March 24, 1992
This is the first oral history session with Circuit Judge Patricia M. Wald of the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It is taking place on Tuesday, March 24, 1992,
commencing 10:15 a.m. Present are Judge Wald and the interviewer Stephen J. Pollak. The
interview is being conducted as part of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society of the
District of Columbia Circuit.
Mr. Pollak: Why don’t you give us your full name, date, place of birth and some
of your own background as a person, human being?
Judge Wald: Okay. My name is Patricia Ann McGowan Wald. I was born on
September 16, 1928, in Torrington, Connecticut; that’s in Litchfield County. My mother’s name
was Margaret O’Keefe McGowan. My father’s name was Joseph McGowan.
My mother was second-generation Irish, that is my grandparents, her mother and father,
had come over with a large group of relatives from Ireland, in the 1890s. She had one brother and
three sisters. My grandmother had altogether ten or eleven children but only five lived to their
I know very little about my father’s family. When I was about 2 years old, my father
departed the scene. My father, I am told, was an alcoholic and, although he had been in the
World War I Navy, and had tried his hand at many jobs, he could not settle down, drank too
much, provoked a series of incidents in which my mother was left with no rent money, and finally
left for good. I never saw him after the age of 2. I have only one very faint memory of being in a
room and having my mother and father in a separate room and playing with some toys and having
them at the kitchen table. But, other than that and a few photographs, I have no memory.
He had come from a good hard-working, working class family in a neighboring town,
Mr. Pollak: Neighboring town to where?
Judge Wald: Thomaston was a neighboring town to Torrington. I think you have
to be Irish to understand some of these relationships. Even though his family was in the next
town, there was never any contact with them after my father disappeared, so I never knew them;
apparently I had aunts, and once in a while one of them would send me a doll at Christmas, but I
never knew or met them.
When my father disappeared, my mother moved back in with her family so that I really
grew up in an extended family situation with my grandmother, my grandfather, my uncle, who
was unmarried, and my mother’s three sisters. So altogether, there were eight of us, in a quite
modest little house; we all doubled up in bedrooms.
Everybody in the family worked in the local factories. My mother had a job, right up until
the time that she retired when she was about 65, as an accountant. She was very good with
figures. Not a certified accountant but she did the books for the local factory.
I had another aunt who was very smart, who was an executive secretary. My uncle worked
in the factory as a laborer. My grandfather shoveled coal into a blast furnace. My grandmother
didn’t work. She stayed home and kept the house. One aunt died very young of a kidney disease,
when I was in second grade. One aunt married and went off to establish her own family. One
aunt, who’s still alive, remained in that family unit. So did my uncle, who never married and died
about 10 years ago. So I was the only child in this kind of adult extended family.
Everybody went to work in the morning and came back at night. Everything revolved
around the workday. They had to be at work at 8:00. They came home for an hour’s lunch and
went back again, and then came home at 5:00 or 6:00 at night.
Mr. Pollak: What was the industry in which the family worked?
Judge Wald: It was called the Torrington Company and it made sewing machines
and knitting needles. It was later taken over by Ingersol-Rand long after I had left Torrington. It
made some other things, bearings, ball bearings.
I worked in the factory myself for three summers, when I was going through college, and
it was very interesting. I did straight labor. I greased ball bearings one summer, separated out
needle bearings another summer; so I had a good sense of the laboriousness of factory labor.
Because there were always union fights going on in this factory (it was a UAW union), I had a
first-hand sense of the labor movement in the ’40s. In fact, I went out on strike with the union
one summer. I worked with the union writing pamphlets and doing various other chores.
So, the thing I remember most about my childhood was it seemed like there were an awful
lot of hours in the day. I did not go to camp until I was in sixth or seventh grade. I was in girl
scouts and they would have day camp one week a year. They bussed you up to the local lake for
the day, but that was really the only camp experience I had.
As for vacation experiences, in those days, people got off from the local company for a
week a year. My mother would have a week off. Sometimes we would go someplace with my
mother and my aunt or they’d rent a cottage at the local lake, but that was basically what vacations
There used to be these long days in the summertime. I dreaded the summer because
during the year there was school and lots of activities, but in summer you had these long days
with nothing to do except hope some other kids were around to play with. And what I started
doing very early was going down to the library as soon as it opened at 10:00 in the morning and
taking a book home and reading it for most of the day and then taking it back the next morning.
This routine helped me in several ways. One, it passed the time; two, I became quite a facile
reader; and, three, I think in many ways it helped me to expand not only my vocabulary but my
horizons, because pretty soon I was out of the children’s section and into the adult section and I
Mr. Pollak: What age do you suppose you began doing this?
Judge Wald: Well, it was a small town, and, as I say, I was on my own most of the
time, so I could walk to the library. I didn’t have to wait for someone to drive me. So, I was into
this pattern by, I think, probably second or third grade.
Mr. Pollak: You never had siblings and your mother never remarried?
Judge Wald: No, my mother was Catholic. The whole family was Catholic.
Although later on I think the church rules became more flexible and she might have been a good
candidate for annulment, there were no such sophisticated conceptions in this little town, and as
far as she was concerned, she was totally ineligible for another kind of life. So, she put a lot of
her emotional and other energies into me.
Nobody in our family had ever gone to college and my mother hadn’t finished high school.
A couple of my aunts had finished high school, but my mother and her brother hadn’t finished
In those days there were women who worked in the local factories, but the pattern was for
middle class women to stay home, and, when you had to announce to the teacher that your
mother was working, there was this little bit of embarrassment. It’s funny, because now I can
look back proudly and say that my mother was one of the pioneers. She was a working mother
who raised her child by herself.
Because she worked she wanted me to be able to get into school at an early age. She
realized it was sort of lonely being home all day when she wasn’t there. My grandmother was an
immigrant woman, good hearted but someone who never really had a chance to broaden her
horizons once she came to America; she was afraid of anything new or different. So, to get me in
school early my mother lied about my age. As a result (we didn’t have kindergarten in those days)
I was put into first grade while I was still four. I soon turned five but that was still kind of young
for first grade. I could do it intellectually, but I was miserable socially for the first year. I really
just was not up for dealing with a total school environment and I remember I hated school for my
Mr. Pollak: Was that your early interaction with children near your age?
Judge Wald: There were a few kids on the street that I would play with. But I
remember the first grade teacher loomed up to me as this formidable disciplinarian. I don’t think
that the woman did any thing wrong or bad. I just absolutely loathed school and I can remember
that my mother, who wanted to do everything for me, signed me up for the recess milk program
where you paid a couple of dollars a month and at recess you got a little carton of milk to drink.
Everybody else got to go out into the school yard. The problem was I could not learn to handle a
straw. And so every day I dreaded the recess because I would go in there and I couldn’t suck the
milk up the straw. I would bite the straw and no milk would come and they wouldn’t let me leave
to go out on the playground until the milk was drunk. It sounds ridiculous now but this is one of
the reasons why I loathed my first year.
I got whooping cough in the spring of my first year. We didn’t have vaccines then so I just
went through the whole whooping cough. I was thrilled. I got to stay out the rest of the year. At
that point, the parochial school where my mother had wanted to send me but which wouldn’t take
me at age 4, would take me on transfer to the second grade at age 5. So, I started with the nuns in
second grade. From that point on I loved school. By that time I think I had matured a little
socially, I could handle the situation. I did well in school. The nuns all liked me. And, from that
point on, school became a pleasure.
Mr. Pollak: What do you remember about class size?
Judge Wald: I think I can remember rows, there were something like seven rows,
there would have been between 30 and 40 in a parochial school class.
Mr. Pollak: Really, that large?
Judge Wald: Yes, sure.
Mr. Pollak: All women teachers?
Judge Wald: Nuns, yes. All nuns in parochial school, except one lady, I
remember, Ms. O’Brien, who was a good Irish Catholic lady. Not a nun, but she was the only
non-nun who taught.
Mr. Pollak: Maybe it’s a good point to ask you about your religious upbringing.
Judge Wald: Well, my religious upbringing was Roman Catholic and I
still have great admiration for many aspects of the Church. The parts of the Church that
I have great admiration for are the kind of role that the nuns played with me and I am
sure with other children of immigrants. It was the nuns who pushed you out to be
something, to do something, to make something of yourself. If you showed any promise they
really were extremely helpful in pushing you to do extra things and to assert yourself, and in that
sense they provided an entree into a wider world. My problems with the Church are primarily
because of certain of its ideological positions. The way women are treated, the inflexibility of the
marital situation, and its rigidity on abortion and birth control, but I think of myself as still having
largely Catholic beliefs in God and the hereafter, a soul, however it turns out that gets ultimately
defined, and some relationship between how you behave in this world and something thereafter.
