about whether or not you should have argued?

Oh no, no.  If John couldn’t win it, when Thurgood  Marshall was against us, we couldn’t  have won that case.  It was a miracle that we won it in the D.C. Circuit.  I never, never had second thoughts about that.  I am by no means


opposed to a legal services lawyer’s arguing his or her own case in the Supreme Court.  Years later, Henry Woodward  of Roanoke, Virginia, legal services had a very, very important case that went to the Supreme  Court and he argued it.   David Bryson, may he ret in peace, David and I mooted Henry several times, I think, and probably other people mooted him too, I don’t remember.   I know David worked very hard on the brief with Henry and I probably worked on the brief, too, and Henry did a fabulous job and he actually won that case.  A very, very important  case.*  A private right of action decision.

But, frankly, if one of us were going to argue that case, if it were going to be either Dick or me, I think I had the better claim to argue.  I was more experienced  than Dick and I had won the case in the D.C. Circuit.  So no, I

never had second thoughts about that.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


I had gone over to your list of cases here; there is something  you wanted to start talking about.

Well, this actually was very important.   When Richard Nixon was President,  I think at the beginning of his second term, he impounded  all of the funds for the federally subsidized  housing programs,  for all of the federally subsidized housing programs, and there was a great uproar in the housing world about this.  There were many, many meetings of everybody  from the home builders and the American  Bankers Association  and the realtors on the right to us, on

the left.  Everybody  was very concerned  about the impoundment  of these




*Wright v. City of Roanoke Redev. & Hous. Auth., 479 U.S. 418 (1987).


funds and then a lawsuit was brought, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania  v. Lynn, challenging the impoundment  of the housing programs that were administered  by HUD.*  Obviously, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania  was the first named plaintiff; these decisions were being made not by legal services lawyers but by other people.  I don’t  remember the name of the lawyer who represented  the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.   He actually

was a public interest lawyer.  But that suit did not cover the subsidized housing programs administered  by the Department of Agriculture,  with which of course we were very concerned through HAc** and with legal services people in rural areas.  We were involved with the rural housing programs administered  by what was then called the Farmers Home Administration.

And so Lee Reno and I brought that suit.*** I think Lee then was at the Rural Housing Alliance.   Lee and I later practiced law together for a number of years, but I think when we started that case Lee was at the Rural Housing Alliance and we brought that suit challenging  the impoundment. It went before Judge Richey and we won.

And then very soon after Judge Richey issued his order in our favor, we filed a motion for contempt.   I don’t  know exactly what the period of time was but I think the motion for contempt began something like this:  “It has

been a full two weeks since this Court’s order and the federal government  has





*Commonwealth o_f Pennsylvania  v. Lynn, 501 F.2d 848 (D.C. Cir. 1974).

** The Housing Assistance Council.


*** Pealo v. Farmers Home Administration, 361 F. Supp. 1320 (D.D.C. 1973).


not complied.” The upshot was that those funds were released.  Those programs continued  to be funded.

Pennsylvania  v. Lynn lost in the D.C. Circuit.  Our case never went to the D.C. Circuit on the merits.  We won that case and I think the principal  reason that we won the case was Lee had done the declarations  of the plaintiffs. There were some institutional  plaintiffs, but we had, I think, three married

couples.  One of the couples, I think, was from upstate New York and the man was losing his sight.  He was going blind and the basis on which we were asking for a preliminary  injunction was so that he could get into his house and learn his way around before he completely lost his sight.  And the other

family, as I recall, was living in a house that didn’t  have running water. think they also were in upstate New York.  I think they also had to walk to some place where they could get water and bring water back to the house.

When we went into Judge Richey’s courtroom to argue the motion for preliminary injunction,  the Assistant  U.S. Attorney, Tom Corcoran, Jr., said to us, “My wife and I read your affidavits last night and we cried.”  I always tell trainees and students,  that’s  how you win cases — when you have

affidavits that make the other side cry.  I am very proud of that.  We had those programs reinstated.

And then, I did a case like that with respect to the 202 program for senior citizens housing.*  That case was tried to Judge Waddy, may he rest in peace, and Judge Waddy required us to go to trial, which was ridiculous.  It should


*Cooperative Services, Inc. v. HUD, 562 F.2d 1292 (D.C. Cir. 1977).


have been a summary judgment case.  That was the only time I ever had a


trial in federal court.  I didn’t  know what I was doing.  I am not a trial lawyer.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:
















Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:




Ms. Roisman:


So all the other practice was preliminary…


It was almost all preliminary injunctions.   I was a real motions specialist. TROs and preliminary injunctions.   If we lost the preliminary injunctions we usually went right up to the Court of Appeals on emergency motions; that’s why I was such an expert in emergency motions.  And if we won the preliminary injunction often it would be the other side going up to the court of appeals right away.  So almost all of what I did was motions practice. However, there are pretty high powered cases which it sounds like took fairly immediate action once the problem was identified.

Yes, we were often in a TRO posture or a preliminary injunction posture. This is probably more like back to a family type question  then.  What type of toll does this type of intensive practice take on family life?

Well, I am smiling because I remember we had one case before Judge Oberdorfer, it was a homelessness case.  I think it must have been Caton v. Barry, which I see was in 1980.*  The District was trying to close family shelters and Ilene Jacobs and I did this case.  This was after we did the men’s shelter case that you and I have talked about previously.  The District had a family shelter that it was trying to close and we wanted to keep it open and we had a hearing before Judge Oberdorfer.   I think we thought the hearing was

going to last one day and I was supposed to take Rachel to visit her




* Caton v. Barry, 500 F. Supp. 45 (D.D.C. 1980).


grandparents  in Oklahoma  the next day, and the hearing in fact took longer. don’t  think the hearing took longer; I think Judge Oberdorfer just said he wasn’t  ready to decide it on the spot.  And I had to be there when he decided

it because if he ruled against us we were going up to the court of appeals right away and I was the expert on emergency motions and so I couldn’t go to Oklahoma  with Rachel and Rachel had to go by herself.  In 1980 — she was born in seventy-four  so she was old enough to fly by herself so she must have gone by herselfbut she always remembered that and whenever Judge Oberdorfer’s name came up she would say, “He was the judge who made me

go to Oklahoma  by myself.”  She never forgot that.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:






Ms. Roisman:


Any personal conflicts on that, on what to do? Do you mean in that particular situation?

About whether or not you should have gone, to Oklahoma.   Kind of like when I ask you about any regrets on the Supreme Court case when you didn’t  argue the case.  It is the same type of question.

No, I don’t  think I had any doubt about what I had to do.  I had to be there. There was no question that I had to be there when Judge Oberdorfer  decided the case; there wouldn’t  have been any doubt.  The only thing that I remember having a gender related regret about, this must have been when Jimmy Carter, I am not sure, it must have been in the Carter administration. There was a job available at the White House involving judicial selection; it must have been in the White House Counsel’s office.  I was very interested  in that and I was interviewed  for it.  I have no recollection of whether after the interview


anybody continued to be interested in me but I do know that I had decided I couldn’t  do it, that that kind of job would not be consistent  with having young children.  I just couldn’t  take on that job.  So my guess is that after the interview I figured out that I couldn’t  possibly do it and I probably called the person who had interviewed  me and said, ”Thank  you, but I can’t  do it.”

I don’t  offhand remember another situation  in which being a parent made me not do something professionally  that I otherwise  might well have done. When I was telling that story I did think of one other gender related incident

but I am forgetting what it is.  It will come to me; I will write it down.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


Were you still in your law firm at this point in time and still doing all of these things?

I was in a law firm for a long time but the firm changed shape and I am not sure I’ll remember exactly.  But here is what I remember.   Arnold and I practiced together as Sternberg and Roisman and then when Jerry Brown became governor of California one of my former students from Georgetown (because I was teaching part time, teaching as an adjunct at Georgetown) and she was, I think she was married to a person who was in Jerry Brown’s cabinet which is how she knew Arnold —  she knew Arnold through me.  In any event, however it happened, it was through her that Arnold was asked to

go out to California to be head of the California  State Department  ofHousing.


So Arnold did go out there and was the Director of the State Housing Department when Jerry Brown was governor.   And Arnold took with him a group of people whom we referred to as the Antioch mafia.  They were


people who had been law students at Antioch who then had studied with Arnold and also with me.  Arnold taught a housing law course, he taught it at Antioch and he taught it at Catholic.  I can’t  remember how he and I divided these things up but that group went out to California to work with Arnold. Bob Firehock, Craig Mar Chung, Craig Livingston, Dave Morrison, Bert Mason, I may be forgetting somebody.   They did great stuff in California.

And then when Arnold left, I practiced with Lee Reno who had been at Rural Housing Alliance and Susan Shapiro, who had been my classmate at law school and had been at NSLP, so we were Roisman, Reno, and Shapiro.

And then Susan left and Lee and I practiced  together for a while.  Then, in the Carter administration, Gordon Cavanaugh  had been Fanners  Home Administrator  and when Gordon left at the end of the Carter Administration, in ’81, he came to join us in the firm.  I remember I called the people at the Housing … our clients basically were the Housing Law Project, the Housing Assistance Council, and on and off we did work for the Legal Services Corporation.  Lee and I both did training, sometimes  we wrote reports or

studies, we did things for them.  I remember I called the Housing Law Project, whoever was the Director then, and said, “Gordon  is leaving Farmers Home;

he doesn’t have a job; what would you think if we brought him into the firm?” and the person said fine, so Lee and I just did, we just asked Gordon to join us.

When people talk about business plans I just laugh.  We never had a business plan; we never had the foggiest notion how we were going to make enough money to do what we were doing; we were just very, very lucky.  So


Gordon came into the firm then and it was Roisman, Reno, and Cavanaugh and that firm continues:  it is Reno and Cavanaugh.

I left the firm under circumstances  that I previously described.  I don’t remember exactly when I left the firm but when this incident occurred, when the New York City Housing Authority General Counsel objected to my doing tenant advocacy, I called David Bryson, may he rest in peace, who was then the Acting Director of the Housing Law Project, and I said,   David, I have got to leave the firm; does the Housing Law Project want to hire me?”  He said: “Absolutely.” So then I became an employee of the Housing Law Project.  I

think I had been a contractor with the Housing Law Project before then.



Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman:


I don’t  recall you talking about leaving the firm.


I did.  I said that after Gordon came into the firm, Gordon brought in a lot of business to the firm, and what he brought in was the representation  of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities [CLPHA] and the representation of a number of individual housing authorities,  which was fine because

CLPHA was set up knowing that the Reagan administration  was going to attack public housing and we all wanted to defend the public housing program and that’s  what Gordon did.  Gordon was basically a lobbyist, he lobbied on the Hill and at HUD to protect the public housing program, and that was perfectly consistent  with what we were doing.  In fact, I represented  groups of housing authorities and some individual housing authorities in litigation against HUD when HUD tried to cut the operating subsidies to the public housing authorities.


I did a suit that was called CLPHA v. HUD; I did a suit that was called Committee for Fairness v. HUD, Idid a suit for the King County, State of Washington Housing Authority.*  Idid several suits because getting money for public housing was something  the tenants cared about as much the housing authorities did.  In everything that we did for the housing authorities or for CLPHA we made clear to them that Irepresented the Housing Law Project and lrepresented tenant groups, particularly on issues like the lease

and grievance procedure but on anything, that my first commitment  was to the tenants.  And then at some point the New York City Housing Authority General Counsel decided to object to something that Iwas doing for the Housing Law Project.  Frankly, Iwould have expected that my partners would have told the General Counsel ofthe New York City Housing Authority to take a flying leap, but they did not do that.  So Isaid, Iwill leave the firm.

And that’s  when Icalled David and said “Iam leaving the firm; does the Housing Law Project want to hire me?” and he said yes. So at that point I became a full-time employee of the Housing Law Project.

Ms. Wolf:        That might be a reasonable point for us to stop and begin next time. END OF TAPE.










* Council of Large Public Hous. Auths. v. Pierce, D.D.C. No. 84-3114 (Memorandum  and Order, Feb. 25, I 985); Comm. For Fairness v. Kemp, 791 F. Supp. 888 (D.D.C. 1992); Hous. Auth. of County of King v. Pierce, 701 F. Supp. 844 (D.D.C. 1988).






JUNE  19, 2007







Ms. Wolf:


This is June  19, 2007, at the Indiana  University School  of Law doing  the oral




history of Florance Roisman.  We last met on March  30t 11


2007 or so and since



that time Professor Roisman  has reviewed prior transcripts and also the tape from our last session. We’re going  to begin  with recollections that Professor Roisman  wants to add, or incidents that she wants to speak about which  are relevant  to some of the issues  in those  cases and also gender  issues.   So, we will tum it over to you to take us away.

Ms. Roisman:  Well, as I reviewed  the transcripts and listened  to the tapes of the March


sessions, I very much had in mind the project’s interest  in gender.   There  are several  things  that are relevant  to gender that I will mention.  As I think  I’ve said, I haven’t much focused  on gender.  I have been derelict  in that regard.

Several  of the questions that you’ve asked  had made me think about  it more than


I otherwise would  have done.   So, here are some  things  that I thought  about.


First of all, when I thought  about  how being a woman  has influenced my career,  I think  that some  of the answers to that question  involve  things  that didn’t happen  rather than things  that did happen.   For example, the fact that I never thought  about doing  a judicial  clerkship. It never occurred  to me,

although  my grades  at law school  were easily  high enough  to have qualified  me


to be a law clerk.   And I think that probably the reason  I didn’t do that, never







thought about it, was because I had no mentoring when I was at law school. None at all.  You had asked about that earlier in our conversation.

Now, I have to say that I don’t  think that having a clerkship would have changed my life in a significant  way.  I think I would have ended up doing what I’ve done.  I’In very happy I ended up doing what I did.  But I do think that had

I been a man, with my grades and my background,  I think I would have had a judicial clerkship.  I think I would have been offered a job by a law firm of some size.  I certainly hope I would have left the law firm very quickly, but I think

that is what would have happened.


Also, I have no idea whether this is gender related or not, but it might be. There was some point after I had left NLSP, so probably when I was at Catholic, when the Housing Law Project at Berkeley was looking for a new director.  Ken Phillips, I think, had been the director, and I applied for the job.  Maybe I still was at NLSP.  But I was a fairly well known tenant advocate at that point.  And

I didn’t  even get interviewed  for the job.  I do think in retrospect that that had to have some relation to gender.

Also, when we talked about my time at Catholic, I said that I had never thought about rank, I hadn’t  thought about publication, although I did in fact publish two articles when I was there.  And, in retrospect, I think that too is because I had no mentoring.  Nobody told me anything about how one gets a job teaching in a law school or how one progresses as a member of a law faculty. And, indeed, that was true going in to the 90’s,  because I think the first time I went on the AALS job market was probably in 1994.  I remember when I filled


out the form for the Faculty Appointments  Register.  It asks about publications, and I listed my most recent publications,  none of which was in a traditional law journal.  When I again went on the AALS job market two years later, in ’96,  I knew a lot more and I knew of course there were people who are interested in

the traditional law review articles, no matter how old they may be, and so I went back and listed them.  But at no point did anybody teach me anything about surviving and advancing  in the legal academy.   Whatever I learned, I learned the hard way, on my own.

