Standing on Her Shoulders
By Elizabeth Sarah “Sally” Gere
Even when President Lyndon B. Johnson
appointed her to the federal bench in 1968,
June Lazenby Green still faced discrimination.
Upon her arrival, the chief judge of the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia warned
Judge Green that her new male colleagues did
not want her to eat lunch with them in the judges’
dining room. Not to be deterred, she soon became
a “regular” in the lunchroom, which she brightened
not only with her unique perspective but also
with fresh flowers from her garden. Some of those
reluctant colleagues became her lifelong friends.
Judge Green, the fourth woman in the country to serve on a federal
district court, occupied her seat for more than three decades before
passing away in February 2001. On the 20th anniversary of her death,
it is fitting to honor Judge Green, on whose barrier-breaking shoulders
many stand.
She inspired generations of women who followed her into the courtroom
and onto the bench. With her perfect posture, head held high,
shoulders always squared, Judge Green became a role model when
there were few for women litigators and even fewer for women judges.
By watching what she accomplished in courtrooms and conference
rooms filled only with men, young women lawyers saw a path for themselves.
This was especially true for her many female law clerks, and I was
privileged to be one of them.
Judge Green was born in her family home in Arnold, Maryland, in 1914
– before women could vote and before higher education for women
was commonplace. She did not attend college but instead struck out on
her own after graduating from high school, opening a small gift shop in
Annapolis with one of her sisters. Green learned about business, human
relations, and the importance of honoring one’s professional commitments.
Being an entrepreneur during the Great Depression instilled in
her grit and self-confidence.
In 1936 June married the love of her life, John Cawley Green, a Naval
Academy graduate. They lived in Washington, D.C., for more than a
decade in a small apartment on Connecticut Avenue, forming a strong
marital bond of equals. John attended Georgetown University’s law
school while June worked as a secretary in the advertising department
of the Washington Post. In the evenings, she helped John with his studies.
It became clear that June loved the law, but she could not attend
Georgetown with John because it did not admit women.
In search of a law school that admitted women, Green was drawn to
the Washington College of Law (now American University’s law school),
founded by two women and led by a woman dean. Her male professors
repeatedly called upon her in class or made her the subject of their
hypotheticals. Although this may have been meant to embarrass her,
Green capitalized on it. She learned to stop blushing when in front of