I simply couldn’t bring myself to agreeing with all the minutiae which are necessary to keep
yourself in total conformity with the Church’s teachings.
Mr. Pollak: I wonder whether you have any comment on the flexibility that you
had to break from the strong doctrine of the Church. Did it come from your mother, or your
background, your reading?
Judge Wald: No, it was no one of those things. I suppose everybody who goes to
a liberal arts school reads a lot which challenges her but actually I think I was well into law
school before I just made some of these decisions. I married a Jewish man, but even that
wouldn’t have been at odds with the Church since we were both unmarried. It was more of a
gradual coming to a point that I just couldn’t accept certain practices or certain beliefs. And,
interestingly enough, one of my children is married to a Catholic, and another one is married to
somebody with a Catholic mother and a Jewish father.
Mr. Pollak: Any of your children strong practitioners of religion?
Judge Wald: Three of my children have a Jewish identity. They celebrate Jewish
holidays. They don’t go to temple every week but they celebrate the Jewish holidays and give
their children some grounding in that religion. The fourth and fifth ones married Catholics.
Mr. Pollak: Did you travel as a child?
Judge Wald: Well, the traveling I remember is after my Aunt Katherine got a car,
that was the big break, then we would go on these trips around New England. Four or five of us
would get in the car. We went to the World’s Fair, the New York World’s Fair, almost every
weekend in 1939. We would get on the Merritt Parkway and go down for the day. We’d get up at
5:00, go down there, spend the day and come back in one day. There was very little staying away
from home at night. I would say probably I didn’t stay in hotels more than four or five times until
I went away to college. We did go to Quebec once and stayed at a hotel. And we went to Cape
Cod once and stayed in a tourist cabin. Those times were fun.
I do not remember being unhappy as a child. I remember sometimes being lonely and sort
of at loose ends how to spend my time, but this was an Irish family which was very intent on
doing the right thing by me. We had very strong loyalties to one another. The aunts and uncle
really worked at making sure I had whatever opportunities I needed. Aunts would chip in when I
was young and my mother didn’t have much money to make sure I had good clothes. I got a
scholarship to college but they would send me extra money some times. They took pride in my
academic achievements. (I was the high school valedictorian.) It was not a family where people
were kissing and hugging a lot, but it was a family that you knew if you were in any trouble you
could call on somebody and if they had to get out in the middle of the night and drive 200 miles,
they would do it.
Mr. Pollak: What about, you referred to reading. Looking at the period up
through perhaps the end of grammar school or high school, what do you recall as influential
books that you read, if any?
Judge Wald: That’s an interesting question, because during the grammar school
period I just went methodically through every book in the children’s division of the library. I
began by reading every fairy story, every Bobsey Twin book, all the usual series. There was one
interesting book series; I don’t remember the author’s name, by a woman writer who wrote
historical stories about the area I lived in, about Harwinton which was a little side town to
Torrington that goes back to the revolutionary war, and she wrote about five or six books that
dealt with the revolutionary war period in our immediate area. And I found that utterly
fascinating, the people, the names of the towns; for me that added a little bit of extra dimension to
the straight entertainment value of reading; it began to get me very interested in what was
happening then in a place that you live in now. I also used to read a lot of magazine articles.
Mr. Pollak: What magazines did the family get?
Judge Wald: Well, my aunt or uncle would just bring them home from the store.
We didn’t subscribe to any. Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, all of the popular
magazines. My uncle always bet on the races and so he always brought home the New York
papers, the New York Post, the New York Mirror and News, before he went down on the
weekends to the races with his buddies.
Mr. Pollak: Were you a newspaper reader?
Judge Wald: Yes, I read everything. I would read it whether I understood it or I
didn’t understand it. I was a little bit, how shall I say, conscious about it. I would read magazine
articles even if I wasn’t necessarily interested initially in the subject matter because I always
figured they were going to come in handy for compositions, and they did. I remember writing
compositions for English tests about alligators in Florida because I had happened to read an
article on alligators. There was a certain amount of conscious self-help going on there.
What I do remember is finally going into the adult section of the library when I got to high
school. The library would only let you go into the adult section at a certain age, but by the time I
was in high school I began reading adult books. I would spend a couple of hours in the library
just going up and down the shelves, pulling things out and reading a lot of stuff way ahead of
perhaps what I should have. Nobody was looking at what I was reading. And, while the
Torrington library didn’t contain much obscenity or pornography, it did contain a lot of so-called
adult novels, so I was reading and figuring out a lot of adult relationships perhaps long before I
was expected to. In the course of those forays through the library I began to read historical
novels. I started with fiction because I was interested in the plots. But then I graduated over to
the nonfiction side. But it was fairly ad hoc. I did not have a reading plan. When I got to
college, for the first time, I had a terrific English teacher in my first year, and he opened up in
some organized way the whole area of contemporary literature as well as classic literature. He
happened to be a devotee of modern writers. So, very quickly I went through Hemingway, Dos
Passos, and all of that genre.
Mr. Pollak: What was his name?
Judge Wald: Hamilton Smyser. He’s dead now. He taught at Connecticut
Mr. Pollak: Do you remember as significant influences on you teachers in your
earlier years, you know? You have had a life oriented toward public service almost from its
beginning. Does that draw upon people who influenced you?
Judge Wald: Well, I would say two things. One is the experience I had in my
immediate environment of people whose whole life was spent going to work and coming home. I
absorbed some of the frustrations that came from that, some of the controls on people’s lives that
were levied by the employer, even though this was not a one-company town, it was a couple- ofcompanies
town. Everybody worked for one of a few factories. One of my earliest memories
was the Depression of the 1930s. At one point we had eight people in the house and only two
were working, my grandfather and one of my aunts and they were carrying all the rest of us, as a
family does. But I remember my mother coming home, I remember sitting on the stairs in the
dark and hearing her tell the rest of the family in the kitchen that she had been fired for economic
reasons, let go, and what was she going to do. So, as I moved into that working circle myself,
worked in the factory myself, experienced it, I got very interested in the labor movement and
union activities. The union had its ups and downs in our town. But I felt that it was a good thing.
I began to identify with the union, with the labor movement. I actually worked with the union in
the summertime while I was in college. By that time I had a sense that maybe there were ways to
run society that were better for working people.
The other thing is that my family was very politically conscious, not active in the sense they
were political leaders, but they were adamant, it was almost like a religion, Democrats. One of the
worst things you could say in our household was he’s a Republican and a Protestant, too. The
Republicans were the people who ran the companies. And the Republicans – I remember hearing
from the time I was four or five – “the Republicans are never for the working class.” My family
were great believers in Roosevelt. They loved him. They turned on the little radio in the front
parlor every time he came on for a fireside chat, they loved him. I started debating in favor of a
third term for Roosevelt in eighth grade, and on through the fourth term in the 1944 election. In
grammar school the nuns were very encouraging about debating political questions. I don’t say
they were all Democrats, but they were very encouraging about your getting interested in politics
and participating in political debates in the school. I can remember as a little kid probably being
quite obnoxious on my soundings-off about the virtues of Roosevelt, Roosevelt versus Landon
and Roosevelt versus Willkie. I had a definite political identity by the time I was in high school.
Mr. Pollak: I wanted to ask whether the schools you attended were single sex.
Judge Wald: No. None of them were single sex until I went to college. In our
town, there were three or four parochial schools and they were all ethnically but not sexually
separate. St. Francis, where I went, was the Irish Catholic school, there was a Slovak Catholic
school, there was a Lithuanian Catholic school, and there was an Italian Catholic school and that
was the way education was segregated, not by sex. High school was just one big public high
school with several hundred students in it.
Mr. Pollak: When do you put the time that your acquaintanceship went beyond the
Catholic community? Was that when you went to college?
Judge Wald: No, high school. There was one high school for the whole town.
Mr. Pollak: Was high school public or parochial?
Judge Wald: Public.
Mr. Pollak: Oh, you shifted to –
Judge Wald: There were no parochial high schools, they only went up to eighth
grade. Then everybody went into the one high school, even the sons and daughters of the
executives of the factories, generally went to the high school. You might hear occasionally of
one kid being sent away to some private school.
Mr. Pollak: Those are usually problem kids, probably?
Judge Wald: The rich kids went to the high school as well as the poor kids. We
all went into one big public high school. There, and this is an interesting point, there the
breakdown came along choice of course lines and that choice provided an excellent illustration of
how my mother was hell bent on making sure I went further in life than she did. You had to sign
up as you were leaving eighth grade to go into high school for one of several courses. And the
courses really were quite class structured. You signed up for the classical course if you were on
your way to college. That had Latin, algebra and classical English. Or you signed up for the
normal school course if you were very bright but from the working class and you were either
going to teachers’ training or nurses’ school, which 90 percent of my friends did. Then you would
sign up for the business course if you were going to stay in town and go into the factory offices.