There are a couple of gender-related  stories that I should tell.  One is that


at some point, and this must have been in the 1980s — it was certainly during the Reagan administration  and I think it was ’82 to ’83, I taught at the University of Maryland School of Law.  I was a visiting professor there.  I continued  to live in D.C. but I commuted back and forth to Baltimore.   I think it was during that

time that a woman, who was the only woman on the D.C. Court of Appeals, the local court of appealsnot the federal court of appeals, retired.  We had, and still have, in D.C. a merit selection  process.  There is a Commission  on Judicial Nominations and the Commission  selects candidates and for each vacancy the Commission sends three names to the president and the president has to make a selection from among those names.  So, somebody  called me and said, ”We want to be sure that a woman replaces this woman judge who has retired and,

therefore, we are hoping to create a situation  in which the Commission will send the names of three women to the White House.  Therefore,  we are encouraging


women with impressive  credentials  to apply for the judgeship.  Will you apply?” I said, “Yes.”

So, I applied for this vacancy on the local court of appeals and I was asked to come for an interview before the Commission. I don’t  remember how the Commission’s membership  is determined.   I think it’s  the same now as it was then.  One or two people are appointed by the mayor and one or two by the city council and one or two by the D.C. Bar Board and one federal district judge or federal judge is on the Commission. The only person I remember was Judge Greene; Harold Greene sat on the Commission then.

So, I went for my interview  and the Commission  said to tne, “Well,  you’re a trial lawyer; would you be willing to be nominated for the D.C. Superior  Court rather than the Court of Appeals?”   As I have said to you before, Mary, I’m not

a trial lawyer.  I don’t  know how to do evidentiary  proceedings.   I’ve done some. I’ve done one trial in federal court.  But these people thought I was a trial lawyer. I had absolutely  no interest at all in being a trial judge.  But I didn’t  think I

could say no.  So, I said yes.  I said “Yes, it would be fine if you considered  me for a seat on the Superior Court.”  And then when I left the interview, I was terrified.  I called a friend and told this friend what had happened and said, “I don’t  want to be a trial judge.  What have I just done?”  My friend laughed and said, “There is no way that Ronald Reagan is going to put you on any bench at all.  You don’t  need to worry about that.’  So, that was an opportunity  that I had specifically  because I was a woman.


Ms. Wolf:           Before you go on, I was interested,  because you gave how the Commission members were selected.   Do you remember if there were any women on the Commission?

Ms. Roisman: That’s a very good question.   I don’t  remember that but I think it’s  likely that there was at least one woman member.  I think it’s a seven-member Commission. This is the early ’80s.   I don’t  remember; I don’t  remember.

Okay.  Here’s another gender-related  story.  This goes back to 1972. think this was 1972.  The local court of appeals, the D.C. Court of Appeals, set up a mandatory bar for the District of Columbia.  It created a mandatory  bar called the D.C. Bar, as distinguished  from the D.C. Bar Association,  which is a voluntary association.  This was part of the many great changes in court administration  in the early ’70s.   There was a nominating  committee  to select nominees for the presidency,  the other officers of the Board, and the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar.  And Pat Wald, Patricia McGowan Wald, later, the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit and a member of the International  Criminal

Court for the former Yugoslavia– Pat Wald was on that nominating  committee. She may have been chair; I don’t  remember.   But I do remember  that Pat called me and said, “We want to have nominees who are progressive  women.  Will you be a candidate for D.C. Bar Board of Governors?” And I said yes.  So my name was on the ballot and I was in fact elected to the D.C. Bar.  So, I served on the D.C. Bar Board of Governors,  I think I served for two terms, beginning  with the very first Bar Board in ’72.


That was a very significant time because it was the beginning of the D.C. Bar and so the Board was making every kind of decision.  At that time, the Board was very involved in various kinds of advocacy activities.  That changed later but, at that time, the Bar Board took positions on matters of public interest.

For example, one thing I remember as a very significant activity on the Bar Board was we had to decide where to put our money.  I and some other people said we should put some of our money into neighborhood  credit unions. The Bar had a huge amount of money.  It’s a mandatory bar; every lawyer in D.C. had to be a member; and its dues were not insubstantial.   And so we had a big debate on the Bar Board about whether putting money into neighborhood credit unions, which of course paid much less interest than other depository institutions,  would be consistent with the fiduciary obligations  of the Board of Governors.  And, of course, our argument was yes, because fiduciary obligations are not just to get the highest dollar return one can get.  And we were successful.  The Bar Board did, and for all I know still does, put money in neighborhood  credit unions.

My experience  on the Bar Board was significant also because most of the people who were on the Bar Board were the eminences of the District of Columbia Bar, like Charlie Horsky, Barrett Prettyman, and John Douglas.  I was one of the very small group of people who were progressive public interest people and I was one of very, very few women on the Bar Board.  I remember there were four of us who were a progressive caucus.  We used to meet in


advance of each Board of Governors’ meeting to discuss what we were going to do.

I can’t  remember how many women were on the Bar Board.  The only other woman I remember was my friend Amy Loeserman Klein.  Now there may have been some other women at the beginning.  Amy and I are both very feisty and Amy, I would say, is more a feminist than I am.  She paid more attention to feminist issues than I did and there was a period of time on the Bar

Board when we were both pregnant.  We both had babies in ’76 and I also had a baby in ’74.   If I am right that the bar began in ’72,  I was pregnant twice [during my tenure on the Bar Board.]  And let me tell you a number of those greybeards of the establishment  had a really hard time dealing with the fact that these two short, feisty, very, very pregnant women were sitting on the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar.

There were many funny stories, most of which I have forgotten, but I was reminded of one this past week.  I was at an ACLU national board meeting and the ACLU Biennial and one of the people who was there was Ralph Temple, who in the sixties and early seventies  was the legal director of the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union.  Ralph also had been on the Bar Board, though I don’t  think he was elected that first year.  He reminded me of this story:  that someone from an insurance company had come to make a presentation to the Board of Governors about an insurance package that was going to be offered to Bar members and this of course was very remunerative

for the insurance company so he was trying to make a really good impression  on


the Bar Board.  He was extolling  the virtues of this package of insurance and he said ‘”and it’s  good for the wives, too.”  Ralph said ”Amy and I just rose”– and this was when we were very pregnant — that we both rose as one from our seats and one of us said, he doesn’t  remember, I think it must have Amy, and he said one of us interrupted and said, “Spouse  is the word for which you are searching.” But his telling me that story reminded me of many other times on the Bar Board when extremely sexist re1narks were made and Amy and I had never let a sexist remark go without chastisement  appropriate  to the moment.

Ms. Wolf:        Do you have more stories? Ms. Roisman:       Do I have more stories?

Ms. Wolf:        I have a couple more questions. Ms. Roisman:          Okay, let’s  do your questions.

Ms. Wolf:        When you chose not to have your name submitted  for a D.C. trial judge position, did they get a woman?

Ms. Roisman: They did get a woman and I think that the strategy worked.  I think that the names of three women were sent to the White House and the White House therefore picked a woman.  I don’t  remember; it was twenty-five  years ago; I’ve

forgotten the details.  Yes, I think they did get a woman.



Ms. Wolf:


The other question has to do with mentoring, lack of mentoring in law schools



and whether or not they were — two questions — one whether or not there were women who could have served as mentors or whether it was just a lack of women in the position to act as mentors; and the other, whether or not there were men who just overlooked  mentoring because you were a woman, so


whether or not there were women available and whether or not it was just that men were passing you by.

Ms. Roisman: Well, there weren’t  any women available.  At law school there were no women on the faculty and when I started teaching I don’t  remember any senior women. As I have mentioned, Jane Dolkart and I and Judy Areen and Richard Chused used to meet.  They [Jane & Judy] were young women, but I don’t  remember any senior women.  When I visited at Maryland there was a woman who had been on the faculty for a very long time but she was a woman who had, so far as I could tell, absolutely no interest in mentoring anybody at all, certainly not

other women.  I think the real problem was that the men weren’t  mentoring women.  I have mentored plenty of men but when I was in law school and when I was first going into the academy there was no such mentoring available.  I do think that’s really gender, that’s gender.

When I was at law school, Dean Erwin Griswold was reputed to have said on more than one occasion that the admission of women to Harvard was a mistake, that women were taking places that should be allotted to men because women weren’t  going to continue to practice law, they were going to get

married and have babies and stop practicing law and so it was a waste to educate them at Harvard Law School.  I think many members of the faculty had that attitude and the general societal attitude was that where any woman succeeded

as a lawyer it was because she thought like a tnan and was one of the boys. Those were the values; those were the accolades.  The highest compliment  was to be told you think like a man.


There is an infamous essay by A.P. Herbert advancing the thesis that there is no such thing as a reasonable  woman, that you have to use reasonable  man standards because there is no such thing as a reasonable woman.*  I think that was the general attitude.   Yes, there were rare exceptions.  Those were women who thought like men.  But if you think like a woman you can’t  be a good lawyer.

I think that was related to my being so intimidating  when I started teaching, because I needed to show that I could teach in the way that the male teachers I had had taught, which was a very tough teaching method.   When I was at Catholic, which was seventy to seventy-four, that’s  when the first Women and the Law courses were being taught.  I think I mentioned  that my friend Gladys Kessler taught one of the first courses.  She taught at G.W., and Mama Tucker and Brooksley  Born, a co-director  of this Trailblazers  project,

Mama and Brooksley  taught Women and the Law at Catholic as adjuncts.  They used to come over once or twice a week and teach the Women and the Law class. And that was one of the very first Women and the Law classes taught in the country.

Ms. Wolf:        Do you recall ever being complimented  that you thought like a man?


Ms. Roisman: Oh, constantly.   All the time and for many years when I was through somebody said that.  That was the great compliment, you really think like a man.  I am sure




* A.P. Herbert, Fardell v. Potts:  The Reasonable  Man, in UNCOMMON  LAW 1 (Methuen  & Co.

1965).  It is worthy of note that my copy of this book was given to me in 1967 by my office mate at the Department  of Justice, a male lawyer junior to me, who inscribed it:  “To Florence, an uncommonly  wonderful  girl.”


I was told at Justice when I was writing briefs that I wrote like a man because I


could write a persuasive brief.  I am sure I was told that I wrote like a man. Ms. Wolf:      And you considered that a compliment?

Ms. Roisman: Absolutely.


Ms. Wolf:        And when these Women and the Law courses began did you see purpose in those course?

Ms. Roisman:     Oh, I did, I did.  I was never unsympathetic  to the feminist agenda.  Not at all.  I was working on other things.  They were doing that; I was doing the antipoverty stuff.  I also didn’t  do race advocacy for twenty years, as I think I have said.

Ms. Wolf:        Does it surprise you in looking back that you did not have more reaction to gender issues?

Ms. Roisman: That’s a very good question and the answer is absolutely  yes.  It astonishes me


when I think back.  A number of questions that you have asked during these interviews  have made me see my past in a different way.  I am astounded by

how insensitive  I was to gender issues.



Ms. Wolf:


Do you think that more sensitivity  to those issues in your development may


have hindered  your progress as an attorney, as a scholar?



Ms. Roisman: How?


Ms. Wolf:        In terms of consuming  your passions.  For example, I believe you spoke about leaving Justice because of the treatment of the issues.  Do you think if you had been more sensitive to any of these issues you would have gone in a different direction?


Ms. Roisman: That’s an interesting question.  I don’t  know.  I left Justice largely because of the issues but also because of not getting a raise I should have gotten and that I think probably was a gender issue.  But I was alert to what I knew was going on

there.  I don’t  know; it’s an interesting question.



Ms. Wolf:


What if we go back where we left off on the last tape which is when you started



at the law center.


Ms. Roisman:    I would say one more thing.  I would just say a couple more things about gender.


One is that certainly when I was teaching I became aware that gender was an issue.  For many, many years I would always have at least one student, one male student, who would question my authority in the classroom and my practice was to slice that student into very s1nall pieces and distribute the pieces throughout the classroom, whereupon my authority never was questioned again [in that

semester].   I haven’t had to do that in a very long time.  It’s never happened here. I have been here for ten years and I don’t  remember [its happening  here].  I do remember its happening  at Georgetown  when I was teaching there, in 1993, but

it still happens.  I had lunch yesterday with a very experienced  law professor, a woman, who was talking about its happening to her and to someone else, so I think it depends on where one is and how experienced one is and it certainly depends on whether one is White or Black or Latino.  I think it’s  a very common experience for the women of color still.

Ms. Wolf:        And what advice did you give them?


Ms. Roisman: Well, I think the way I handled it probably still is a good way to handle it.  I


think it’s essential to establish one’s authority in the classroom, [and] in the


courtroom,  too.  However one does that, I think that’s  essential.  There is only one person who runs a classroom.  Actually, last year I did have a number of conversations  with a woman law professor at another school who was having this kind of problem with students and that is the advice that I gave her.  She was much nicer to them than I would have been.  I would first establish my authority and then I would be nice.

Ms. Wolf:        You said they were …


Ms. Roisman: Oh, well, I had mentioned — you and I listened to the last thirty minutes before we started this tape and you had asked if there had been situations in which being a mother or being a parent had interfered with litigation and I told the story about the case before Judge Oerdorfer when I couldn’t  take Rachel ….



Ms. Wolf:        Professor Roisman is speaking about having family and referred back to the incident with Rachel and the trip to Oklahoma.

Ms. Roisman: Well, this is the other story that I remember.  Again, it’s being a parent, not necessarily a mother, that was central here.  I represented Mitch Snyder and the Community  for Creative Non-violence several times and I used to consult with Mitch.  He regarded me as a member of the establishment.

He was almost the only person on the face of the earth who has ever held that view of me but he did.  He would talk to me when he and CCNY were facing an issue, when they were deciding whether to litigate or do something else, but often he would call and talk to me even if I didn’t  end up doing the litigation for him.  I have mentioned [that] Ilene Jacobs and I did Williams v.


Barry to keep the men’s  shelter open and then we did Caton v. Barry to keep a family shelter open, and we did several other things.*  I did several other things with Mitch and CCNY.  This is a long story; I’ll try to make it short.

During the Reagan administration, the administration  made a federally- owned empty building available to CCNY in the winter, so that the building could be used as a shelter for homeless people.  This was supposed  to be for three months only and when the weather warmed up the homeless people were supposed to leave the building.  Mitch and CCNY wanted the federal government  to rehabilitate the building.  It had been the home of the Federal

City College,  years before.  Mitch and CCNY wanted the federal government  to fix up the building and make it a decent place for homeless people to live and to accomplish this result Mitch went on a hunger strike.  He fasted, and he fasted for a very long time.  He was on the verge of death.  Mike Wallace had filmed

an interview  with Mitch that was going to be shown just before the election, just before the presidential  election.  Immediately  before the Mike Wallace video

was going to be shown, Margaret Heckler, who was then the secretary of HEW


or HHS (whichever it was then) had her Chief of Staff, I think, contact Mitch


and say, we will fix up the shelter, we will make it a model shelter.  tv1itch ended his fast and of course Reagan won the election.