The girl who was number 2 in my high school graduating class and probably just as smart as I,
signed up for the business course, became an executive secretary and that’s where she stayed the
rest of her life. If you were a boy and they thought you were going to be in the trades, you went
to the technical course. And, once you signed up, you know, that was your course, not to say you
couldn’t switch but you didn’t. And those were your friends, and in great part, your destiny was
Now, I knew that we didn’t have a lot of money and that I was basically in the working
class so, when I brought home the form to sign up, I said, “Well I guess I will sign up for the
normal course.” I thought I could probably be a teacher or a nurse. And my mother said, “No
you don’t, you sign up for the classical course.” I said, “Well how can I sign up for the classical
course. How am I going to get the money to go to college.” She said, “I don’t know but you sign
up for the classical course.” And the nuns did the same thing. They said, “You tell your mother
you must sign up for the classical course.” So I signed up for the classical course without having
a clue where the money for college was going to come from, but that meant that I not only got the
best education, I got the Latin and the algebra, but it also threw me into contact with all the kids
who were college bound.
Mr. Pollak: Now did that cost more money to go to the classical course?
Judge Wald: No. It was simply one of the options open in high school.
Mr. Pollak: But you were looking toward college and you –
Judge Wald: It was one of the channeling devices that small town societies have.
So I traveled with that whole college-bound group and I got the teachers who were oriented
toward teaching the kids who were going to college.
Mr. Pollak: Two questions. You might comment on your relationship with boys.
There were no young boys in your family. Secondly, what about athletics and games? Were they
a part of your youth?
Judge Wald: I’m terribly non-athletic. I’m a person who could just barely ride a
bicycle and barely swim. So I was never a good athlete. I participated very widely in other high
school activities, however. I was in the debating club, the dramatic club, the Spanish club, the
Latin club, the Tri-Y club, and I was in school plays, so I was very much a part of the engaged
group. But I never did athletics. I was lousy at it.
Mr. Pollak: Do you think the debating experience was something you drew on or
drew on you in moving toward law?
Judge Wald: Well, it might have. I don’t see it as a major influence. I had learned
how to debate from the nuns in grammar school. 1940, the year I entered high school, was an
election year. I’d already been in several school debates about Roosevelt so I joined the debating
club and became an officer. I was usually on the lead debating team in high school.
Mr. Pollak: What about the dinner table at your home? Was that an active
Judge Wald: We didn’t have dinner. The main meal was at lunch when everybody
had one hour off from the factory for lunch. The one hour meant you walked home from the
factory, ate your meal, and got back to the factory by 1:00, all of it between 12:00 and 1:00.
Everybody would just talk about what had happened to them that day, not much beyond that. In
the evenings, we had supper in our family, and this meant mostly leftovers from earlier lunch,
they didn’t talk much. It was definitely not a labor-socialist-intellectual type of atmosphere.
People just talked about what they heard on the radio or what people were talking about in the
Mr. Pollak: So it was more the schools that gave you this outreach and your
Judge Wald: High school was great. It turned out I loved history and I found it
wonderful to read both ancient history and modern history. I also began to enjoy writing essays.
I was immediately targeted as a pretty good writer, the high school teachers encouraged me. A lot
of that came from my reading almost the entire town library, just from picking up a big
vocabulary. The more you read, the more words, the more phrases that stick in your mind, and
help you to write better.
Mr. Pollak: Any comment on your relationship with boys?
Judge Wald: I dated in high school. But by the time I got out of high school, I
was only 15. So I was always running a little bit to catch up. I wasn’t exactly a glamour girl. I
was a couple of years behind my peers physically as well as socially. I went to a lot of the dances,
and I had some boyfriends. It was very innocent stuff. But I was not a social whiz or anything
Mr. Pollak: Well, I think we’re up to college and where did you go, how did you
get there, what did you expect of it, what are your memories of college, what was the atmosphere,
what were your activities there?
Judge Wald: Well, I went to Connecticut College in New London – about 80
miles away – because I had a four-year scholarship to that college. There was a wealthy elderly
woman in Torrington whom I never met actually, who set up a scholarship fund that each year
awarded a four-year scholarship, tuition and room and board, to a high school graduate from
Torrington to go to Conn College. My mother had targeted that scholarship for me, as soon as
she found out about it, several years before.
Mr. Pollak: I wonder if you gave your mother’s name, did you?
Judge Wald: Yes, Margaret O’Keefe McGowan. Now my mother couldn’t do
anything directly to get the scholarship for me. She didn’t know any of these people. She didn’t
have any power or social status, but I always knew that I was supposed to be working toward
winning it. I did apply to other schools and I applied for other scholarships and there was one
attempt to divert me off to a Catholic College, Albertus Magnus in New Haven, which is also a
good school. There were older women who were helpful to me, and, by the time I graduated
from high school I was fairly well known in the town. I had been very active in all kinds of youth
stuff; I was valedictorian of my class. One of these women who had been an Albertus Magnus
graduate herself, said, “Oh, I’d like to take her down to Albertus Magnus and introduce her
around.” So she took me down there and they had a scholarship available. Everybody couldn’t
have been nicer, but I knew I didn’t want to go there. The scholarship wasn’t as good as the Conn
College one so it never turned out to be an issue. Somehow I knew I did not want to go to an all
Catholic girls’ school even though I was a good Catholic at the time. I realized that in some way
I wanted to push out to a wider world.
Now, Connecticut College was a women’s school but it had lots of intellectual ferment
going on. I saw it as opening up a big glamorous world, even though it was at the bottom of my
home state. And in fact it turned out to do just that. It was never a cloistered atmosphere as far
as I was concerned.
Mr. Pollak: I had a question which may carry you a little beyond the college,
although I think we’re still at the college part of this session, and that is, when in your years you
recall coming in contact or making relationships with minorities other than Catholic persons,
Blacks, Hispanics, Asians? What’s your memory on that?
Judge Wald: Well certainly, I had a minimal number of such contacts growing up.
I can remember only one Black girl in high school. The most prominent minority I saw growing
up were the Jewish kids.
Mr. Pollak: What do you recall about that?
Judge Wald: Well, in high school I remember that my debating partner was a
young man called Larry Silver and he was very smart. I think he ultimately went on to become a
lawyer. My best friend, who was another Irish Catholic girl, got a crush on him. We all went
through high school with crushes, and we would self-consciously walk by their houses hoping for
a glimpse, the sort of thing you do at that age. My friend got a crush on Larry Silver and I
remember people would just say to her it’s impossible. You can’t go out with him. You can’t go
out with him. Even if he asked you, you couldn’t go out with him because he’s Jewish. And so
that was the way it was, and Jewish kids always were expected to go out with Jewish kids. When
the prom time came, the guy that my best friend had the crush on asked a Jewish girl whom he
had practically nothing to do with the rest of the time in school. You could have all the normal
kind of daily school activity relations but when it came time to have a formal date or to go to the
prom, the Jewish kids were expected to go out with Jewish kids. It was looser between Catholics
Mr. Pollak: Do you remember prejudice as playing a part?
Judge Wald: No, not prejudice; nobody ever said to me Jews are bad. It’s just
they’re separate, they’re different. There was a very talented Jewish girl whose father owned the
local shoe store, who had the lead in almost all of the school plays. A Jewish boy was our class
president. It was just that in this town Jews were expected to stay together socially. There were
very few Blacks around in the town and you just didn’t think about them much.
Mr. Pollak: What about your own experience? Was there anti-Catholic prejudice
that you had bumped up against.
Judge Wald: Not really. Because we overwhelmed the town. Sixty, 70 percent,
80 percent of the town were Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics. No, you didn’t run up against any
prejudice. So it wasn’t until I went to college that I even thought about prejudice. Even in
college, there were hardly any Blacks or Hispanics except for an occasional exchange student
from Spain or South America.
Mr. Pollak: Who had status?
Judge Wald: Yes, yes. As I said, I do not remember any contacts with Black
students in college. There were some Asian students around but the majority of us were white.
In college, of course, I was immediately thrown into a lot more close contact with Jewish
students; some of them became my close friends. I no longer thought of them as different. But I
didn’t really get any contact with racial minorities. Now, I did start to read about segregation and
racial prejudice in the abstract. I remember reading Gunnar Myrdal’s The American Dilemma in
I did not go into college with a clear career track in mind. Actually, the only lawyers I
ever knew were the father and brothers of my best friend in high school. Her father was a county
judge and her two brothers were lawyers. Otherwise, I had never known any lawyers up close. I
went into college as a math major because I was very good at mathematics.
In my second year, however, I took a government course and that I think was the real eye
opener. There was a wonderful, dynamic woman government teacher called Margery Dilly, who
had done her thesis on British policy in Kenya back in the mid-’40s and she was a very hard
taskmaster. In fact, if you became a government major, you were automatically considered an
intellectual elitist because she was so formidable. She brought an enormous amount of
intellectual energy to her courses on political philosophy as well as American government. She
showed us how all of the facets of government policymaking, here as well as abroad, worked.
She exposed us to comparative government courses; more important, the whole history of
political thought, going back to Aristotle. And, together with a couple of feisty economics
professors, this led me to perhaps my first coherent notion that there were people out in the world
who wanted to make things different, wanted to change things, thought things were not the way
they should be. I began to get some sense of the reform movements, not just political, but also
economic reform movements, new ideas, differences from traditional thinking. For instance, I
did spend one summer during college as a student intern down here with the Greenbelt Consumer
Cooperative movement along with eight or nine other students from around the country. We all
lived together in two little one-room apartments, one for the boys and one for the girls. We ate all
our meals together. We traveled around and talked to everybody in the consumer cooperative
movement. It was a trolley ride then, from Washington to Greenbelt. And every chance we had
we came in to D.C.; we heard people speaking at the Washington Monument. We talked all the
time about politics and about economic movements; it was terrific. Also, it gave me my first
chance to live in a different city and to see Washington.
Mr. Pollak: How did you get that position with the Greenbelt Coop?
Judge Wald: I got it through the college, the usual college bulletin board where
there are summer opportunities posted. And there was a professor of economics named Hartley
Cross who had been a high person in the consumer cooperative movement. And his endorsement
helped enormously. So that summer was another entré into the outer world. I remember that,
except for the New York World’s Fair, I had never been out of Connecticut before. I got on a
train in Grand Central Station to go down to Washington. I got out at Washington, I still
remember – let’s see, I would have been 17 or 18 I guess at the time – I looked out and saw the
Capitol and it was really an awesome sight. This would be 1947, I think. The first thing I had to
do was go to the Traveler’s Aid Bureau and figure out how to get to Hyattsville by trolley and
then from Hyattsville, a bus to Greenbelt. But, anyway, it was a great summer.
Mr. Pollak: The family sent you off alone to do this?
Judge Wald: Well, they let me go. At various times, I could tell my mother had
trepidations, but, by this time, I had sufficient confidence from having been away in college, and
they weren’t going to stand in my way.
Mr. Pollak: Did you have any awareness coming down to Washington of the
segregation, of the racism that was here at that time?
Judge Wald: I didn’t really think about it. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t have any
awareness. I think that by that time I had had a couple of history and sociology courses and I
knew that segregation was a major national problem. I knew the history of slavery, but I didn’t
have any emotional feeling about it. In fact, I remember (this is 1947) I got lost from the group at
one point, when we were on some group expedition in Washington. We were way up in the
Northeast area that even then was completely segregated and inhabited by Blacks only. I
remember just walking around for about two hours and thinking I haven’t seen a white face this
entire period. But I had no sense in those days of fear; there was no sense of, my God, what will
I do, that kind of thing. We all went to hear Gerald L.K. Smith, a racist orator of the times, talk
at the Washington Monument and then we had endless hours of lambasting him and agreeing
how terrible his message was. The group I was with, although it did not have any Blacks in it,
had a Chinese girl and we had several Jewish students. We had a minister and his wife as
chaperones, one of these socially activist ministers, Sheldon Rhan. I would see his name later on
in the civil rights movement, in the religious part of the civil rights movement. So I know that
we talked about the problem a lot even though we didn’t live it. And I noticed there weren’t any
Blacks in Greenbelt at the time, although it was one of your New Deal-Rex Tugwell model
Mr. Pollak: You were speaking then about college.
Judge Wald: During my first year in college, the war was still on. I remember in
April of my first year in college Roosevelt died. I was shocked. We all were. That summer we
were still at war with Japan. I went back home for the summer and worked the night shift in the
factory, went in at 11:00 p.m. and came out at 6:00 a.m. The war was over in August after the
dropping of the atomic bombs. When I went back to college, somebody suggested that as a
language requirement – I’d had a little French, a little Spanish – I try Russian; they had just
brought a Russian teacher onto the faculty. The Russian classes were very small. I began to read
a little bit of Russian literature. This was the window period after the close of the real war before
we went into the cold war; we had exchange programs with the Russians. The college was near
the submarine base in New London. The whole crew of a Russian submarine came to the
submarine base, and we had several social gatherings with these Russian sailors. My roommate in
college had a brief romance with one of the Russian submarine sailors. After about six months,
one night, with no warning to anybody, they were gone; there were no goodbyes, no anything. We
never heard from any of them again. Shortly after that, our entire national policy began to lean
much more heavily toward a cold war approach. But the exchanges themselves were broadening
Although it was a girls’ school it did have the advantage – recognized much later – of
pushing women to be leaders. I don’t know whether that leadership push plays out as well for
women in coed schools. All of my own kids wanted to and did go to coed schools. The teachers
at my college were very interested in advancing those students that were able and interested. They
worked very hard with you. Because it was all women, there was never any assumption that
you’re just going to go home and have children and never be a part of the public world again.
There were some very able professors, men as well as women. John Gardner, the former
Secretary of HEW, taught at Connecticut. There was a sense of, we’ll do everything we can to
help you if you want to push yourself further. I benefitted from that.
Mr. Pollak: In high school, you’d been very active in many clubs. Did that
continue through college?
Judge Wald: Some, but less so in college. I worked very hard on my grades.
Mr. Pollak: What motivated you to do that?
Judge Wald: I’m not sure because I really didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t
really make a decision to go to law school until my last year in college. But, of course, I had a
scholarship and it was contingent on keeping my grades up to a certain level. Still, I don’t think
that that was the real motivating factor. I think it was something inside that said to me, You’ve
got to show ’em. Also, I was interested in a lot of the stuff I was learning. I really enjoyed
exposure to a lot of new material, especially about what was happening in the country and its
I did some club work but I was not a “big woman on campus.” I took part in some of the
political debates. I remember going down and working with the PACs in New Haven, the labor
PACs. I did a little social service. I was in a few plays and in the Russian club. I used to go over
with the local priest and teach once a week at the children’s TB center.
Mr. Pollak: Did you make any lasting connections with professors or fellow
students that have stayed with you?
Judge Wald: Well, with Ms. Dilly, I did. She died a year or two ago, but I went
back to the college several times to see her. She had a very strong influence in my life. In fact,
the college set up a lectureship for her last year and asked me to give the first lecture, which I did.
Also, Hamilton Smyser, whom I mentioned before. We didn’t have a close personal
relationship, although if I went back there, I always looked him up. He really opened my eyes to
modern literature, his great enthusiasm for what modern authors were saying about confronting
modern problems, all of which now sounds unremarkable, but in the 1940s was revolutionary to
Mr. Pollak: What about the students who were there with you. Did you learn from
Judge Wald: I would say I learned social skills from the students, and some of
them are still friends. Most of them were more upper class than I, although there were some
scholarship students. In fact, my roommate was a second generation Polish-American girl, with
an ethnic background like mine. I learned operational skills. I learned things like how to dress,
how to act in a social situation, how to deal with this and that kind of crisis; a lifestyle, if you will.
I don’t remember being intellectually engaged with many students. There was a small
group of fairly intense students who lived in a cooperative house, where tuition was less, with
whom I palled around. I didn’t live there because I had a scholarship and a regular dorm
assignment. They were government majors, like me. They were interested in labor problems. I
don’t know that they taught me anything specific, but it was good to have other people who were
interested in the same things that you were interested in.
I had one, what’s the word now, we called it boyfriend in those days, one male friend for a
couple of years who was very intellectually stimulating. He was going to Yale at the time, later
went to Harvard Business School. He was interested in many of the same things, in social
phenomena and what was happening to the country and, so we would talk a lot on our dates about
current events and he would suggest I read certain books.
Mr. Pollak: Your summer between freshman and sophomore year you worked in
Torrington. You came down to Greenbelt in another summer. There’s still a third one.
Judge Wald: The final summer after college I went back to the factory and was on
strike. I spent the summer working with the union.
Mr. Pollak: What do you recall about the war and its influence on you and the
people around you? Did your family have people in the war?
Judge Wald: Pearl Harbor happened in December of my sophomore year in high
school. That was 1941. The war ended at the end of my freshman year in college in 1945.
My youngest aunt, who had just married recently, had her husband drafted into the Navy.