So then CCNY and the administration spent months in negotiation  with the administration. There were volunteer architects who were working with



* Williams v. Barry, 450 F. Supp. 941 (D.D.C. 1980), aff’d, 708 F.2d 789 (D.C. Cir. 1983);

Caton v. Barry, 500 F.Supp. 45 (D.D.C. 1980).


Mitch and CCNY.  Conrad  Levinson, Sam Levinson’s son, Conrad Levinson, a New York architect, and his students worked on plans to make the building a wonderful facility.  The administration  was limiting the amount of money it said it would spend, so Mitch came to us to talk about this and wanted us to file suit to make the administration keep its promise, make the President keep his promise to make this a model shelter.  But by then I had worked with Mitch for

a number of years.  I had enormous respect for him, and if Mitch wanted me to file a suit to make the President  keep his promise, I would do it.

So I drafted a complaint  and I remember that Jim Weil– where is Jim now? — he is a very distinguished  public interest lawyer.  I am forgetting  for the moment what his current position is; he was at the Children’s Defense Fund for

a long time.  I remember Jim sitting on the couch in my living room reading my draft complaint and laughing, he thought it was so funny.  The case was Robbins v. Reagan.*  We named the President as a defendant.   We anticipated that the government would immediately move to strike the President from the case, but we wanted the President’s name on the case, so we filed the case.  My recollection is that several days after we filed the lawsuit — the lawsuit was assigned to a judge, we had a master calendar system in D.C.  I went to a conference  in Philadelphia  or something and I remember I got back Friday night and I went to the office, this is before cell phones and all those things, got back

to the office and I had a call from Mitch, who said, the government  is going to close this shelter.  I said, “No, Mitch, they are not going to close the shelter; we


*Robbins v. Reagan, 780 F.2d 37 (D.C. Cir. 1985).


are in litigation; if the government  is going to do anything with respect to the shelter they are going to call me because I am the lawyer and that’s  what lawyers do.”  And he said, ”No, he said I am telling you they are planning to close the shelter.”  And again, I knew Mitch, I had confidence in him.  So, feeling really stupid, I called the Assistant U.S. Attorney who was representing the government  in the case; it was Royce Lamberth, who is now a federal judge in D.C.  I said, ”I am really sorry to call you; I know this is ridiculous,  but my client is very concerned  that the government  has plans to close the shelter and I told him the government  wouldn’t  do that without notifying me, but he is very concerned, so I would appreciate it if you would give me your assurance that that’s  not going to happen so that I can tell my client.”  And he said, “Your

client is right, we are going to close the shelter.”*  So I checked,  I think the case was assigned to Judge Richey.  But whatever judge had the case was out of town for the weekend.  So I called Royce Lamberth back and said, the judge is out of town for the weekend so we can’t  go in for emergency relief; will you agree to hold off doing anything until the judge returns?  He said, “No.”  It was clear to me that he was under instructions  to do this; this wasn’t  his decision.   So I called to find out who the emergency  judge was and the emergency judge was Judge Gesell, who was at his country home in Virginia, and I said we have an emergency TRO application to present to Judge Gesell tomorrow morning, it must have been Saturday  morning.





* In retrospect, I am not sure he said more than that he could not give me that assurance.


So then we had to write the papers and do all of that, but I had another problem.  I have told you that Tony and I had joint custody and I had the kids on Saturdays.  I think Tony must have been out of town, because otherwise he would have taken the kids, but I had to find somebody to take of my kids.  My

friend Gladys took care of them while I was doing this on Saturday morning.  So I kept hoping that smnebody  would ask me who was doing childcare so that I could say “Judge  Kessler is doing childcare during this application.”

So we were in court early Saturday morning and I was in the lobby of the courthouse and Judge Gesell came in, wearing his country clothes, and he stormed past me. He was furious, and I thought, this is going to be quite an experience.  And it turned out quite rightly that he was furious with the government because it hadn’t  been willing to wait until Judge Richey returned, which would have been the appropriate  thing to do.  So we got our TRO and he reamed the government  up and down.  It was quite a relief, but I do remember the childcare issue.

You had a question about this.  Can I tell another story about that case? It’s a really, really strange thing that happened in that case.  After we did the initial work, Covington  and Burling took over the case pro bono.  A lot of things happened here and there, but ultimately  we got to the point where there was a hearing before Judge Richey, probably on a motion for summary judgment. don’t remember, but Covington  was doing the work at that time.

Mitch called the night before the hearing and he said, I have to talk to the judge tomorrow”,  and I said, “Mitch,  you can’t  talk to the judge; it’s summary


judgment; this is legal argument; there is no evidentiary presentation  at all.”  He said, “I have to talk to the judge; I know he will listen to me; I know.”  I said,

”Mitch,  I don’t  see any way you can talk to the judge;” but, again, this is Mitch and I trust him, so I called the lawyer from Covington and I said, Mitch just called me and he needs to talk to the judge, and of course the lawyer from Covington said, “I can’t  think of any way he can talk to the judge.”

So we go to court the next day.  There is a documentary  called Promises to Keep and there is a Hollywood movie called Samaritan with Martin Sheen playing Mitch.  This incident is in the documentary and it might also be in Samaritan,  I don’t  remember that.

But lots of homeless people came to the federal courthouse that morning. That’s  one of the things Mitch did very, very well.  And so Judge Richey called us into his chambers and, as I recall– the courthouse was closed, he had closed the courthouse.  We said, “You can’t  close the courthouse,  you have to let people in.”  Mitch indeed was outside and finally Judge Richey agreed to let people in to the extent that there were seats in the courtroom and perhaps two rows of people standing in the back, so long as everybody was orderly.  We assured him that everybody would be orderly in court, so they opened the courthouse and people came in.

So the hearing proceeds and the lawyer for the government  is arguing to the court and one of the things he is talking about is the fact that the way CCNY is running the shelter is very unsanitary and unhealthy; for example, they do not tum away people who have lice.  He refers to something that’s in an affidavit, a


specific situation of someone who had been turned away from other shelters because he or she would not go through the delousing  process but this person nonetheless had been allowed to spend the night at the CCNY shelter.  From the back of the courtroom, Mitch says, ‘”She would have frozen to death if we

hadn’t  let her in.”  And Mitch is standing and moving toward the front of the courtroom and the marshals are closing in on Mitch.  And Mitch keeps talking as he walks to the front of the courtroom and Judge Richey says, ”Stand  back,

Mr. Marshall.  Mr. Snyder, I know you and you know me; come up here and tell me what you have to say.”  And Mitch went to the podium and talked to the judge just the way he wanted to.  It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in a federal courtroom.  That’s my story about that.

Ms. Wolf:        So what happened?


Ms. Roisman: Well, what happened– it’s  never simple.  Judge Richey issued a really amazing–. This was funny; his clerk called me to have me come down to the courthouse.   He said, ‘”Judge Richey wants to see you.”  This was either in his chambers or in his jury room and I am quite sure he had the government’s lawyer there, too.  The Covington  people must have been there; maybe not, I don’t  know.  Judge Richey sometimes  did things very oddly.  He said he was going to issue an order, he was going to do something  and he didn’t  want me to

tell my client, and I said “I can’t  do that.”  And then of course he recognized  that I couldn’t do that and I think, I can’t  remember, I think he gave us the order to read while we were sitting in the jury room before he released it to the public,


something like that, I  can’t  remember exactly what he did.  He sometimes  did things very inappropriately.

So he issued a really strange opinion that’s  reported.  He kind of wailed. He said the captains of industry and the leaders of government  have to do something  about this problem with homeless people and he was very sympathetic but he ultimately didn’t  give us relief.

And then the case went to the Court of Appeals, which also didn’t  give us relief.  Iremember that Pat Wald was on the panel.  Iwas very disappointed  that we didn’t  get relief.  So the government  legally was entitled to close the shelter and then a young man who worked for a Republican senator got his senator to intervene and the shelter was not closed, the shelter stayed open.  The government did put a substantial amount of money into it; it’s open today.  The government  put a substantial  amount of money into fixing it up — not all the money we had wanted and not exactly the way we had wanted it, but it did get rehabbed quite nicely.

Mitch was a very religious person.  He use to say you get the judge G-d wants you to get.  And I don’t  know how to explain what happened; it was very strange.  So we lost the lawsuit but we won the war.

Ms. Wolf:        And this was the lawsuit that somebody  laughed about at your house.


Ms. Roisman: Oh, we laughed about the complaint.   Well, the complaint  was ridiculous. Ms. Wolf:        But this is the …

Ms. Roisman:              Oh, yes, of course; I mean, how do you sue the President to make the President keep his promise?  Legally it was a very tenuous claim, but…


Ms. Wolf:        It achieved its purpose.


Ms. Roisman: It achieved its purpose and I am confident that it would have survived Rule 11 scrutiny.  It was a bona fide effort to expand the limits of existing legal principle.

Ms. Wolf:        Two things, you speak frequently about the CCNY …


Ms. Roisman: Community  for Creative Non-violence.  It grew out of the Catholic Worker movement.  Have I not talked about Mitch?  I thought I had.

Ms. Wolf:        Something about Mitch, but I am not sure…


Ms. Roisman: Well, Mitch was a nice Jewish boy frmn Brooklyn who went to work on Wall Street, embezzled some money or did something  like that, and went to federal prison where he met the Berrigan brothers, Dan and Philip Berrigan.  Oh, we didn’t  talk about that.  There is a book called ”Signal  Through the Flames” by Rader, I think, about Mitch.*  So he met the Berrigans and was converted to Catholicism and lots of other things and when he got out of prison he became a member of the Community  for Creative Non-Violence which was doing anti- war work in D.C.  This was in the late 1970’s. Then CCNY started to– this was when homelessness  first became a problem, late seventies, and CCNY was taking people in.  They had a house and they were taking people into the house

and feeding them arid giving them a place to live.  Then they started doing anti- homelessness  advocacy, anti-poverty  advocacy,  and most famously then–

There is a catholic church in Georgetown,  Holy Trinity, I think, that had a building program and Mitch and others from CCNY went to Holy Trinity and



* Victoria Rader, Signal through the Flames:  Mitch Synder and America’s  Homeless (Sheed &

Ward 1986).


said, “You shouldn’t be raising money for a building; you should be raising money to feed and house poor people.”  The church didn’t  agree and so Mitch and some other people from CCNY began to fast.  And after they had fasted for a while, this got public attention, the media paid attention to it, the Washington Post paid attention to it, and ultimately Mitch ended the fast.  He said that he

had decided that it was an act of violence on his part against the church to fast.


I think that’s  how I first knew — I didn’t know him then, but I think that’s how I knew about him.  They had had issues with the District government because they were bringing people into their building.  CCNY was bringing people into their building to live there and the District housing inspectors, who didn’t  do much of anything most of the time, decided to enforce the housing code at the building that CCNY was using.  I knew about that; I had read about that; but I had never met them.

And then in May of 1980, Mitch and Mary Ellen Hombs and some other people from CCNY came to the office and they said — this was the first time I met them– they said, ”We have a problem; we know you won’t  represent us

because we have been to lots of other lawyers who told us ——”


Ms. Wolf:        They say you won’t  represent them?

Ms. Roisman: Yes.  But we have some questions.   We understand  you know a lot about housing, so we have some questions.   The reason they were there was that the


District had been operating two surplus schools as shelters for homeless men and the District was going to close those shelters.  And I think I did talk about this because that was when Ilene Jacobs was working with me, she was co-oping


from Northeastern, and I went to her and said, if you will work with me, I will do this, and she said, of course.  So we went into court on a Saturday morning

on a TRO before Judge Greene — I did talk about this.


Ms. Wolf:


Ms. Roisman: Yes, yes.  So that was in May of 1980 and that when I first met Mitch and Mary Ellen and the others from CCNY.  And then I worked with them in a variety of ways after that.

At some point they were promoting a– there was a D.C. initiative that created a right to shelter.  And then I think there was another initiative that was an attempt to retain the right to shelter.  I think there were two initiative campaigns, but I remember that in one of the initiative campaigns  I was out at the polling place encouraging people to vote, yes or no, on whatever the initiative was and some official was telling me I couldn’t be there or I couldn’t do what I was doing.  This also was before cell phones, cell phones; would have made all of this much easier.  So I went someplace  and I called Mitch and told him what was happening  and I said ”I am not going to obey this; I am going to get arrested” and he said, “Don’t do it,” he said,”… just go where they are telling you to go.”  It was very funny to me because it was a situation where I was being more radical than Mitch was.  Mitch was the one who was saying,

just compromise  your values and go and do whatever they are telling you to do, don’t  get arrested, just work on the initiative.

So I worked with them in a variety of ways.  Really, he was my all time, most favorite client.  A great advocate; a great person.


Ms. Wolf:        Do you think he changed your life in any direction?


Ms. Roisman: That’s  an interesting question.   I don’t  know, I was probably as far to the left.


No, no.  Probably he did, because in situations like the one that I described with Robbins v. Reagan where I was confident the government lawyers were going to act the way government  lawyers as supposed to act — well, I don’t  know;

maybe; maybe.  That’s  a good question.  I don’t  know the answer.


I was pretty distrustful of the governn1ent even by then, but obviously  I was more trustful than he was because I kept saying, no, no; they would call and tell me if they were doing something  and he was right, they weren’t  planning to tell me at all.  They were planning to just go in and throw all those people out.

Ms. Wolf:        Had homelessness  been an issue for you prior to that?

Ms. Roisman: Homelessness  wasn’t  a big issue in the United States until about 1980.  Now, there certainly were homeless people and I remember when I first went to

-. – :: -;-

Washington, which was ’62  for’the Sumrrier but ’63 when I started working there, there were people who were homeless.  For the most part, they were alcoholics.  Men used to sleep on the grate outside the municipal building in D.C.  The first time I saw that I was shocked and I went into the building and I said, ”there are men sleeping outside on the grate; somebody should do something about this,” and the people in the building just looked at me as if I were from Mars and said they do that all the time; there is nothing we can do about it; go on about your business.

Ms. Wolf:        You said do something  about this.  What did you expect them to do?


Ms. Roisman:     I don’t  know; I probably expected them to arouse the men gently and lead them to a place in which they could live.  I can’t  remember.  This is, goodness, this is forty something years ago.  I don’t  know what I expected.

I haven’t  yet told my favorite litigation story.  May we leap ahead to my very favorite litigation story?  Well, this takes us into the nineties, 1990.  We knew that HUD and the Department of Justice were planning a major public relations ejectment of households in public housing using the civil forfeiture laws. We knew this because there had been meetings ofHUD and Justice officials to discuss this and someone who was involved in those meetings had told us this.  That on a specific Monday morning in twenty-three cities law enforcement officials were going to descend upon public housing units and eject all of the people who were in the units.

The civil forfeiture law had been amended fairly recently before that so that it applied to real property, including rental property, and the civil forfeiture laws had been used against public housing residents in Michigan.  Bob Gillette, a great, great legal services lawyer in Ann Arbor, had represented the residents after the ejectment had happened in Ann Arbor.  He then represented  them, getting them back in and maybe getting damages for them, I don’t  remember. So we knew about this procedure and we knew that HUD and Justice were

planning to do this the next Monday morning.  We didn’t  know all of the cities. We knew that New York was one, but the law was a little bit different in New York because there was a relevant Second Circuit decision that put some constraints on what could be done.  Nonetheless,  I remember talking to some


lawyers in New York, trying to get them interested  in challenging this, and they didn’t  think they had standing and they had other problems and I couldn’t get anyplace with them.  And then late in the day, and this was either a Thursday  or a Friday, I got a call from David Bryson at the Housing Law Project, David said “Richmond  ….