He was just a seaman, but he was out on a boat in the Pacific. I remember she moved back into
the family household. I remember her waiting every day for his letters. He saw combat but he
wasn’t injured or killed. She spent a lot of time trying to figure out where he was and what was
happening there; they had a code for getting by the censor. His brother was in the army in the
European theater, but I didn’t have anybody closer than that in the services.
There were guys in my senior class in high school who were called away in the draft and
who didn’t get to finish high school. So at our high school graduation, we had a big do about all
of the absent members who were away in the armed forces. I had a pen pal relationship with a
few soldiers and sailors from Torrington, one of whom was killed in action. Everybody in my
family was working in defense production. As I said, I worked the night shift that last summer of
the war. I suppose there were some civilian shortages, but I don’t remember any real deprivations.
There was a certain sense of excitement because it was a good war. I remember going to infinite
numbers of war movies, and feeling very patriotic, inspired.
Mr. Pollak: Do you think that it formed you in any way or your attitudes as you
moved on through later life having lived through World War II?
Judge Wald: Well, for a while, I had strong feelings against the Germans and
against the Japanese, but I have to tell you, I got them more from the movies than from anything
Mr. Pollak: What about the reactions of the time and your own to America First
and isolationism as against interventionalism, one-worldism?
Judge Wald: I certainly wasn’t exposed to isolationism in high school. We were in
a small town and once we were in the war the whole place geared up. In the high schools, we
wrote essays about how to help our fighting men. We did volunteer work. I worked in the
hospital every Wednesday to help make up for personnel shortages. We did exercise classes to
keep ourselves fit. I don’t know what relationship that had to the war; but anyway, I don’t
remember ever having any doubts at that point about the wisdom of our national effort.
My first year in college, which was the only year the war was on, was basically the same
way. I don’t remember ever being exposed until after-the-fact to the whole America First
movement. As a child I can remember vaguely hearing people listen to Father Coughlin on the
radio but my family was very pro-Roosevelt so they were not Father Coughlinites. I think they
bought hook, line, and sinker what the President was saying.
Mr. Pollak: Any other comments you’d make about college? How did it compare
as a growth or intellectual experience to what you experienced then in law school?
Judge Wald: Well, I think it was more explosive. It was more like going from a
very small town and closed society into a society where you’re exposed to different ideas, and
even different people, despite the fact it was a girls’ school. On weekends, of course, the place
was full of guys. Actually, the Coast Guard Academy was down the street, and Yale was one train
stop away. So college was more explosive in terms of broadening the horizons of life than law
school. Law school kind of cemented me, I suppose you might say, put discipline on that great
big wide world of ideas and helped me channel them in a way so as to be able to do something
about them. College gave me the freedom to enjoy, experience and be exposed to the ideas. I
didn’t give much thought, while I was going to college, as to how those ideas were going to affect
my future life.
Mr. Pollak: How did you do academically in college?
Judge Wald: Well, I worked very hard at it. I was Phi Beta Kappa. There were
two people picked from every class as Winthrop Scholars, on the basis of grades. I was one of
them. It’s interesting, though, in retrospect, about life’s twists and turns. I was a government
major. The other girl was a very, very bright girl in the English Department. Our averages must
have been very close. We were certainly of equal intellectual calibers. She was engaged at the
time and she got married and they lived someplace in Connecticut. I see her occasionally at
reunions. I think she’s done some volunteer work in the community, and she’s had children, but
basically, she never had a continuing professional career.
Now, I often like to joke, but it’s not entirely untrue, that, upon my senior year in college,
the class was divided into two groups, those that were engaged and about to get married and those
that weren’t. Had I had my druthers then, I would have liked to have been in the group that was
engaged. As luck would have it, I was not. I had no outstanding offers at the time. So, therefore,
I went the route of, What am I going to do next.
I had a very good average and I was interested clearly in all of these current social
movements. It seemed to me I had two choices and the academics at Conn College would have
backed me in either one. One would be to go to graduate school. I didn’t have any sense I wanted
to teach or become an academic and that was really the only thing at the end of the Ph.D. in
history or philosophy in those days. I don’t even remember who suggested law school, whether I
thought of it myself, but somehow it became another alternative. The year I applied – 1948 –
must have been the first or second year they ever gave LSATs, and I remember I had to go down
to New Haven to take that test. When I worked with the labor union back in Torrington, there had
been a labor lawyer who didn’t live in Torrington but counseled the UAW and would come up to
town for strategy sessions. I began to see how important the law was in relation to the labor
movement. As I said, I had a sense of what lawyers did from my friend’s family, but her family
were stout Republicans so they wouldn’t have been role models. Anyway, at some point, law
school seemed like a much more exciting alternative than graduate school. In terms of law
schools, I applied to Columbia, as well as Yale, but I could not apply to Harvard
because they wouldn’t take women back then.
Mr. Pollak: They weren’t taking women?
Judge Wald: They weren’t taking women. That didn’t change for another year or
two. And I applied to a couple of graduate schools; MIT had an urban planning degree, and to the
Department of Economics at Yale because the husband of one my government teachers was an
economics professor at Yale.
Now, I could not have afforded any of them. That was the other thing. My family still had
no money. So I wasn’t sure I was going anywhere. I thought, right up until about March or April,
I might well have to just get a job. Then I applied for a Pepsi Cola Fellowship. Pepsi Cola used
to give fellowships for graduate study. You had to write an essay about what you wanted to be or
Mr. Pollak: This fellowship would then have been applicable where you chose to
Judge Wald: Where you chose to go. It was great. It was like a McArthur
Fellowship, you know. It paid your tuition. It didn’t pay all your room and board but it was
enough to make it possible to live. And I won one of them. So that was it.
Mr. Pollak: What was your essay about?
Judge Wald: It was an essay about why I wanted to go to law school. As I recall,
my essay focused on my experiences with the labor union and growing up in a working-class
family and seeing the influence of law and wanting to become a lawyer and circle back and work
in the labor field, which, of course, I never got around to doing. I remember that getting the
scholarship was a thrill. I don’t remember in the final analysis exactly why I picked Yale Law
School. I was interested in going to Columbia at one point because I liked the thrill of living in
New York. My best friend had gone to Barnard and I would go down to visit her, but somebody,
and it may have been the poli-sci teacher who was the wife of the Yale professor, sort of chalked
up pluses and minuses and convinced me that if I could get into Yale it was better to go to Yale,
which is what I did. I didn’t know anybody at Yale. I didn’t know a soul at Yale. I didn’t know
anybody who had ever been to Yale Law School. Ironically, the father of my best friend, who was
the Republican judge, and had always been very nice to me even though our politics differed, had
a correspondence degree from Yale Law School.
Mr. Pollak: He was a Torrington person?
Judge Wald: Yes. When I would visit her, her two brothers who were lawyers,
treated me like the nice friend of their younger sister. Her father had a degree from Yale but he
had been an Irish son of an immigrant and he got it by mail. He never went to the law school.
They were giving out by-mail degrees in his time, which would have been in the early 1900s,
degrees by mail.
Mr. Pollak: He did some work and submitted it in?
Judge Wald: He had a Yale degree even though he had never gone to a class at
Yale, which always kind of tickled me. But, anyway, outside of him, I never met a person who
had gone to Yale in my life.
Mr. Pollak: I’m interested to double back a little and just ask you what the face of
your family was to you, as you, the first college student, moved through Connecticut College with
this wonderful record and then moved to apply on your own to law school where you knew no
one. What was your family’s reaction to all of this?
Judge Wald: They were very supportive. Certainly, my mother pushed to get me
into college. All during college, I can’t tell you how supportive she was. Let me give you a small
example. In those days, we didn’t have laundromats and you had laundry boxes in which you sent
your dirty laundry home. Whenever the box with clean clothes came back, she always had
cookies in there or candy or she’d made me a new outfit. She couldn’t have been more supportive.
I look back now and think how insensitive we are when we are young. Sometimes as I
tried out new ideas, I would try to take my family on intellectually about certain positions they
had, which was a ridiculous, smart-aleck type of thing to do. In the main, however, we were on
the same wavelength. I might be pulling a college kid’s thing and saying well, there’s this doctrine
and this doctrine, which they couldn’t possibly argue with me about, but in the end I would always
end up voting for the same people they did. So, we didn’t really have any terrible ideological
Mr. Pollak: Was there a point in time where you measure what always seems to
me to occur, a break from the family, where, as you move from childhood to adulthood, your
family was so supportive, it may have just been a gradual separation?
Judge Wald: Although they were supportive, they knew and I knew that they didn’t
want me to go back to Torrington and be what they were. They were not pushing me to come
back into the family circle but rather to move on. In their own way they recognized that at a
certain point I would take off, I would be somebody different, and I wouldn’t be coming back.
When I got out of law school, actually, the Torrington Company was still a big company in town
and the Head of the Labor Relations Department who had worked at the NLRB, called me in and
asked me if I’d like a job with them.
This was interesting because I felt it to be a vindication of sorts because my only contact
with the company’s management had been down in the ball bearing greasing room. My family
didn’t suggest to me, come back to Torrington and take a job in the Torrington Company.
Mr. Pollak: Any pressure on you at the end of college to get a job?
Judge Wald: They wanted me to go on. They couldn’t finance me to go on but
they wanted me to go on. I think in many ways my mother and my aunts were quite smart; they
just were never given the opportunity to go to college and I think it was some vindication for them
that I could keep going on.
Mr. Pollak: You referred to having some toe-to-toe verbal conflicts over politics
or public issues.
Judge Wald: It’s hard for me to remember precisely what they are in retrospect.
Mr. Pollak: Like so many young people today or with your own children, do you
recall any major conflicts with the family as you tried out being your own person? Did you have
blow ups with them? Do you ever recall yourself being temperamental?
Judge Wald: I have a sense that a couple of years in college when I was throwing
around all these economic concepts that I may have hurt their feelings. I may have denigrated
their points of view. But we never had any blow ups. I never left home. With my family, there
were no shows of emotion, no outbursts. If you disapproved of someone, you withdrew or
avoided them; you give or get the silent treatment, nobody ever yelled or swore at anybody,
nobody ever hit anybody. It was just a kind of felt disapproval. The first time that I ever had
direct confrontation was when I announced I was going to marry Bob.
Mr. Pollak: Over religion?
Judge Wald: Yes.
Mr. Pollak: And they thought that was a bad idea?
Judge Wald: Yes. They liked him. I mean they may have realized without my
saying it that I was on the edge of leaving the church anyway, but I hadn’t done anything formally.
And this would not have even required me to leave the church. I mean, technically, a Catholic can
marry a Jew. Several of my children have interfaith marriages.
Mr. Pollak: When would you date that; when was it?
Judge Wald: Well, that was the end of law school. We got married at the end of
Mr. Pollak: In the early ’50s?
Judge Wald: That was, yes, that was the real break. In a small town, even in ’51, it
still represented the break. It’s not unusual now, but it was an unusual step to take in that
atmosphere. I think to my mother, it was perceived as a repudiation of my background, which, of
course, I didn’t mean it to be and things got reconciled later on. But that was the only time I
remember feeling that they thought I was making a mistake. In the past there had been
disagreements. One summer they didn’t want me to go to Europe because they thought there was
going to be an outbreak of hostilities. But that’s a different kind of thing, they were worried about
Mr. Pollak: What about the attraction of the left wing in college or in those years?
Judge Wald: I never really got involved with it. In college, I don’t think
we had any real radicals. People might be interested in socialism, but in the abstract. In
fact one of my economics professors, you know, said he was a socialist, but he was the New York
liberal socialist kind, he was the consumer cooperative guy. He certainly wasn’t a party member.
I don’t think I knew any real radicals or communists, or at least that I knew were communists, at
either the faculty level or the student level.
Mr. Pollak: In college?
Judge Wald: One interesting brush. The Russian professor I had, I had two, I had
a woman for a year and she went to Vassar. Then Mr. Kazem-Bek came over. Remember this
was just post-World War II and we’re still at the edge of the cold war. He had come originally
from Russia, I think he’d spent an intervening few years in Europe; he always talked about himself
as a white Russian. He was very interested in the history and the culture and the Orthodox Church
to which he still had very strong ties. But he certainly never put forth any communist propaganda
in his classes. In fact, we talked mainly about Dostoevski and Turgenev and Russian history and
culture and icons. He had a little house outside of New London where he lived with a wife and
two children. And he would have the Russian students over there to dinner in a group. I never
went there alone. It was always with students and once with my Yale boyfriend because he said
he was very interested in the whole Russian culture bit. His home always had this old world
flavor about it. He liked me very much. I was the star Russian student. We had a Russian club
and I was the president, but we mostly showed Russian movies and talked Russian. There was
never any political aspect to it at all.
When I graduated, he gave me a copy of The Brothers Karamozov. I saw him only once
again in my life. I went back to the college a year later to alumni day and my friend and I went
out and we spent a night with him and his wife. Then I never saw him again. I never had any
correspondence with him. Anyway, the reason this is important was, in 1956 or ’57, by which
time I was then married and staying home with my kids, I picked up the New York Times and,
while taking a college group of Conn College students on one of those summer tours, he defected
to the Soviet Union and, it was said that, or else I found out later, that he had found he was going
blind and he had this terrible longing to see his homeland again and just went over. His wife
continued to teach at Conn College.
Mr. Pollak: Really. He left the family?
Judge Wald: Yes, his wife continued to teach for many years at Conn College.
Anyway, the reason I say it’s so interesting is that in the middle of my confirmation hearing, one
of the staff whom I knew up on the Hill came down to the department to see me and said, “I want
to talk to you. I’ve been in Strom Thurmond’s office and there’s a letter on the way to Griffin Bell
from Strom Thurmond saying that you were the protégé of this Russian spy who defected to the
Soviet Union.” The implication was that I was some kind of a mole here for all these years.
Knowing about it in advance, I rushed up to Bell’s assistant and told my end of the story. They
called Bill Webster at the FBI to get out the file and it turned out the file they had on him, I never
saw the file, but according to my informants in the department, it showed that his connections
were mainly with the church and his was a personal, not a political, decision to defect. They
could not trace any subversive activities while he was at the college. Meanwhile, I had to dig out
the then president of Conn College, Rosemary Park, who had since become a chancellor in the
University of Southern California system, who was at an educational conference in Montana.
All done in a day. I hadn’t spoken to her in 20 years, but I got her to call the Judiciary
Committee and say, as far as the school went, there was no knowledge of any
Communist affiliation on his part. Apparently, they had gotten this stale information about 1946-
48 student days from either HUAC or the Senate counterpart files. Somebody back in those days
in Conn College, I don’t know who it was, was reporting things about students like who went to
what professor’s house for dinner.
Mr. Pollak: Do you have any recollections of or did you have any associations
with anybody who had a different sexual preference?
Judge Wald: No. As I told you, I was a voracious reader. When I started reading
adult books, I didn’t even know what lesbianism and homosexuality were. I vaguely remember a
book called The Daisy Chain, which had a lesbian scene at Vassar in it. There was also the Well
of Loneliness. So I knew that such things existed, but I certainly never had either any experience
or any advances made to me in my college career. In law school, you know we would hear things,
not among the women actually, we would hear about one or two cases among the men, that
proved later to be accurate but I never had any close encounters with it among friends.
Mr. Pollak: You talked about your application to Yale Law School. What was
your LSAT score?
Judge Wald: I don’t even remember the score. About 20 years later when my
daughter was applying for law school, by then, of course, the LSAT scoring system had changed,
she found a copy of my old score and came running to me and said, “Ma, I scored 100 points
higher than you on the LSAT.” As I recall, I was in the top eight or nine percentile. I was not an
absolute star on it. I think to Yale’s credit they went more on my track record in college than they
did on the LSAT.
Mr. Pollak: Speak about your entry into the law school, your early experiences,
the makeup of your class, women, Blacks, minorities. What did it look like to you as you began
Judge Wald: We were one of the first World War II veteran classes, so it was one
of the larger classes. We had 180 students, which was a little larger than the usual law school
class. Yale had sent out a lot of acceptances assuming that there would be more rejections than
there were. There were a lot of returning veterans in the class, so the men tended to be perhaps a
little older than your usual class, where many come directly from college. The number of women
was 11 or 12. Subsequently, up to about the year 1970, Yale would have a much smaller number
of women, but we had 11 or 12. At least three of the women at Yale were veterans. One had been
a commander in the WAVES. One of them had army service. They were there on the G.I. Bill of
Mr. Pollak: Did any of the women go on to make names for themselves?
Judge Wald: Yes. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first a few atmospherics. At that
time, we women were not allowed to live in the dormitories at Yale so, except for a couple of
women who had rented rooms out in the community, the rest of us lived at 17 Hillhouse, which
was this old, really dilapidated house, which looked like Tara after the Civil War, quite barrenly
furnished, and next to the Boston & Maine railroad track. A train ran right under my window for
three years. Every night when the library closed at 10:00, all of us women had to walk back to the
dormitory. Many times, we would find guys to take us to coffee at George and Harry’s and walk
us home, but we did have a couple of women who were attacked on the way home. One woman
was attacked right in the basement of the law school, where we had our lockers and the women’s
bathroom was. Now, in neither of these cases was actual rape committed. But for several
months, we were really scared about going downstairs to go to the bathroom. Also, we’d find a lot
of obscene drawings down there from time to time.