JUNE 19, 2007





Ms. Wolf:        We are now beginning our second tape, first side, and prior to starting this Professor Roisman had just begun speaking about one of her favorite cases which may be somewhat  out of order and as we were discussing  prior to the beginning of the tape there are other cases prior to this that she also would like to speak to later but since we began on this which is one of her favorites we are






Ms. Roisman:


going to continue with that.


This is Richmond Tenants Organization  v. Kemp.*





David Bryson called and



said, Richmond is one of the cities.  He had just spoken to Henry McLaughlin, who was and still is Director of the Legal Aid Program in Richmond,  and David said that I should call Henry and see what Icould do to help them.  So I called Henry and Isaid, “‘This is Florence Roisman; I just spoke to David Bryson and he told me that Richmond  is one of the cities, blah, blah, blah” and when Ihad finished, Henry, who is a Southerner,  a poet, a wonderful person, and a very slow talker, said “‘would you please go back to the beginning and say that all over again?”

So Iwent back to the beginning, starting with my name, and talked much more slowly, and he said “‘yes, indeed,” and among other things he represented



* Richmond Tenants Org. v. Kemp, 956 F.2d 1300 (4th Cir. 1992).







the Richmond public housing tenants organization and they understood that this was going to happen on Monday and they were perfectly happy to challenge it but neither he nor anyone in his program had ever filed a lawsuit in federal court nor had he or anyone in his program ever done a class action.  Virginia doesn’t have any class actions in state court.

So I flew down to Richmond–  which in itself is a sign of how urgent this was, because I don’t much like to fly and I certainly don’t like to fly in little planes.  So I flew down to Richmond.  I think this must have been a Thursday night and I worked with the people in the program.  I found out afterward that they thought I was coming down there and I was going to do this lawsuit, but that was not my plan.  I said to Henry, uWhom do you have in your program

who can do this lawsuit,” and he said, “Well, we have a really crackeijack smart young woman who is a Harvard Law School graduate. Of course, she has never done a federal court case and she has never done a class action, but she is really, really smart.”  And I said, “Fine, she will be the one handling the case and I’ll work with her.”

So that’s what we did.  I went down there and there were lots of staff people there and I knew what pieces of paper we needed to file and David Bryson and Cathy Bishop in Berkeley were doing papers.  Now this was before faxes and the kind of computer capacity we have now, but it was the beginning

of that.  So I remember that there was some way in which David and Cathy were writing big chunks of the papers and sending them to Richmond.  I don’t remember the details, but somehow that was happening.


So we were doing the papers and we also had some decisions to make about the judges.  I don’t  remember the details but I do remember that we did it straight.  There were some not straight ways to try to influence what judge we would get and we didn’t  do that; we did it by the book and we got a judge who was in the middle of the road:  he wasn’t  left; he wasn’t  right; he was a middle of the road judge.

And I worked with this young woman.  We talked about how you argue an emergency motion and I mooted her a couple of times.  This young woman is now the first lady of Virginia; she is Anne Holton.  She is married to Tim Kaine, himself a civil rights lawyer, who is the governor of Virginia.  Anne went on-­ after Legal Aid of Richmond she became a judge.  She was a state court judge and now she is the first lady of Virginia.  A wonderful, wonderful person and a great lawyer.  Among other things, [she is] the daughter of Lynwood Holton, former Republican  governor of Virginia, who sent his kids to public school

when much of Virginia was deeply engaged in massive resistance of desegregation  orders.  A fine woman from a fine family.  Her kids went to a great school named for her father.

So she went in, I can’t  remember,  I think we probably went into court on Saturday morning and she argued the socks off this and she got– really, again, I can’t  remember  the details.  Then the Baltimore program came into the case and another program came into the case and ultimately it was a national class action involving  twenty-three cities.  But those raids never happened; they never happened.  And we won the case in the Eastern District of Virginia.  I remember


at one point when we were litigating it, we were having trouble meeting a deadline and I said, “Well,  we will just move for an extension of time.”  The others laughed, and they said, ‘”Oh, no, this is the rocket docket in the Eastern District ofVirginia. There are no extensions of time; you have to do everything right on the button.”  We won the case in the trial court; the case went to the Fourth Circuit and Anne argued it in the Fourth Circuit.  I think Bryson came down and we mooted her.  We mooted her again but she did a fabulous job and we stopped  that program from happening.

And here is a little side note to that.  If I recall correctly, Frank Keating was the General Counsel of HUD then.  It turned out that, I think, this had been a HUD initiative and part of the discussion  also was about how they were going to get the Legal Services  Corporation  to be sure that none of the legal services lawyers could handle these cases.  There was a lot of really inappropriate stuff and this was all in depositions. We took the depositions of several HUD officials and maybe also some Justice Department officials.  Sometime thereafter, Frank Keating was nominated for a federal judgeship and I gave portions of the record in that case to — actually, I wasn’t  the only person but I

am not going to name the other people who did it.  If there is credit to be given I


will share it but if there is blame I will take the blame.  But we gave some of that material to the people on the Hill and it was used appropriately  in preventing Frank Keating from becoming a federal judge.  He later became Governor of Oklahoma.   That’s their problem, but he didn’t  become a Tenth Circuit judge.


And I remember going back — gender, gender issue coming up.  When I went back to D.C., probably on Sunday– if I am right, the TRO –preliminary injunction  hearing was Saturday  and I went back on Sunday and I felt like a founding father.  I felt that I had helped to save the Republic from this gross due process violation.  Little did I know what we would be dealing with today.  I

was just fueled with adrenaline and the only thing I could think of to do to work off some of that energy was to clean out my refrigerator,  which I did with a vengeance.  Possibly the only time that I had really cleaned the refrigerator.

Ms. Wolf:        What happened to your children when you left on Thursday?


Ms. Roisman: You know, I don’t  know.  Maybe they were with Tony.  They weren’t  with me.


I know that wasn’t  an issue.  Sometimes he and I would switch weeks.  I mean, we would switch days.  I don’t  remember there being a childcare issue.  If there was I took care of it.  I don’t  even remember that being an issue.

Ms. Wolf:        You want to end for today and continue tomorrow, Thursday. Ms. Roisman:           Sure.







JUNE 21, 2007






Ms. Wolf:        This is Mary Wolf.  It is June 21, 2007.  We are at the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, resuming the oral history of Florence Roisman.  When we left two days ago she was telling us about one of her favorite cases and she has indicated that she has four other cases that she would like to speak about and so I think we are going to pick up there unless you want to go somewhere else first.

Ms. Roisman: Okay.  One is a case that isn’t on my resume.  I don’t think it ever produced any reported decision, though it was an interesting and ultimately useful piece of litigation.  Outside of Selma, Alabama was an air base, Craig Airfield, which had been a very important air base and a very important part of the economy of Selma and of Dallas county, as discussed in J. Mills Thornton’s book, Dividing Lines.* At some point in the seventies the airfield was declared surplus to the needs of the United States and was transferred to the authority of GSA, the General Services Administration.  GSA’s  plan for Craig Field was to tum the field over to the white power structure of Selma so that Craig Field could be used as an industrial park.





* J. Mills Thornton III, Dividing Lines:  Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in

Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma (U. AL Press 2002).







There were people in Selma, Black people in Selma, who thought that Craig Field should be used for other purposes.  I should mention that there was a good deal of housing on Craig Field.  There were houses that had been homes

for officers and there was housing that had served enlisted people.  I actually never went to see Craig Field, which I regret, so I don’t  know exactly what the housing was, but there certainly was housing there.*  The people who wanted the housing on the base to be used for Black people and particularly  for low income people were represented  by, among others, a legal services lawyer named Rick Ebbinghouse,  and a legal services lawyer named Abigail Turner. They had some litigation down there in Alabama.  I don’t  remember; I don’t know if it was in federal court or state court.  Then somehow they came to me. don’t  remember how this happened.

We filed a lawsuit in federal court in D.C. against the General Services Administration. Now, this was during the Carter Administration.  I don’t remember exactly what the date was.  There was statutory authority then that doesn’t exist now for HUD to play some role in the determination  about the disposition  of surplus property.   I can’t  remember any of the details.  But that was our lawsuit– that there hadn’t  been adequate consideration, probably, of alternatives.   So we filed the lawsuit in D.C. District Court and this is my recollection  of what happened.

Very soon after the lawsuit was filed, I think Rick Ebbinghouse called and said “Oh, disaster; terrible, terrible things have happened;  the congressional


*I did go to Craig Field with Abigail Turner, in May of2009.


delegation has gone to the White House and now the White House is getting involved in the litigation and they have set up a tneeting and we have to go to the meeting, and terrible, terrible.”  And I said, ‘”Well, who is the person at the White House from whom you have heard this?”  He told me the name, and I am having a senior moment because I am forgetting what the name was, but it was

someone who had been a legal services lawyer.  It was somebody  I knew from



legal services.*


So I said, “I don’t  think we really have to worry about this too



much, Rick; I think this is going to be okay; I think the White House is going to be very sympathetic to our position.”

Also, I should mention that at that time Lois Schiffer was at Justice. think she was Chief of the General Litigation section in what I think then was called the Lands and Natural Resources Division, but in any event Lois was the chief of the section that was handling this litigation.  Lois is one of the best lawyers on the face of the earth.  She also comes out of a public interest background.  She is a friend of mine, so I knew that because of her public interest background we would get to some extent a sympathetic ear from the government’s lawyer, but also this legal services lawyer was in charge of these meetings at the White House.

The meetings were not technically at the White House.  I remember only one meeting.  Maybe there was more than one, but I remember one and it was at the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House.  I don’t  remember who all was there.  I am quite sure that Joe Smitherman,  who was the mayor of


* I think this was Bruce Kirshenbaum.


Selma for a long time, I am quite sure he was there.  I don’t  remember  who else was there, but there were other people there from the city of Selma and Rick and Abigail and I were there.  I don’t  remember who else was there.  But the upshot of the meeting was that we were going to get what we wanted, that the housing was going to be tnade available to low-income Blacks.

Then there was a discussion  about how much rehabilitation  was going to be done to the housing and then there was a discussion about air conditioning. happen to hate hot weather.  I am very sensitive to heat.  I can’t  stand hot weather.  Although I grew up without air conditioning  as a child, I regard air conditioning  as a necessity of life.  So I insisted that those houses be air conditioned.   Now, I learned afterward that air conditioning just wasn’t  standard equipment for anybody’s housing in Alabama at the time.  I am sure some people had it but most people didn’t  have it.  It was regarded as a great luxury. Well, to me, it wasn’t  a luxury, it was a necessity.  So I fussed and fumed and

we ended up with an agreement  that the houses were going to be air conditioned. It was all subsidized housing; the housing authority was going to pay for the air conditioning and the monthly electricity bills and whatever.

I remember two other things about that meeting.  One was that when I left the Old Executive Office Building and walked back to my office, which I think was on Fifteenth Street at the time, I was feeling fabulous.  I mean, we had really, really gotten everything  we wanted and then some.  I walked past a store and I saw a suit in the window.  I went in and tried on the suit and bought it. wore that suit for years; it always made me feel good to wear that suit.


The other thing I remember is I went back to the office.  In the office was this fabulous, fabulous, amazing man with whom we worked, Bill Powers.  Bill had worked for HAC.  He is not a lawyer; he is a lobbyist, an amazing, effective lobbyist.  People used to think he was a member of the Senate.   Bill had worked for HAC and then at some point he came to work for the Housing  Law Project

as the Housing Law Projecfs lobbyist.   I don’t  remember  when that happened.   I got back to the office and Bill said to me, uWhat the hell have you been doing?,” and I said, uWhy?,” and he said, ”Well,  I just got a call from one of the Alabama senator’s offices and they want to know who is that mad woman who was at the meeting at the White House,” which I took as a very high compliment. Bill said

I had set back his relationship  with that office by a millennium.


Anyway, the Selma suit, the suit against GSA, was a great moment. loved it.  So that was one thing I wanted to mention.

Another is not a particular lawsuit but it’s  work that went on during all those decades and, goes on now, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, in which I was involved in one way or another.  That was the creation and protection  of the lease and grievance procedures for public and assisted housing.

Those procedures  came out of litigation in the sixties.  After Goldberg  v. Kelly, there were two cases involving — well, there were more than two, but two of the cases involving public housing termination  proceedings,  Escalera  in the

2nd Circuit and Calder v. Durham in the 4th  Circuit [were tenant victories in


which the Supreme Court denied cert.f  Those two cases established  the proposition  that, as a matter of constitutional  law, there had to be some kind of due process proceeding  before people could be evicted  from public housing.  I didn’t  have anything to do with those two lawsuits, as far as I remember.

As a result of those lawsuits, HUD developed  administratively a grievance procedure and some model and required lease provisions.   Those requirements had to be defended,  and then they were incorporated in the statute.  Over the years, depending  on who was in control of the Senate and who was in control of HUD, there would be restrictions of those rights and expansions  of those rights and periodically  we would be litigating something  with respect to the lease and grievance  procedures.   But that was just an issue with which I was concerned  in one way or another, literally for decades.   David Bryson, who was at the Housing Law Project, was really the central person on these issues, but he and I worked together a lot with lots of other people, so I wanted to mention that.

I should mention one other group of lawsuits– it actually  was two lawsuits but it’s  all one issue.  When HUD insures home mortgage  loans, as it does for the FHA program,  when those mortgage loans go into default and ultimately  the lender forecloses,  usually what happens  is that the lender gives the properties  back to HUD and HUD pays off the lender.  Then, what HUD

does when it has these properties — and it has a great many of these properties —






* Goldberg  v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970),  Escalera v. NYC Hous. Auth., 425 F.2d 853 (2d Cir.

1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 853 (1940); Caulder  v. Durham Hous. Auth., 433 F2d 998 (4th Cir.

1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. I 003 (1971 ).


is — at least this is what HUD did in the eighties; I suspect it still does the same thing — HUD sells them in bulk to real estate speculators.

I don’t  remember  how it started; I actually think it started because I may have seen an ad for one of these sales, that I think was at the Hyatt in Bethesda, Maryland.   HUD was going to hold an auction and it was going to sell hundreds or thousands of homes.  This was in the late eighties,  when homelessness was really a very, very significant  problem.

So we filed a lawsuit against this and — I have forgotten a lot of the details but it was very interesting.   One of the things that I remember is, one of our plaintiffs was from Flint, Michigan, because a lawyer there, Marilyn Mullane, was still in legal services  and had appropriate  clients in Flint.  So we filed suit initially on behalf of a relatively small group of people and maybe it was just people in Flint, Michigan.   But I do remember that at one point, I think maybe we were going in for a TRO or something, but I remember asking a law student who was working for us to find out what judge was the emergency  judge.  The student came back and said, “Harold  Greene.”  And I said, ‘”You’re  kidding,” because everybody in the office knew that I worshipped  Judge Greene and I always wanted to have Judge Greene.  And he said, “”No, no, it really is Judge Greene.” And I said, “”Okay, then, it’s going to be a national class action.”