Mr. Pollak: The law school was open, I take it, and people could come and go?
Judge Wald: Theoretically, you would have had to go through the women’s lounge
to get to the stairs to go downstairs, but I suppose if no one were in the lounge, it was open and
you could go through.
Mr. Pollak: Do you remember the law school as being at all sensitive to the safety
of the women students?
Judge Wald: No. And I must say, we were in some ways an accepting lot. Even
though we had pushed ourselves to the point of being in law school, most of us were more
worried about showing we could do it, as you would expect at that period, that we could make it,
than in saying, Hey, you’d better do something special for us.
Nobody did anything special for us when it came time to look for jobs, I can tell you, even
though it was clear that traditional bias put us in a completely different category for employment
purposes. Nobody at the law school said, “Well, you’re women and here’s a place that’s been
helpful in the past,” or “We’ll make a special phone call for you here or there.” I make one big
exception to that assertion for the people that helped me to get Jerry Frank’s clerkship, but, in
terms of jobs with companies, with law firms, nobody ever thought of us. They knew we had
special problems, but nobody ever thought that it was the responsibility of the law school to do
anything about those problems.
At any rate, there were 11 or 12 of us. Actually, we had a good time. We all knew each
other well. By and large, we all liked each other. You came back at the end of the day and sat
around and chatted and took all your male classmates and your professors apart. I don’t remember
at all feeling oppressed.
The first time I really felt something was wrong was when it came time to look for jobs.
But, in the law school itself, I did not feel the atmosphere was oppressive. My guess is the
modern feminist woman might and probably she would be right in doing so. But, we just
assumed that we would be called upon more in class, especially where sex crimes and pelvic
examinations were involved. I remember Professor Ad Miller’s contract class. I was called on all
the time. I mean, I liked him, he liked me; I did not feel it was a gesture of hostility, but I knew I
was never, never safe in that class because, although there must have been one or two other
women in it, somehow I got singled out. I was in the M’s and I was in the front row.
One anecdote about that class, which shows you my naiveté and how you learn to go with
the flow. Miller used to give out work problems for the week in advance and there would be a
problem a day. There was a big football game, it must have been early October of my first year,
and a lot of the guys in the class had women up for the weekend. I did not have a date. As it
turned out, subsequently, I had quite an active social life at Yale Law School but it had not yet
begun at this point. So I stayed in 17 Hillhouse and did all the week’s assignments in advance. I
was well ahead in preparation, so I was not anxious when Miller called on me on Monday after
the big weekend, and he led up to a great crescendo, asking, “And then what will happen?” The
answer would be always the next day’s assignment. Since I had read the whole week’s lessons, I
gave him all the answers to all his questions. The entire class hissed, of course. My ego was so
sensitive at that point, I went back to the dormitory and cried. I could see all my classmates
saying, “Oh my god, this is one nerdy grind.” I got over it soon, and I learned that you pace
yourself to keep peer approval. It’s something to at least keep in mind along one’s career path.
But in retrospect I realize there was some sexism at law school. I remember we found out
some male students made bets as to which of the women students’ breasts were larger; that kind of
stuff certainly went on. As I say, nowadays, I think it would be justly called sexism. We just sort
of assumed it was there and we just didn’t make any fuss about it. I mean, there were certain
people that you stayed away from because you found their remarks distasteful, but we figured it
was our business to run our lives and take care of ourselves. I don’t think I ever heard anybody
suggest that as a group we go to the administration and ask for particular privileges, or even
Mr. Pollak: Was that more a commentary on the time and a reflection of student
relationships to the institution as much as just the lack of consciousness of the women? Were
other groups going to the administration?
Judge Wald: No. As to racial minorities, we had only two or three Black students
in our class, and five or six in the whole law school. I remember best two Black students from
the class above me. One a Black woman, Jetta Norris, who lived in the dormitory with us. She
was smart and subsequently had a successful career as counsel to a department store chain in
Chicago. The reason she was at Yale was interesting; it was because she came from Mississippi
and Mississippi would not let her into its law school. The state paid her tuition to Yale rather
than have her go to a Mississippi law school. She was a good friend and we double dated
sometimes. I began to get some inkling of prejudice at first hand when we went to a nightclub in
New Haven and there was a question whether they’d let us in because Jetta was with us. We did
get in and it didn’t become a huge incident, but I began to get a little bit more first-hand feel of
the racial discrimination problem by knowing Blacks personally and understanding at an
emotional level what their problems were.
Now, in the class below me was Leon Higginbotham. Leon and his wife were the
monitors of 17 Hillhouse. It was felt that, because we were women, we could not be left alone,
we had to have a chaperon, and so a married couple always had to live there in a dank basement
apartment, which they got rent-free. Leon and his wife were the chaperons of 17 Hillhouse for a
couple of years, so I got to know Leon well.
As far as what happened to the women, I think we did extraordinarily well. Three of us
out of 11 ended up as judges.
Mr. Pollak: Who else?
Judge Wald: Rita Davidson, who is dead now but was on the highest court of
Maryland for several years.
Mr. Pollak: I saw that you made a speech or remarks on it.
Judge Wald: Yes. And Shirley Fingerhood, who is now on the Supreme Court in
New York. Jody Bernstein, as you know, has had a very distinctive career as General Counsel of
EPA and HHS. She is now Vice President of International Waste Management. Let me see, who
else now. Louise Jayne, last I heard, was a partner in a firm in northwest Oregon or Washington.
One woman died. Several of the women married classmates. Louise Farr who married a
classmate, Nick Farr. Do you know Nick?
Mr. Pollak: I know Nick here in Washington.
Judge Wald: She had the highest grade average of any of the women at the end of
the first semester. She married Nick and had several children. She worked in two academic
institutions, Princeton and Georgetown, but now does volunteer work for the Union of Concerned
Scientists. We had dinner with them recently. Let me see who I left out. Eileen Evers runs her
family business and two, Pat Schwartz and Jane Skelton, pretty much retired from an active career
after they got married and had children.
Mr. Pollak: Did any of the women clerk besides yourself?
Judge Wald: No. The clerkship was great. There I have to give people at Yale
credit. I had never even thought of clerkships. I knew they existed, but I didn’t have any role
models as it were. I didn’t know any women that had clerked. Fred Rodell was the one who did
most for me in that respect; he was close to Jerry Frank. I didn’t know Frank well although I had
taken his course. After I took Rodell’s course, he recommended me to Frank. I took two tax
courses from Borie Bittker, who had been Frank’s first clerk, and he recommended me to Frank, as
So the two came together and Frank took me, but there were no interviews. I never
submitted an application. I didn’t apply to any other judge. That was not the way it was done at
that time. In the Second Circuit, which was the one that was closest to the law school, Charlie
Clark, Jerry Frank, Tom Swann always took their clerks, and everybody then had only one clerk,
from Yale. The Yale judges picked clerks after talking to their favorite faculty members, so there
was no formal application process that I know of. It’s a completely different process today, of
course. Frank had had one prior woman clerk already at that time. She had a baby and was
married to Larry Ebb who was with AID [Agency for International Development] group, but I
don’t know what happened to her subsequently.
Mr. Pollak: How do you evaluate your experience at Yale?
Judge Wald: I think it’s fair to say I immediately took to it. I liked the intellectual
discipline. I liked the case method. I should say here that the case method was not a complete
surprise to me. Miss Dilly taught a course at Conn College in constitutional law and used a
casebook. She was not a lawyer but it was a fascinating course. We briefed the cases, made little
précis of every case and discussed them. Maybe we didn’t discuss them in the most sophisticated
legal terms but we discussed them in policy and constitutional terms; it was one of my favorite
courses. Perhaps, in retrospect, it may have influenced me toward going into the law.
Except for the business of being called upon all the time, not all the time, I don’t want to
overdo it, but more than randomly, I really enjoyed law school. We worked very hard the first
semester; we were scared to death. You didn’t have any sense whether you were way out or way
in, and the women especially worked very hard. Jody and I and Pat Schwartz had three rooms that
adjoined each other, and we often worked all night; we would sit and study together and talk
about the cases together and spend weekends on them. I enjoyed the work.
I felt in the beginning a little bit socially not quite with it. I was 19, going on 20. And a
lot of my classmates were sophisticated veterans. I was still very unsophisticated socially. I have
to say that straight out. I had not had any worldly experiences. As a result, I was probably boring
to a lot of people I dated and not quite ready for their stage in life. When I walked into
17 Hillhouse the first day, I remember my mother and my aunt had driven me down from
Torrington, I remember my mother’s eyes when she saw 17 Hillhouse. It was really dilapidated,
an old creepy Adams Family-like mansion, and not at all her picture of what Yale Law School
should be like. And then an older woman student stopped by to say hello and immediately
launched into a big barrage about how lonely and isolated we were going to be and how the guys
wouldn’t date you because they didn’t think of you as a woman. Anyway, as events turned out,
that was not the case.