Anyway,  we filed this suit, which was called Lee v. Pierce, and at some point we got some kind of relief that stopped these bulk sales at least for a. period of time.*  I got more hate mail about that lawsuit than I had ever gotten


*Lee  v. Pierce, 698 F. Supp. 332 (D.D.C.  1988); Lee v. Kemp, 731 F. Supp. 1101 (D.D.C. 1989).


about anything except for the Bradford matter here.  And there is no doubt that that was because the realtors had sent out some kind of… You know, they have a very effective lobbying and grassroots organizing  mechanism, and there is no doubt that they had sent out some kind of notice that said, a witch in

Washington  has just interfered  with this great money-making thing that we have; attack her.  And they did.  I really got incredible …. this was before e­ mail, but letters, postcards, junk mails.  Anyway ….

Ms. Wolf:        How did you handle them?


Ms. Roisman:              Oh, I just ignored them.  I think I had one of them up on a bulletin board.  There was one that was particularly outrageous  and funny.  I didn’t  feel threatened  by them really, but I was surprised.

I can’t  remember what the progress of that suit was.  As often happened-­ you and I talked about this yesterday after the tape– very often my role was helping to get a lawsuit started and then very often one of the big firms in D.C. would take the case over pro bono.  In this case, Hogan & Hartson took the case on and litigated the rest of it.  I don’t  know whether they got a win or not. Ultimately,  I don’t  think we significantly impacted the administration  of that program.  I think that HUD ended up doing pretty much what it had been doing. But we raised some issues and got a little bit of relief at some point.

We were talking about Mitch two days ago and one of the things I should have mentioned  but didn’t  was the very significant  role that Mitch played in the D.C. public housing receivership  litigation, Pearson v. D.C., which ultimately


was very successful.*  It was Mitch who helped to persuade one of the big firms, Covington  did it if I recall correctly, but it was Mitch …. I went with Mitch to several meetings to talk to law firm people about doing this lawsuit and he really was instrumental.  He was essential to getting that lawsuit started.

I remember  walking down K Street with Mitch.  You know, it’s  the


middle of the afternoon and there are lots of parking garages on K Street and the guys who work at the parking garages, all Black guys, were standing out in front because it’s  the middle ofthe afternoon.  They weren’t  moving many cars at that point.  Mitch and I walked down the street and all of those guys said: “‘Hey, Mitch; hey, man; how’s it going?  How are you doing?  Hang in there, Mitch;

you are doing a great job; keep doing it.”  Wonderful support for him.  It was working class guys in D.C.

So that was three of the four things I wanted to talk about.  The fourth is a big thing because I have said several times that I wasn’t  paying attention to race. I thought other people were doing that, the civil rights groups were doing that. There was the National Committee  against Discrimination [in Housing] for part of that time; they were doing it.  In retrospect, I can’t  believe how stupid I was.

I don’t  think I ever had a client who wasn’t  Black.  How could I not have seen that this was a race issue?  I did not at all focus on race.  I sometimes  went to meetings with NCDH and other people but I wasn’t  ”doing  race.”






*Pearson v. Kelly, No. 92CA I 4030 unreported  Memorandum  Opinion and Order dated August

I 8, I 994 (D.C. Superior Ct. I 994).


By the way, I did have White clients, because our clients in the Pealo case, at least the ones from upstate New York, were White.  But locally, in D.C., I think all my clients were Black.

So in 1987, I think, there was a large, privately owned, housing development in suburban  Virginia.  I forget whether it was in Alexandria  or Arlington; it was kind of on the border.  This development  had been privately owned and the person who had owned it had died and his estate had sold it.  And the new owners said that they were going to rehab the development  and that in order for the development  to be rehabbed all of the tenants were going to have to move out.  It was something  like five hundred units, so it was a big thing.  The area was called Arlandria; it was right on the border of Alexandria  and Arlington.*

There were stories about this in the Washington  Post and the people in Northern Virginia Legal Services were concerned about it and there was and still is a fellowship  program at Georgetown  law school, the Institute for Public Representation, and there was in particular, there were two fellows there who were concerned  about this development.   One in particular, Mercedes Marquez (talk about a dynamo)  was very concerned  about this.

I was supposed  to be a housing expert, so people would call me.


Mercedes particularly  would call and say:  ‘”‘”These terrible things are happening; people are being evicted; what can we do?”  It was a privately owned development; it wasn’t  subsidized;  and Virginia landlord-tenant law was still in


* This litigation is discussed earlier.


the seventh century.  We were fussing around trying to figure out how to do something  to help these tenants.   And finally I said, “”Well, what color are the tenants?” and the answer was, ‘”They’re  all Black and Hispanic.” I said, ‘”Okay; then it’s a civil rights case; it’s  a Title VIII case.”  And it is true that I did not at that time know what Title VIII was Title VIII of.  I knew there was a thing called Title VIII; I knew it was a Fair Housing  Act; that was all I knew about it.

So we did sorne investigation and found a very tenuous connection  to HUD.  I can’t  even remember  now what it was.  HUD had insured some loan for something.   So I said, ‘”All right; we have got to bring this case in D.C.,”

because the Virginia federal court wasn’t much more sympathetic to us than the Virginia state courts and you can’t  bring class actions in the Virginia state courts. We were better off in D.C.  We filed the suit in D.C. and as was usually the case at that stage I didn’t argue the motions;  they were argued by a woman from the Northern Virginia  program whose name I have forgotten because I am getting senile and Chris Hornig, who was then working  for tny law firm.  The big issue was jurisdiction  — whether the court could keep the case and then if the court

did keep the case we wanted a TRO and a preliminary  injunction  on the merits to stop the displacement and evictions.

Our judge was Harold Greene.  Mitch may have been right when he said you get the judge G-d wants you to get.  We could not have had a better judge. In fact, it may be the case that the only judge on that bench who would have

given us relief was Harold Greene.  So we are sitting in court and one or both of


these young lawyers is arguing and I am sitting at counsel table and thinking to myself, if he imposes Rule eleven sanctions,  I am going to have to pay them.

But, bless his heart; may he rest in peace; he kept the case in D.C.  I think he denied a TRO and then gave us a preliminary  injunction. I don’t  remember the details.  I actually have a recollection. There is a reported decision and I think in a reported decision  it says he granted a TRO but I think that’s  not accurate.   I think we lost the TRO but then we got a preliminary  injunction. In any event, we did get a preliminary injunction.

He set the case down for hearing on a very, very, very fast schedule.   I had tried to get some experienced  civil rights lawyers involved  in the case and I had been totally unsuccessful. Then I went to Barry Goldstein,  who was then at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and I said “Barry,” I told him about the case. “Barry,  I am not a trial lawyer; I am not a civil rights lawyer; if you leave this case in my hands, I am going to screw it up to a fare-thee-well  because I don’t know what I am doing — and I am the most experienced  lawyer on this team. You have to come into it.”  So he did.  LDF came into the case; Barry Goldstein came into the case.  Penda Hair, who now runs the Advancement  Project; Jack Boger, who is now the Dean at UNC law school — a cast of many people.

But I will tell you we needed all those people because we were doing a couple of depositions a day.  We were on a very, very tight schedule and Judge Greene had held that we were going to have to prove intentional  discrimination – which was wrong, but that’s what he held.


So we were doing discovery to make a showing of intentional discrimination. Chris Hornig was working on the case and…. I am blanking on her name, the woman from Northern Virginia Legal Services,* and Mercedes and the other fellow from Georgetown, Iam also blanking on his name. Mercedes was absolutely  central to all of this.  It never would have happened  if it hadn’t  been for Mercedes.   She is fluent in Spanish. She was our principal contact with the tenants.  She was very important in the development  of the

legal theories.  She was a critical figure.  I am sure Iam leaving out other people who were involved.

Iremember the moment; Iwas sitting in court, listening to Barry argue a discovery  motion, and suddenly  a light bulb went on over my head and I realized this really was a race case.  Our theory was that if these people hadn’t been Black and Hispanic the owners wouldn’t have done the demolition  and rehab in this way; they would have checkerboarded so that people could stay in one building  while another was rehabbed and then people would move into that building.   And part of the theory was that the owners wanted the Black and Hispanic tenants out because the property would rent for more money if there were an all White tenancy.  And, just sitting in court listening  to Barry, I

realized  that this was …..



Ms. Wolf:


. . . had a shocking  realization in the midst of this case and our tape stops.  So I

am going to ask for us to go back a little bit and bring us back to where we left off.




* Ann[e?] Suhler.


Ms. Roisman: Okay, so there I am sitting in court listening to Barry argue that discovery motion.  The light bulb goes off over my head and I realize that this really is a race case, that the owners really would not have been doing things as they were doing them if the tenants had been White Anglos instead of Black and Latino.

So then I have to tell you two things: I have to tell you what happened in the case, and I have to tell you what happened as a consequence of that light bulb going off over my head.  First, what happened in the case:  we settled.   We

did a lot of discovery; we got some really amazing stuff in discovery.   I think we would have proved our case.  The other side probably thought we could have proved our case, too, because we got a very generous settlement that enabled our clients to stay and provided subsidies  for them.

It was Arlington, I am quite sure, because the Arlington city government was involved and there was a city official who was very helpful to us.  So we

got a very good settlement  as a result.  About a year after that settlement  I was at a D.C. Bar luncheon or dinner and I happened  to see Judge Greene.  He smiled

at me and said, “How are your clients in Virginia, Mrs. Roisman?”  I told hitn they were doing very well.  That decision of his made me very grateful to him. When he granted us relief, I wanted to fill his chambers with flowers; that was exactly what I wanted to do.  I wanted to buy every flower I could find and just fill his chambers with flowers.  It was such a wonderful thing for him to do.  So that’s  what happened in the case.  I am sure I am leaving out lots of wonderful things.  And there was a lot of work.  Mercedes was practically living there and


the other fellow was very very good and very hard working.  I am sorry I have forgotten his name.

What happened to me was very dramatic because I really did feel like an imbecile, realizing that I had never focused on race before.  So, with the zeal of a convert, I started to do a lot of reading and paying a lot of attention to race issues and since 1987 I really have been very focused on race.  That’s  the heart of the work that I have done.  Teaching:  I teach a Housing Discrimination and Segregation  course and I have been very involved in housing desegregation activities.

That’s a whole other area we probably should talk about.  Where to start with that?  There are two fabulous lawyers in Dallas, Texas, Mike Daniel and Betsy Julian.  They both started in legal services and then they went into practice together.  They still work together, although their careers went in different ways.  Mike stayed there in Dallas, practicing civil rights law, which is what he does.  Betsy, in the Clinton administration, came to Washington and was ultimately Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity  at HUD.  That’s another story I should probably tell.  But in any event they were in Dallas; they were doing civil rights work. They did voting rights litigation but they also did housing desegregation  litigation.  They did an

important case in Texarkana,  and then they did …. They did a number of cases, but the two big, big ones were in Dallas and East Texas.  There were suits against HUD and in some case the

local housing authority and the local city for purposely discriminating  against and segregating African-American applicants and public housing residents — in tenant selection and assignment and in site selection.   Part of the relief involved in the Dallas case was the demolition  of a very large, horrible project in West Dallas.

Now, in the low-income  housing world, demolishing stock is not something  we approve of, and so a lot of people who otherwise  would have been allies of Mike and Betsy’s were very upset about the fact that they [Mike and Betsy] were advocating  demolition. The short of a long story is that I was very supportive of them, not particularly  on the merits.  I don’t  know that I knew enough to have an opinion on the merits, but I felt very strongly that this was their city, they lived and worked in Dallas, they were very close to the


clients in Dallas, they knew what they were doing in Dallas — whatever the right or wrong thing might be someplace  else or as a matter of theory.  I atn very big on supporting people, to work with people who know what they are doing and not second-guessing them.  And also Betsy and I had trained together in federal litigation training, although  I can’t  remember which came first, but in any event Mike and Betsy and I became very close friends.  This put me in conflict with a lot of other legal services  people, including a lot of people with whom I had worked and to whom I was personally close, and to a large extent it put me in conflict with the National Housing Law Project.  This is very complicated  to

talk about, but…. Certainly, after 1987 I became very focused on race issues in general and on housing desegregation in particular.   I ultimately came to think

on the merits that Mike and Betsy were absolutely  right in what they were doing.


One of the things that I have been involved in over a long period of time is housing mobility activity.  We have had three national conferences  on housing mobility, all of them, I think, involving the Urban Institute and the more recent ones involving the Poverty and Race Research Action Council.  We have had publications, and there is litigation.  There are about a dozen of these lawsuits. am not counsel in any of them but I have been in one way or another involved  in them.  Usually, I helped to persuade people to bring them.

Some of the lawyers do not appreciate that.  Barbara Samuels  in Baltimore, was in legal services; she is now at the ACLU of Maryland and she is the lead counsel in Thompson  v. HUD, which is only ten years old and is a very


important public housing desegregation case in Baltimore.*  We are talking about fabulous lawyers.

You said yesterday, I hadn’t  named any lawyers, on Tuesday,  I hadn’t named any women.   Are you hearing about enough women?   I mean, Barbara Samuels top of the list, Betsy, top of the list — Laura Bashera, who is Mike Daniel’s  new partner, top ofthe list, I could give you a long list.

Barbara was preparing the suit and I am sure I read the complaint  in draft a couple of times and I don’t  think she would thank me, although  I think the suit’s done enormous  good.  It’s been a very effective  lawsuit, but it’s  been a lot of work.  So one of the things I have done is I have been very involved  on the edges and the margins.   I have been involved in all of that litigation,  Buffalo, Minneapolis,  I can’t  remember,  I have written about them.

And another thing that’s  come out of that is my work with respect to the federal low-income  housing tax credit program,  which was created in 1987 and has become and is now the biggest subsidized  housing production  and rehab program in the United States.  From early on, I was saying, we have to talk about the tax credit program.   We can’t  just be focused on the HUD programs.

The tax credit program is administered by the Treasury  Department; we have to focus on this program.

I wrote a law review article a couple of years ago about the nonexistence of civil rights enforcement  in the low income housing tax credit program and


*Thompson v. U.S  Dept. of Hous. & Urban Dev., 348 F. Supp. 398 (D. MD 2005); see Florence Wagman Roisman, Affirmatively Furthering  Fair Housing in Regional  Housing Markets:  The Baltimore  Public Housing Desegregation Litigation,  42 Wake Forest  L. Rev. 333 (2007).


that article has been very influential.*  There has been some litigation that’s come out of that, so I mean this is all stuff that — I am not involved in the litigation;  I am not co-counseling the litigation; but I certainly am involved in the development  of theories and litigation on these issues.

I mentioned  PRRAC.  I should say something  about PRRAC (the Poverty and Race Research Action Council),  which tries to bring together advocates and social science researchers  on issues at the intersection  of race and poverty.  I was one of the co-founders.  Alan Houseman, John Powell, Jack Boger, and I, I think, were the original people who helped to get funding from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations.   I was on the board originally  and then I was off for a

couple of years but then I came back on and I am still back on the board.  Every time I talk about one thing it makes me think about something  else, so ….

Ms. Wolf:        You said you wanted to talk about Betsy and appointments of the Clinton election.

Ms. Roisman: Oh, yes.  When Bill Clinton was elected president, the civil rights housing people, which is not a large group of people– Tom Henderson of the Lawyers Committee and I don’t  remember  who else– a group of people …. We knew the people who were making personnel  recommendations for the White House and we wanted to have some influence over the choices for HUD general

counsel and assistant secretary  for fair housing and we wanted Betsy.  Betsy was our candidate  to be Assistant Secretary  for Fair Housing or maybe for General



*Florence Wagman Roisman,  Mandates Unsatisfied: The Low Income Housing Tax Credit

Program and the Civil Rights Laws, 52 U. Miami L. Rev. 1011 (1998).


Counsel.   Originally,  we wanted her to be General Counsel and that couldn’t happen because someone  else was going to be General Counsel.   Roberta Achenberg  was Assistant  Secretary  for Fair Housing so maybe that was what we were promoting  Betsy for.  Betsy went to HUD in a new position that was created for her:  she was Deputy General Counsel for Civil Rights.  There had never been such a position.  So she went to HUD in the General Counsel’s

office and then she did become Assistant Secretary  for Fair Housing,  I think when Roberta left.

That’s part of what you do when you are in Washington. We were involved with some other personnel choices.  You try to influence  them to the extent that you can.  Are there holes here?  Do you have questions about things?

Ms. Wolf:        As I mn sitting here listening, the importance of what you just mentioned….


Ms. Roisman: Tony and I went to D.C. in the Summer between our second and third years in law school when he was at Justice and I was at the FTC.  Then e both had jobs there and we went back.  He was from Oklahoma and neither of us wanted to go to Oklahoma. I am sure I would have been perfectly happy to go to New York but it was so easy for us to go to D.C. and we liked D.C.  I don’t remember  ever having any discussions  about it, which is why we ended up there.

Ms. Wolf:        You just kept finding different jobs there?


Ms. Roisman: Yes.  I mean, once we started there, I am sure we never thought about. … Well, I shouldn’t say we never thought about leaving because we did think that eventually  if we retired we would go and live in New Hampshire,  but I don’t think we ever thought about working any place other than D.C.


Ms. Wolf:        Did the politics ever interest you?  Was that ever a motivating factor in staying in D.C.

Ms. Roisman: No, I don’t  … No; I mean it was much nicer to be there when the Democrats


were in power than when the Republicans were in power.  You could really feel it.  D.C. was a different  place in a Republican administration  and the

inaugural — I remember the Reagan inauguration;  the city was just full of limousines  and people in fur coats.  It was just disgusting to walk down the street.  But no, we were there through Republican and Democratic

administrations.  I don’t  think that mattered.



Ms. Wolf:


Since we began talking a little bit about D.C. what are some of the other things that you recall about raising a family and working in D.C.?  I guess you also do

a lot in terms of the arts.



Ms. Roisman: Well, I don’t  know that I did anything particularly about the arts other than going to things.  I did go.  But certainly one thing is that when you live in D.C., when there is a demonstration  in D.C., one really feels an obligation  to go.  If people are coming by bus from California, the least I can do is take the subway down to the mall.  Even before the subway, we were often at demonstrations.

I have a wonderful picture of my two girls at an ERA march.  We are all dressed in white and the kids have their fists in the air.  I think BJ was about two and Rachel was four or something like that.  So a lot of demonstrations.  Before we had kids, Tony and I were at the demonstration  outside the Pentagon, the


mobilization,  and a lot of antiwar activity, not just for the Vietnam war but also the Gulf war.*

So that’s one thing.  Another is that you get…. The House, the Senate, the agencies are right there,  so you really think nothing….  We lived on Capitol

Hill for a number of years — you think nothing about testifying, meeting with people on the Hill.  I remembered  testifying at one hearing; Barney Frank was presiding, and he said: ”and our next witness will be Florence Roisman, accompanied  by” and I kind of looked around because none of my colleagues was with me and he said “accompanied  by her daughter, Rachel Roisman,” who was just a little kid then.  She was with me because I was taking care of her and she was at the hearing.

The one time I really was impressed was when I went to the White House for the interview I mentioned  in an earlier conversation.   I remember being surprised that I was impressed because I thought I was pretty blase.  I think the person who was interviewing  me must have taken me to see the Oval Office -­ not to enter it but to see it.  That impressed me.  And I remember that she took me to the White House mess.  I was impressed by the White House but I wasn’t impressed  by the Old Executive Office Building.  You know, that’s  okay; I had been there for other things.  So you get used to dealing with the agencies and with the media.  I knew and worked with a number of people at the Washington

Post in particular, and at the Star, the newspaper that died.



Ms. Wolf:


What about raising children in D.C.?




* The Gulf war demonstrations were after we had children and after we’d been divorced.


Ms. Roisman: Well, it’s  the only place I ever raised children, so I don’t  know what the options are and …. The kids got used to a lot of this.  As I said, Rachel wasn’t, and the other kids, too, weren’t  . . . .  I mentioned  the CCNY shelter on the site of the former federal city college.  When it opened after the rehab we all went down there, the kids and I went down there, and scrubbed the floors, helped to clean the place up.  CCNY used to feed homeless people at Thanksgiving, originally

at Lafayette Park and then at some point it moved up to the hill and we used to do that.  I have a fabulous picture of the two girls giving food to people.  And there is a place for children called Martha’s Table, and we used to, in fact the people in the neighborhood,  the kids I mentioned  who were all a group in our neighborhood,  we used to make sandwiches and take them down.  Martha’s Table, that’s  was what it was called.  We used to make sandwiches  once a week I think and take them down to Martha’s Table.  I remember we would make a turkey and then cut up the turkey and then bring turkey sandwiches  down to

Martha’s Table.


So the kids were very involved in what we were doing and when I went out of town I think Tony did this, too.  We would take one of the kids– and each of them had this opportunity  a couple of times — on an overnight  trip to Boston or to Atlanta.  I think Tony took the kids to Puerto Rico once on some

kind of trip, so to a considerable  extent they went where we went.



Ms. Wolf:


That’s one of the things I was wondering;  how aware they were of the type of work you were doing?


Ms. Roisman: I think they were very aware.  The kids learned very early on that after either of


us had filed a case the question to ask was, “What judge did you get?”  I loved it. I mean, when my kids were very little, they would ask “What judge did you

get?”  I think they were very conscious of the work that we do.


You had asked after our last discussion,  you asked something  about how all of this affected the kids, and I would say in different ways.  Our youngest daughter, BJ, who is thirty-one, is very politically alert, very progressive, very outspoken.   When she was at school here at IUPUI there was a right wing somebody addressing students on the campus and BJ took this guy on.  She is very progressive,  very outspoken  about issues.

Our middle daughter, Rachel, who is a doctor, has a fellowship in occupational  and environmental  medicine.  She is unquestionably going to be-­ she will get an MPH, a Masters in public health.  She unquestionably will be a public health advocate.  She wants to do clinical medicine but I don’t  have any doubt that she is also going to be a very powerful advocate.  At one point when she was in med school she spent time working for the Baltimore public health office, which is a very good office.  She worked for Ralph Nader’s public health group with Sid Wolfe.  She is going to be a powerful advocate on public health



On the other hand, our oldest child, our son, is apolitical at best and conservative  when he is not apolitical.   I once said to Tony, ”How  did we have a son who is supporting George Bush?” and Tony said “Well, we taught the kids

to think for themselves,” which I don’t  regard as an adequate explanation.   But


Abram, for all that he is apolitical  and conservative,  is very compassionate. remember  that at his high school, the Georgetown  Day High School, the students had to do some kind of community  service, which was very broadly defined so there were lots of options  for them.  Abram chose to go down to the CCNY shelter and help with food preparation.   I remember our talking about

cutting up broccoli for hours.  And I was touched that he did that.  I didn’t  know


if they had absorbed all of that but they had.



Ms. Wolf:


You said for example like schools, things like that, how did you see yourself


with respect to your children’s choices and careers with schools?



Ms. Roisman: Well, with schools we really let them decide where they wanted to go.  When


Abram started preschool,  we sent him to the Barbara Chambers Children’s Center and then we chose GDS for him; that’s  true.  But if at any point he had said he wanted to go someplace  else, and he had friends who went to other schools, we probably would have let him do that.  When it came to college he picked his college.  He went to Wash. U.

Rachel started at Columbia  Road– Barbara Chambers Children’s


Center — when she was three and then returned there when she was four and she said, ‘”I don’t  want to stay here; I want to go to GDS.”  We said “Well,  it’s  better to finish the year; you would go at the end of the year; you don’t  want to go in the middle of the year, blah, blah, blah,” and she kept saying, ‘””No, I want to go now,” and finally Tony and I just said ‘”Okay, you can go.”  We knew when she was four years old that she was a woman who knew her own mind, so she went.


Then again, when it came time to go to college, med school, everything, she makes her own decisions.   In fact, when she finished her residency and she was looking for a fellowship  or interviewing  for different fellowships, she had the opportunity at the University of Washington  in Seattle which is where she is. She had an opportunity  at Harvard and she had some other things.  I don’t  know that she ever asked my opinion, in fact, I don’t  think she did ask my opinion.  I

think she just did or didn’t  entertain my opinion.  I said to her once:  ”You  know, Harvard is Harvard.  Harvard is always the top of the heap,” and she said, “Mom, you don’t  know what you are talking about.”  Which is true.  She said, “At this level, the issue is who has the best program and it isn’t  Harvard and I am not going there.”

Now, I certainly think– she has got a father who is an environmental lawyer and a mother who is an anti-poverty, anti-racism lawyer.  Is she affected by this? Yes, I don’t  have any doubt about that.  But, on the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have had much impact on Abram, so who knows.

I do think I should say this about my parents.  My parents were very, very active in community activities,  as I said when we talked about that, and I definitely  think that that influenced  me.  I mean, I take it as a given that one has an obligation  to do those things.  I never even think about that.  I think that’s  a

given and I think that comes from my parents.



Ms. Wolf:


Did you notice differences between growing up and your daughters in terms of the whole idea of the gender …. ?


Ms. Roisman: Absolutely.  Are you kidding?  Where to begin?  Well, I told you when we talked about this, when I  was growing up, if a woman was smart, if she was really smart, she didn’t  let anybody know how smart she was.  Being smart was regarded as a deficit.  Being outspoken, being opinionated,  all of that was a deficit.  You would never get married if you acted that way.  The be all and the end all was: get married.  My father, who always assumed that I would go to law school, wanted me to go to law school, said, “‘You should go to law school so that when after dinner you are washing the dishes and you are listening to the news you would understand  what they are talking about on the news.’I mean, totally, totally, totally, sexist, terrible.

In the home environment  and in the immediate social circle, our kids didn’t  have any of that.  Now, that doesn’t  mean they didn’t  pick it up.  Our close friends, the people in the neighborhood  who were close friends, with whose kids our kids grew up — Mary Ann and Rob Stein, both public interest lawyers; Gail Harmon, a public interest lawyer, her husband is a surgeon and

that was pretty much the in-group.  Well, also at least in the early years, we were also very friendly with Judy Chused and her husband; they are both physicians. One of the little girls, I think it was Judy’s daughter Amy, age maybe four years old, now both her parents are physicians and all the immediate social ….. .






JUNE 21, 2007





Ms. Wolf:        We were talking about a young girl in the neighborhood who played with her children and was the offspring of a two professionals.

Ms. Roisman: Two doctors.  She is the daughter of two doctors.  And the kids are talking about what they’re  going to be when they grow up and she says she’s  going to be a nurse.  “Why are you going to be a nurse?”  ‘-‘-Because that’s  what girls do.”

You know, look at the reality around you and it doesn’t  overcome  the more generally strong social structures.  And these are kids who didn’t  get to watch commercial  television probably ever.  Society is very, very, very strong.

The upbringing for the kids was totally different from the way I was brought up.



Ms. Wolf:


Any other specifics on which they go?  Back to just what you noticed in terms


of your daughter’s choice of profession and the kinds of things they want?



Ms. Roisman: Interesting question.  I don’t  know if what I’m remembering is very pertinent to


this.  But when Rachel was in maybe middle school, her preferred attire was used men’s boxer shorts, purchased at used clothing stores or Goodwill, and extra large mens used t-shirts.  This was her preferred attire at all times of the year.  Definitely including the winter.  I was told that some of the parents at her school were thinking of reporting me to Child Protective Services.  I think it’s interesting, maybe, thinking of reporting me, not Tony, although we were both

implicated in this.  But we had very much let the kids make decisions  for








themselves.  So long as they weren’t  threatening to do something  that was unsafe or immoral, we let them do what they wanted to do.  Now, we were very strict about smoking and drinking and drugs, and stuff like that   And our kids did not go to unchaperoned  parties as a lot of the other kids did.  We were very strict  Our kids had chores; there were things they had to do.  We were the

mean parents.  We were the strict ones.  But within those very broad limitations,


we let them do pretty much what they want to do.



Ms. Wolf:


I’m thinking of, maybe pick up with some of this stuff and then get in to some


of the school history?



Ms. Roisman: Teaching?


Ms. Wolf:        Teaching.   And perhaps anything else that you like to bring. Ms. Roisman:            Okay.


































– 2 –






JUNE 26, 2007





Ms. Wolf:        This is Tuesday, June 26, 2007.  We are resuming the oral history of Florence Roisman at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.   I am Mary Wolf, W-o-1-f. And we’re  picking up where we left off at the last session and also we’re going to go in to some of the law teaching experiences of Professor Roisman.  But prior to that, Professor Roisman has a few other things that she is going to speak to.

Ms. Roisman: Well, at the end of the last session, you asked two questions about which I have thought in the intervening days, so, I will answer those questions.

One question  you asked was, by whom have I been influenced?   Really, by so many people, it would probably be ridiculous for me to identify even a few, but I will identify a few, omitting my family.  I won’t  mention family members, but professionally,  certainly by Alan Rosenthal and David Rose, who were two of my two reviewers when I was at the appellate section of the civil division of the Department of Justice from ’64 to ’67.  They were both really, really, fine lawyers.  They taught me a great deal about writing briefs and being a good lawyer.

The people with whom I worked in legal services, Larry Silver and Maribeth Halloran in particular, but I learned a great deal from all the people with whom I worked.  I learned a great deal from Donny Rothschild, who was







teaching at GW Law School when I was in legal services.  And I think I mentioned several sessions ago when I very, very, badly handled the representation  of a group of people who wanted to sue the District over the citizen participation element of the model cities program.  When I didn’t  file suit on their behalf, Donny Rothschild did, just overnight.   I was very impressed by that.

Betsy Julian, whom I have mentioned, is certainly one of the wisest people I have ever met.  I was very influenced by her and by Mike Daniel, with respect to civil rights issues but also with respect to a lot of other things.

Pat Wald, with whom I worked at legal services in the law reform



unit  . . . . The one thing I will never forget that I learned from Pat is just to do it.  She was asked to work on a forma pauperis statute and she just sat down and started writing one.  I will never forget; it was forty years ago; and I said, “Don’t

you need to do some research?”   My first move always will be to immerse


myself in something. And she said, “No, I need to get it done; I think I’d better just sit down and start doing it.”  That was very impressive.

Lucy Williams, who teaches at Northeastern Law School now, conveys a powerful sense of how much bad is going on in the lives of poor people.  And it stays with me forever.  I have learned lots from Lucy and one thing that is very concrete.  If you call me and I am not in you will hear a reference to “the faculty assistant with whom I work” (rather than “my assistant).” I learned that from Lucy.


I said that Mike Daniel had influenced me.  Some time ago when Mike and Betsy and I were at a conference and we were eating I noticed that Mike always calls servers, sir.  He does it almost all the time but he certainly does it when the people who are serving are Black.  I have picked that up and I will say “sir” and “rna’am,” which is not natural to me at all, to people who are serving

in some capacity.   I have noticed how important  it is to the people to whom I am saying it; it really makes a difference.

So there are a million  things that I have learned from other people.  I have learned from Bryan Stevenson, I have learned from you a lot about generosity. Those are some of the people who particularly  stood out to me.

The other question  you asked was:  in what ways I thought my children had been influenced  by the fact that I worked.  I would add to that, by the fact that most of the women whom they saw, most of the adults with whom they interacted,  most of them were professionals.  I do think that they have been influenced  in that way.

I said that my son has very conservative political views, but he married a woman who is a feminist.  She has a Masters in occupational therapy; she has a child; she works part-time;  and she is a very independent, effective woman.  On the days that she works, my son takes care of the baby.  Neither my son nor my daughter-in-law cooks.  They don’t cook; they eat out, or they bring food in all the time, and this has always been true.  Even before they had a child.  Christa’s parents give her a hard time about that.  They say she should be cooking and I say, there is no more reason why she should be cooking then that Abram should


be cooking and I think it’s fine that she is not cooking.  When they want to eat out, let them eat out; it doesn’t bother me a bit.  So I do think its affected even Abram.  Both my daughters  are hardened feminists and they are very active in the world.  I think I have talked about what they chose to do.

You had asked if their upbringing was different from mine and I said very, very much.  And here are some examples.   One is with respect to sports.  When

I was growing up, if girls were engaged in any sports or any kind of sports, I am not aware of it.  BJ was a special case because she was at a special school.  But Rachel was involved in team sports from a very young age, like soccer on what was called a mixed team.  She was the only mix; all the other players were boys. Then when she got older, she played women’s soccer and women’s basketball; she was very athletic, which I never dreamed of being.

The other dramatic difference  is with respect to personal relationships. When I was in high school, my parents forbade me to date a boy who wasn’t Jewish and I obeyed them.  And before I was married it would have been inconceivable for me to share a room, let alone a bed, with a man.  That was completely  out of the question.   And it’s matter of course for my kids.  There are no restrictions  on what kinds of people they have intimate relationships  with and they have in fact been intimate  with a series of people over the years — although Rachel just this past weekend announced  that she and her fiancee are going to

get married.


I actually never expected her to get married.  I thought the two of them were going to live together for the rest of their lives, but I didn’t think they would get married.  In that area, the difference is very, very dramatic.

Here is one other story about Rachel, when she was in the lower school. The school that she and Abram went to had a lower school, a middle school, and a high school and when she was in the lower school she very much enjoyed one of the traditional activities, which was a Halloween parade.  In middle school they don’t have a Halloween parade, which offended her grievously. She liked the Halloween parade, so she got up a petition to have a Halloween parade and took it to the administration.  I am saying this was in middle school, which I guess would be sixth grade, but I think it might have happened even earlier than that.  That she went out and got people to sign a petition and took it to the administration of the school.  She has always been a fighter and she got that

from both of her parents.  All the kids did.


You asked about how the divorce… I am sure the divorce had a bad impact on the kids.  I don’t doubt that.  But Tony and I really put the kids first. We never put them in the middle and usually if he and I didn’t agree about something we would discuss it, come to some compromise agreement, and then present that to the kids.  I think I told you the story that when Abram was Bar Mitzvahed, when we were getting ready for the Bar Mitzvah, the rabbi said to us at one point, “I can’t believe you two are divorced; you get along a lot better

than most married couples whose children are being Bar Mitzvahed.”


That was and still is true.  Not that we don’t disagree and not that each of us doesn’t on occasion bite her or his tongue until it bleeds, but on the whole we managed these things with the kids in a way that doesn’t interfere too much with how they feel.  It’s not perfect; in fact, they have told us, there have been a number of situations where Tony and I will be in the same place at the same time, where a friend’s child is getting married, for example–  we would go with them, we are both friendly, we will go to the wedding.  And our kids really hate that.  We will say to them, why does it bother you?  Dad and I are fine with it. And I finally figured out that it bothers them because they are so concerned

about not showing a preference for one or the other of us. It makes them really uncomfortable to wonder, if they cling to one of us, will the other feel hurt.

When they graduated from college, when Rachel graduated from medical school, all those situations are stressful for them.  They worried about our competing for their attention.  I told them not to worry about it but I don’t think that does the




Ms. Wolf:


I think that throughout the various times when we have been speaking you have talked a lot about teaching in the law but not focused on that and so maybe if you could go back and just talk a little bit about your career as a law school professor without repeating all the different instances that we have already

talked about but to show the history and then how you got to where you are now.



Ms. Roisman: Okay.  When I was at NLSP with my colleagues in the Law Reform Unit, we team-taught a poverty law course at Georgetown, with ninety students each year, by the way. That’s  when poverty law was fashionable.  Then in 1970 I went to


teach full-time at Catholic and I taught full-time there from ’70 to ’74.  After that I taught part-time at Catholic and I was also teaching part-time at Antioch.

I can’t  remember the years.  Then in eighty-two  I thought I wanted to go back to full-time teaching and I visited at Maryland.  They didn’t  offer me a full-time position.  Their appointments committee  voted, I think it was four to three, not

to offer me a position.  Some of my friends on the faculty said, ‘”Let us take this to the full faculty because we think we can reverse this.”  And I was sufficiently ambivalent about whether I wanted to do it that I said, ”No, this is a sign it wasn’t meant to be; I am just going to keep doing what I am doing.”  But I returned to Maryland for several years after that as a adjunct.

Every time I taught full-time I would then go back for a couple of years as an adjunct and in fact I think this was true at Catholic.  At one point the administration  didn’t  want me to come back but there were student protests. This was in the old days when students protested things and so the students insisted that I come back.

So then in the– I don’t  remember  exactly when, but sometime after the Maryland teaching, so after ’83,  I started teaching as an adjunct at Georgetown. I taught a housing law course as an adjunct at Georgetown.   And then one day I ran into Peter Edelman on the subway and I said, ‘”Peter, I have been thinking I would like to teach a homelessness course, too.  What do I have to do to do

that?”  And he said, ‘”You just did it.”  Then I was teaching a housing law course at Georgetown  and a homelessness course at Georgetown.   And about this time, maybe in the late eighties, I don’t  know exactly when, I started teaching the


housing law course at GW, so I was practicing  full-time and I was teaching three courses as an adjunct at two different schools, walking over to GW to teach there.

In ninety-two, when Bill Clinton was elected president,  this is what a prophet I am not, I thought, well, social justice progran1s were safe with Bill Clinton, so I could do what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was to go back to full-time teaching.  Teaching  three courses at two schools as an adjunct is crazy.  So I called the Associate Dean at Georgetown, I think it was Wendy

Williams, and I said; “I know it’s  late in the year, but I also know a lot of people are leaving to go into the administration. I would like to come as a full-time visitor if you have any need for me.”  And she said, “Well, in fact we have a desperate need, but it’s  in a first year course and we never have first year

courses taught by people who haven’t  taught them before.”  I said, “What’s the course?”  She said, “Civil  Procedure.” And I said, “Well,  I have taught Civil Procedure.  I taught it when I was at Maryland.” She said, “You’re kidding.” And I said, “I am not kidding.”  And I remember  more of the conversation. She said “We may have a desperate need.”  I think it was Phil Schrag who was thinking of leaving, somebody who taught Civil Procedure was thinking about going into the administration.  She said, “We may have a need in Civil Procedure.”   I said that I taught Civil Procedure.   She said,   You’re  kidding.” said, “No, I am not kidding; if you have the need, call me.”

So she called me not long after that and said, “We would love to have you come and we would like you to teach Civil Procedure, which was a full year


course, and run the family poverty clinic because Peter Edelman is going to HHS.”  And I said, “I don’t  do clinics; I am not a clinician.”   Wendy talked to Judy Areen, who was the dean.  Wendy said, ‘”What do you want to teach?” and I said, “I will teach Civil Procedure and the two courses I have been teaching as an adjunct.”  So she talked to Judy and she said “Great,  we would love to have you.”  I came as a visitor.  Once I said to Judy that somebody had asked me

from where I was visiting, and she said, “Tell them you are the visitor from the real world.”

I knew that I probably wanted to come back to full-time teaching which I thought would be a piece of cake at Georgetown. I had been teaching there as an adjunct for years.  Many of the faculty were friends of mine.  I am a really good teacher.  Why wouldn’t they want me?  So at the end of that first year I had learned enough about the academy  that I said, ‘”Okay, now I want to come back next year as a look-see visitor.   I want you to consider me for a tenure­ track position.”  And a member of the faculty who was on the recruitment committee,  I will not name this person, said to me:  “You  will never get a job here,” and I said, “why not,” and this person said, “You  are too old and you have had too much practice.” First, he said, “You  are not going to sue us,

right?”  I said, “I am not going to sue you.”  Then he said, “You will never get a job here,” and then the rest of conversation.

So I taught my courses again.  I had published  articles over the years and I had an article that year, I had something  that was supposed  to go into a Yale journal that didn’t  go and something  that was going into the Penn Law Review.


I was publishing; that wasn’t  an issue, but what I was publishing was an issue because it was all about housing.  A person on the recruitment committee  said to me, “Don’t write about housing.  It’s too practical.   You love George Eliot,” this person said to me.  “Write  about George Eliot.”  And I said, “I do love George Eliot, but I am not going to write about George Eliot.  That’s  not a contribution to the world.  I won’t  write about George Eliot.”

In retrospect,  I can’t  believe how naive I was about the academy.   I also had applied to other law schools in D.C.  I applied to GW, to American.   I don’t think I applied to Catholic.   I think just GW and American.  They were not interested;  they didn’t  even interview  me.  Georgetown did interview me and I thought I was a shoo-in for all the reasons I’ve mentioned and because the people who were on the hiring committee  that year were people I thought would be extremely interested  in me.  So, I walked into the interview and they raked me over the coals.  I thought  I was going into a room with six or seven people who were, if not friends, close acquaintances, and I was walking in to a lions’ den.  I had no idea people acted that way.  I was really taken aback.  And then I did a job talk which was very well attended.  In retrospect,  I’m stunned by how many people came to the job talk, but Georgetown didn’t  offer me a job.  They did not offer me a job.  I was really– “devastated” would be too strong.  But it was a real shock.  I think it had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t offer

me a job.  It was extremely  upsetting.  It was very upsetting.


I must have been on the market.   I must have gone through the AALS


process in addition to applying  to the D.C. schools.  Because I got a very nice


phone call from Michael Goldberg at Widener asking me to come out there and do a job talk and I did.  And they offered me a job. It was the only job I was offered, but, as I tell my students, all you need is one. So, this was a very big deal for me.  I had lived in Washington for thirty years.  I had lived there for thirty years.  I sold my house.  I either gave away or tossed a lot of my belongings and I moved to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which is five minutes from Widener in Delaware.

I started teaching there.  I was my usual self.  And I really, really irritated


the dean.  I don’t think I realized that at the time but subsequently I have learned that I had really irritated the dean — in the most trivial way. For example, there was some kind of school event and I noticed that there had been no one signing. In Washington, if there’s any kind of event, public event, whether it’s government or private, somebody is signing for people who are hearing impaired.  And I noticed that this was not done at this thing at Widener.  So I sent a note or e-mail to the dean suggesting that we have someone signing at public events.  Well, I got back a vicious message from him about how expensive it is to do signing and Widener is no under legal obligations to do it because it is a private institution.  I don’t know in what other ways I really irritated him.

And I should say, the other person who came that year to teach at Widener was Margaret Farrell, with whom I had worked in legal services in the 60s. Margaret is a brilliant lawyer, a University of Chicago law school graduate.  Her life had been teaching and practice, the same kind of mix I had done.  She had


been at the Mental Health Law Project for a number of years.  She and I were the two people who were hired to teach at Widener that year.  So in December, we both were “riffed.” The purported justification  was financial exigency, which is what allowed the administration to fire us, but there was absolutely no doubt on the part of anybody I’ve ever talked to that this was done because the dean hated me, didn’t like Margaret much better, and was able to take this opportunity  to get rid of both of us.  So, we both got riffed in December and of course we had eighteen months to find new jobs, as we had tenure track appointments.

Then I went on the AALS market again.  And since this oral history is being made for gender purposes,  I will report something  rather personal, which is that for the first time in my life, I colored my hair, because I was 58 years old, and I was going on the job market for the second time.  I had been told three years previously that I was too old to get a job at Georgetown, so I thought I didn’t need to be walking around with gray hair.  So I colored my hair and I went on

the job market again and again I got one offer.  Well, one is all you need and it was to come here.  So, that’s  the story.

The two times that I went through the AALS meat market were, depending on your point of view, either hilarious or a nightmare.  Most of the time I was being interviewed  by people the ages of my children.  Most of the time I was being interviewed  by people who had absolutely  no interest in what I had done in practice.  So, most of thirty years of my professional  life was at best irrelevant to them and at worst a negative because I had been dabbling in this


real world stuff, and they asked some incredibly stupid questions  the most memorable of which was, “”Why hadn’t  I clerked when I got out of law school”? I said, “”Have you read anything that Sandra Day O’Connor or Ruth Bader Ginsberg has written?  Do you understand  that when women got out of law school in my year, they were lucky if they were being considered  for law jobs and not typing jobs?  Clerk?  Wait a minute!  Very few women clerked.”  So, it was not a fun experience.   I didn’t  have a lot of interviews, either time I was on the market.  Well, maybe half a dozen, at most.  And I would watch young people I knew, sotne of them I think had been students of mine, running around to dozen of interviews, and I had half a dozen.  But, as I say, it takes only one




Ms. Wolf:


I guess one question is, “Did you ever thinking of going back to practice, like way back when you’re  talking about Georgetown,  this letter [end of tape 1 – side 1].

Oral history of Florance Roisman,  this is side 2 of tape 1.



Ms. Roisman: Well, you just asked if I had ever thought about going back to practice either to avoid leaving D.C. or to go back to D.C. when I got riffed.  The answer is no. knew I wanted to teach.  Teaching  is the only kind of job I was looking for.

Ms. Wolf:        Did you have any doubt about getting a job in practice? Ms. Roisman:        That I knew I could do.  But I wanted to teach.

Ms. Wolf:        It was the same question  with respect to Georgetown,  which would have allowed you to stay in the D.C. area.


Ms. Roisman:   Yes.  I knew I  wanted to teach.  It was very hard for me to leave D.C.  Very hard.


I raised my kids there.  I’d practiced law there for thirty plus years.  Every block has memories for me.  That’s really home.  It was very hard to leave.  But I

knew I wanted to teach. Ms. VVolf   VVhy?

Ms. Roisman: VVell, part of it was, that when I thought about what I had done that had really made a difference,  I thought it was the impact I had had on the people who had been my students.  And this is odd because I was involved in a number of cases that were paradigm-shifting, groundbreaking cases.  Javins, the implied warranty case, which some people say is the most important  landlord-tenant case of the 20th century (although  that’s  not much of an honor).  I don’t deprecate any of that.  Some of the litigation I thought was really important. Like the Richmond Tenants Organization case.  I thought I had been useful.  I thought that the impact on students really had the most leverage.  I think that was the main rational explanation.

The real explanation  is I just felt that that was what I wanted to do.  I’d always wanted to do that.  In a way, I forced myselfto do the litigation.   I would always have to kind of wind myselfup to force myself.   I’d know that if I didn’t do something  about an injustice, nobody would do anything.  So I would kind of really wind myself up and make myself go in there and fight it.  Actually, I

don’t  like to do that.  I’m  really a very pacific person.  I don’t  like to fight.  I will fight if I have to, but I’d rather not.  You’re laughing  because you don’t believe me, but it’s  really true.  It’s  really true.


Ms. Wolf:        I know that you wanted to teach.  Is it because of the impact on students? Ms. Roisman:    I started teaching so long ago that I’ve seen it, and in some people very

dramatically. I saw Jon Lash go into public interest work.  Ginger Patterson  has said that it was important  for her to see me in front of the classroom.   Emily Benfer.  Those are the people who most immediately come to mind.  But I often

hear from former students about the impact I’ve had on them.



Ms. Wolf:


How did you see your impact in those days?  And then the other question is,



“How did you see yourself bringing about an impact on the students?”


Ms. Roisman: Well, I’m  not sure I understand  all of your question but I’ll try to answer it.  One thing that I try to do is to expose people to issues and problems and ways of thinking to which they might not otherwise  be exposed.   Most obviously,  in my Property course, I’m  putting in a lot of race, a lot of poverty issues.  These are

not people who had chosen to take a course with me.  They have no choice.


They were assigned to me.  They may have no interest in racial issues or poverty issues or equity issues and I confront  them with those issues.  For a lot of people that doesn’t mean that they’re going to go into a life of public service.  But often people have told me that that exposure influenced  them.  Even though they are going about their capitalist  lives making money, to some extent this influences them.  And that is important  to me.

I don’t  think I convert anybody  to being a public interest lawyer.  But I definitely think that I support  people who come into law school wanting to do public interest.  As we both know, relatively  larger percentages of people come into law school wanting to do public interest.   Small percentages of people leave


the sausage machine wanting to do public interest [work].   I think that’s  because at most law schools the general atmosphere is very negative about doing public interest work, and then there are financial  issues, too.  So I think it’s very important for people who have that interest, to have faculty members like you, like me, to say, this is something  that grown up people dedicate their lives to,

full time.  This is a viable, admirable choice; it’s  not just something  to just throw away and do some volunteer work on Saturday mornings.  This is a matter of justice, not charity.  This is something  that smart people focus on.

I also try to influence other teachers by creating courses, putting together materials,  and giving talks.  I am very conscious  about trying to leverage my impact on other teachers.  And I try to help younger teachers who will focus on these issues and have these values.  Particularly,  though not exclusively,  women and particularly,  though not exclusively,  women of color.  We both want to help them get through and succeed with what they are doing.  So, teaching, I’ II read their papers, I’ll do peer reviews, for them.  It’s a deliberate  program.  I’m very conscious of what I’m trying to do.

Ms. Wolf:        Earlier about …. Ms. Roisman:           Oh absolutely.

Ms. Wolf:        Talk a bit about that ….


Ms. Roisman: Well, for any students who are interested in public interest, I try very hard to help them, with getting jobs, with getting internships, scholarships.  I regard that as part of my job.  I may have mentioned  that probably my favorite novel is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  There is a line in it when Caleb Garth, who is


supposed  to be patterned on George Eliot’s father, says, all of us have an obligation  to help the younger people.  I think that’s  true.  I believe that, so I really do try to help.  I even help people who want to get jobs doing corporate work.  If that’s  what they really want, I’ll help, and in fact I have… The next thing I have to do is write a letter of recommendation for somebody  who wants to do corporate  work.

I am able particularly  to help people who want to do public interest work and I do that.  Emily Benfer in her first year wanted to do antihomelessness work so we figured out a way to send her to D.C. to intern with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.   Then she went to the Lawyers’  Committee. Emily is an outstanding example because she is very effective and committed.

I think that women law professors,  particularly women law professors of color, we talked about this a little bit in an earlier session, have enormous problems.   I think all professors of color and I am thinking particularly  of African Americans  and Latinos and Latinas, even more so women than men, I think they have to prove themselves to their colleagues,  to their students.  There are still issues that women students have although  I don’t  know why this is true. I mean, there are so many women in law school now, I don’t  know why the women students should have problems, but I taught at Yale in the Fall ’06

semester and I was stunned by the lack of confidence of not just the women with whom I dealt but particularly  the women.  Some of the men were amazingly lacking in confidence; I just couldn’t believe it.  They are all off the charts smart people, but the women, and these are women who were good enough  to get into


Yale Law School and are doing well at Yale, several of those of whom I am thinking have clerkships.  But they are very much lacking in sel[-confidence.

Ms. Wolf:        What causes that then?


Ms. Roisman: It’s still a big problem.  I don’t  see it so much here, but I saw it at Yale. Ms. Wolf:             I am wondering if you saw this…..

Ms. Roisman: I don’t  remember it when I was a law student.  Now, remember, I did not have much contact with the other women in my class and I don’t  think Gladys and I had, we knew that there were forces opposed to our being in law school and being successful as lawyers, but I don’t  think we ever thought that we weren’t  as good as any man at what we were doing.  I shouldn’t speak for Gladys.  I don’t

think I had that feeling.



Ms. Wolf:


We are back on the tape and at this point what I am going to do is ask if you



would like to add anything, and then we are going to reschedule another session after all of the tapes have been transcribed to do a concluding tape, fill in gaps and add any additional reflection.  So I tum it back ….

Ms. Roisman: No, I have nothing to add now.


Ms. Wolf:        This is the end of the tape for June 26 and we would resume again sometime in








JANUARY 7, 2009



This is Mary Wolf and Florence Roisman at the Indiana University School of Law in


Indianapolis  and today’s date is January 7, 2009.




Ms. Wolf:



















Ms. Roisman:



















Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:










Florence and I have gathered today to conclude the oral history which we have been working on since December of 2005, and at this time we have all of the transcripts to date and Florence has had an opportunity to look them over, as have I. We have also looked over the suggested topics for the project and at

this point in time I am just going to ask Florence if she thinks that, pretty much, we have covered most of the topics that you would like to cover concerning

your history in the legal profession.


I think we have certainly covered the things I was interested in covering.  With regard to the questions that the organizers of the Trailblazers  Project provided you, the questions you have just read to me, I’d say we haven’t  talked as much as they probably anticipated  we would about the disadvantages  or advantages of being female in the legal profession.   For most of my career I didn’t  pay much attention to that, so I don’t  have much to say about the analysis of those




Having gone over the transcripts,  is there anything that you would like to add or embellish on from any of the things that we talked about?

I don’t  think so.


Ms. Wolf:





















Ms. Roisman:


Okay, then I think for a concluding question or comment  for our sessions I was interested and we talked a few moments before we started the tape about whether or not you think if you were entering the profession at this point in time as opposed to the point in time when you entered the profession several years ago, do you think you would have excelled in a greater or lesser way whether your career would have been better or worse.  This may be a bad way of putting the question but the idea is whether or not you think that you would have excelled more in your career.

Well, it’s a question that I have been thinking about in the very recent days and weeks.  Yesterday,  we heard that the President-elect  is going to nominate the first woman Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, and a number of other women are going to be nominated for very significant  positions in the federal government and I certainly  think about my career in relationship  to the careers of those women.  Now those women are a generation  younger than I am — they are twenty years younger, and more than twenty years younger than I am — they are twenty-five  to thirty years younger than I am for the most part and they certainly have opportunities  that I don’t  think I would have had.

Now, to be fair, I have to say I did have an opportunity  to go into government  in the Clinton administration  and I declined that opportunity.   I am not talking about the story that I told you about the Carter administration when

I thought about doing judicial selection but my kids were too young.   By the Clinton administration  my kids were grown up.  It had nothing to do with kids; it had to do with my recognizing,  I think accurately,  that the position that was


offered to me was not a position I would enjoy having and it wasn’t  work I


would do well.  I don’t  think I am an inside person.


So it isn’t  that I won’t  have any of those jobs– I don’t  even think I would like to be Solicitor General, although if it were offered to me I probably would have a lot of trouble turning it down.  But no, I wouldn’t want to be SG.  But I am struck by the fact that there are many, many, many, more opportunities for women now than there were when I was at that stage of my career.  Not enough, by any means.  I mean — there is one woman on the Supreme Court, that’s  ridiculous, and we’ll  see how many women will hold high positions at Justice, but so far only one of the Assistant Attorneys General who has been named as a potential nominee is a woman.  So not nearly enough opportunities are opening up for women, but it’s dramatically  different from the way it was when I was coming up in the profession.

When we talked about this before, you asked what I think made the difference  and I said mentoring.   I think that certainly makes a big difference because women coming out of law school now are getting, I think, really good mentoring.  It depends on the school and it depends on other things, but I think

the mentoring  is available  to them.



Ms. Wolf:





Ms. Roisman:


Or to think about what opportunity  you would like to have had and weren’t able to pursue it because of gender, what would that be?

I actually have been thinking about this and I don’t  know that there is such a thing, because I loved my career in legal services and I wouldn’t have given that up for anything.  It was the most important  professional  part of my life.  I


mean, my kids are a whole other story.  But putting aside my kids, being in legal services was without any question  the most meaningful,  significant, important,  and good part of my life.  I always say February 20, 1967 was the day that changed my life, when I started working for the D.C. Legal Services Project, as it then was, and that’s absolutely  true, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

I thought at one point about whether I wanted to be a federal judge.


thought about that seriously  when Bill Clinton was elected because, not to say I


could have been a judge, but it was reasonable  for me to go after it if I wanted it and I didn’t  want to be a federal judge.  I didn’t  want to do that; that’s  not what I wanted to do.  The federal death penalty has a lot to do with that, but I am an advocate and a teacher, not a judge, and I didn’t  want to be a judge and I don’t want to be an administrator or an agency person.

I really have done what I wanted to do.  I was a legal services advocate and I was a teacher and to some extent I am still an advocate.  So I have had a wonderful career.  So there is not an– I think I would have benefitted if I had been a clerk when I got out of law school and I think it was gender that made that not realistic, but other than that I have had a fabulous career.  I loved what I have done and I wouldn’t have done it differently.

I don’t  know whether  I regret not having had the opportunity  to teach at a more elite institution. That’s possible.   I might have.  I don’t  know.  I love teaching at a public institution, and am very happy at this school.   I really, really, really like the people here, including  the students, not just the faculty.


don’t have any doubt  that if Yale or Harvard  offered  me a job I would  take it,

no matter  how dysfunctional Harvard  may be.  That’s the only thing  I can think of that I would  have done  differently.  But I wouldn’t have given  up the legal services work and I think having  done  the legal services work  for as long as I did made it unlikely that any ivy-league school  was going  to offer me a tenure track position.  And in no way would  I have given that up, no way.



Ms. Wolf:


I guess  then my final question, along  with my thanks  to you for having  done

this would be, if you could  pick what  you would  be remembered for in terms of your legal career,  what would  you want to be remembered for?



Ms. Roisman:  That’s a very hard question to answer, Mary.   You should  have  told me a week in advance that you were going  to ask that question. I don’t think  I could pick out any one thing.   Part of it would  be the teaching, because I am always enormously gratified when  I hear from a former  student  who says, “You  would be really proud  of me because I just did X.”  That  is just enormously gratifying.

When  Obama won the election I heard  from a number  of former  students who related  that election to things  we had talked  about  in class or outside of class.   So a lot of it is former  students.  And I have a number of former  students who are teachers and you know  that’s fabulous, when  I hear from them and

they say, “I remember when  you did X and I am doing  X and my students were taking  it well.” So that’s one whole  set of things  that I would  like to be remembered for.

And then some  of the litigation and the related  advocacy and the suit we did that stopped HUD  and Justice from  using  the civil forfeiture laws to put


public housing tenants out of their apartments.   I loved everything about that lawsuit.  I loved the merits of it; I loved the facts that we taught young lawyers, one in particular, Anne Holton, how to do this kind of litigation and then she went on and did more of it.  Who knows — maybe she is going to end up on the Fourth Circuit now.  I was just really pleased about everything related to that case.

I loved the work I did with Mitch Snyder and CCNY.  That was really, that was the edgiest, I think that was the edgiest legal work that I did and that was the work that put me at the edge of where I am as a lawyer.  When we lost the case to try to keep the Second and D Streets shelter open and I thought that the government  was going to come in and try to evict all the people, I thought about whether I was going to go down to resist that, which would have been a big thing for me to do.  I have been arrested, I don’t  think we have talked about my arrest.  But defying a court order related to a case in which I had been counsel would have been a really big thing for me to do.  Fortunately, I never had to decide whether to do it or not, but I was seriously thinking about

whether I was going to do it.  So that was very edgy.


And the suit, the Pealo suit that we, Lee Reno and I, brought to stop the Nixon administration  from impounding all the funds for the rural subsidized housing programs.   I loved that lawsuit.  Nobody knows about that lawsuit, but it kept the rural subsidized  housing programs going.  That was a pretty major piece of litigation.


So I would be hardpressed to choose.  There are other things that I also really liked doing.  One of the things I say often is that the most important thing about the legal services program is not what it did for the clients, but what it has done to the lawyers and it certainly has done huge amounts for me.

It was professionally the best thing that happened to me.



Ms. Wolf:
















Ms. Roisman:













Ms. Wolf:











Ms. Roisman: Ms. Wolf:


Thank you.  And I think one of the things that you said that in part of your closing remarks is one of the things that you talked about throughout your history that what was lacking in your career was the mentoring and the teaching.  I think you will be remembered strongly for your mentoring that you have given to students and to fellow faculty members and other women as well as legal services lawyers.  So thank you for that very very much.

I don’t  want you to end this without my thanking you for your incredible patience, thoughtfulness  in both senses and generosity.  You were a saint, I think, and it was wonderful of you to give this enormous atnount of time to doing this interview in addition to the enormous amount of time and thoughtfulness  that you put into everything else you do.

Well, thank you and I think that this will be something that will be very valuable for people to hear from and share through the years.  Just to see the story of other people who have gone before us and along with us.  So thank you.

Thank you.


And this is the end of our oral history of Florence Roisman.  And it is now


I :50 p.m. on January 7’h, 2009.