We had an active social life. The routine was when each new class of women students
came in, they were looked over by the seniors and began to get a lot of offers of dates. I was not
socially ready for those seniors. Maybe not even intellectually. I remember being out with a
group, and Jody was with me, of senior law students who included people I now think of as good
friends, Frank Wozencraft, Stu Johnson, who died but was also a Frank clerk, and maybe Bay
Manning. It was the fall of 1948, and almost everybody was supporting Dewey against Truman
except for me and Stu Johnson. The Dewey-ites were very sharp; they were playing big-time
lawyer, and I really felt at a disadvantage. I knew what I believed in, and I was not going to back
down, but I didn’t’ have all their ammunition and aplomb.
It took me a while to get in the center of things. Toni Chayes came down to Yale that
year, because Abe was in Governor Bowles’ office in Connecticut. She was down from Harvard,
so she fixed Jody and me up with Abe’s friends and, I was fixed up, believe it or not, this must
have been one of the strangest dates of all time, with Alex Bickel. We really, I mean, for all sorts
of reasons, he was way ahead of me in all sorts of ways, did not click. I remember it as one of the
most uncomfortable evenings of my life. But, within a month or two, we had found our own
niche. It’s a little bit like prison life, although I know that’s a strange analogy. You find someone
who protects you. Jody and I both found seniors in the law school who dated us, took us places,
and kind of showed us the ropes.
Mr. Pollak: Who?
Judge Wald: In her case, it was Norm Redlich, and in my case it was his friend,
Art Michaelson. So we dated all year, and it became serious with her and Norm; it did not
become serious with Art and me. We just kept good company. These upperclassmen kind of let
us know who were the jackasses, who were the solid types, and how to get along, as it were. That
helped a great deal. It helped me enormously when I did well enough in the first semester to
become a candidate for law journal. In those days, marks just got you into the competition; you
had to write your way onto the board.
Mr. Pollak: Oh really, not in my time.
Judge Wald: People went down like flies in the course of the competition. To get
on to the board, you had to have a publishable note and a publishable comment.
Mr. Pollak: At what stage of law school did you get on the board?
Judge Wald: I got on in my second year. But you could be washed out in your first
year. We had a lot of people wash out because the senior editors didn’t like their notes. I could
write the exams ok, but it took a while before I got the law journal format, all the footnotes and
the rigid way you write. I remember my note was on Title XI of the Bankruptcy Act. I don’t
know why I chose that topic except you had to have a topic by a certain date. I think I probably
wrote a pretty lousy first draft, not so much that it lacked content, but that it was not in the right
law journal form. Art Michaelson took me aside and worked with me on it.
Mr. Pollak: He was on the journal?
Judge Wald: Yes. He was. Norman Redlich did the same thing for Jody. They
didn’t do any research, but they sat down with us and helped us to put it in a form and in a style
that got it through. I’m not sure I would have even made it onto the journal board except for that
kind of help.
Mr. Pollak: You had to do a comment as well?
Judge Wald: Yes. I got the note published the Fall semester of my second year.
You had to work on the note along with your regular class work. Then, by the time your note got
through the editing process, you had to pick a comment topic. I had picked my comment topic
and had a first draft done by the end of the first summer. It was on the concept of “control” in
various Securities Acts. It was a tough topic. It was one of those situations where you get in the
middle of it and you’re not sure it’s really a topic. By this time, Michaelson was no longer there,
and I was on my own. I remember working all through the first semester of the second year on it.
Abe Chayes, who was Toni Chayes’ husband, would read drafts for her friends and tell us where it
Mr. Pollak: And what was Abe’s position there?
Judge Wald: He was working for Governor Bowles at the time, but Toni was a law
student at Yale so it was a networking sort of thing. My grades went way down in the first
semester of the second year because I was working all the time on the law journal. The last two
years I began to pull them up and they ended good enough for Order of the Coif. I wasn’t
number one in the class by a long shot; I was number 14, but we were working night and day on
the journal. I was elected an officer of the journal.
Mr. Pollak: Did both your pieces get published?
Judge Wald: Yes.
Mr. Pollak: How do you value the journal experience?
Judge Wald: I value the journal experience although I am myself not an
aficionado now of law journal style. I still look for law journal experience for law clerks
although now, you can’t tell that much from it. They get on law reviews automatically from
grades. You don’t even know that they’ve really written anything publishable or had any writing
experience at all. For me, however, the journal took the kind of discursive legal thinking, the kind
of “just put it all down on paper” thing which you do in exams, or in a term paper, and made you
reign it all in and write more concisely. At least for me, it was a good experience. It taught me to
stop and identify exactly what the source is of anything you say. I found it a completely different
experience from the papers I wrote or from the exams I wrote during law school.
Mr. Pollak: It didn’t stop you off from being able to flow out your ideas in a later
period? Or did you have to break the style?
Judge Wald: No. I published two things, and then I became an officer on the
journal. I edited a few notes, but my main job (we called it Case Editor then) was to pick out the
note and comment topics for everyone else. Nick Farr and I split the job. I liked being on the
journal. There was no question the journal was considered a kind of intellectual elite. You really
did have to work awful hard to get on there, and however much some might pooh-pooh it, you had
the sense that you were something special. Occasionally in class, professors would say,
Ms. McGowan, what do they say about this in the journal corridors and the class would titter, but
we loved it.
Mr. Pollak: Had there been many women before you on the journal? One of the
Judge Wald: Jody and I were the only two women on the journal the whole time I
was in law school. There may have been one or two women on in prior years, but there was no
one there during our period.
Mr. Pollak: There was a lot of camaraderie and support on the journal among
Judge Wald: Yes, there was. There was, no question, some intellectual snobbery,
toward the rest of the school, but it was a stimulating atmosphere intellectually. Once I got over
this little period of social shyness in the beginning, I pretty much had a good time at law school. I
don’t remember feeling oppressed.
Mr. Pollak: What about the professors? Were there role models; are there some
who influenced you?`
Judge Wald: There were no women on the faculty for one thing, no women.
Mr. Pollak: Were you there with Ellen Peters who was an early member of the
Judge Wald: She was in the class two years below me. Before she got married,
she lived in 17 Hillhouse with us, so I knew her there, although only for a year. But there were no
women on the faculty in my day, no role models. I had no close friends on the faculty except for
Rodell. I got along with people but nobody singled me out as a protégé except insofar as Bittker
recommended me for the clerkship.
Mr. Pollak: Who was dean?
Judge Wald: Wesley Sturgis.
Mr. Pollak: And who made significant difference for you among the professors?
Judge Wald: Well, Fleming James did in the beginning in an odd sort of way.
First of all, he was a very good teacher and tough. I had him for both torts and civil procedure,
but the most influence he had on me came about differently. It was at one of those monthly
dances, remember, they had a Yale Law School dance every month. After the first month or so,
there was usually somebody to go with, somebody would ask you. I guess you could have gone
alone but in those days if you were a woman, you didn’t. At one of these dances, it must have
been early in my first year, he came over to me, perhaps he had had a few drinks – everyone
drank at these affairs – and he said something like, “I want to tell you something . . . don’t let this
place change you.” He said, “People come in here, and they have feelings and they have causes
they believe in, and the only thing we can do is give you some language and some techniques, we
can’t tell you what to do with them and don’t let us take your basic beliefs or causes away from
you.” Which is a very important message for a Yale Law School freshman: you don’t have to
take as truth what all these professors or seniors who are talking so knowledgeably say; you have
things of your own to believe in and they aren’t necessarily wrong.
Mr. Pollak: I thing that was a profound message that he delivered. I don’t think
anyone delivered that message to me.
Judge Wald: Well, he delivered it – at a dance. Fred Rodell was also influential in
my law school career, especially during the third year when Bob and I had begun to go out
together. He liked Bob very much. He thought Bob was the best writer in his class on legal
writing. I took his course in a different semester. Fred liked the idea that we were going out
together, and he pushed us both. We used to go over together to see him at his apartment, and he
would often talk to us about his personal life, about his experiences at Yale.
Mr. Pollak: Any other professors at Yale?
Judge Wald: Those were really the only two.
Mr. Pollak: Harry Shulman?
Judge Wald: No, I respected Harry Shulman, but I was certainly never close to
him. I took his courses.
Mr. Pollak: Fritz Kessler?
Judge Wald: No. I got my worst mark in his course, what was it, negotiable
instruments. I did not have close personal relationships with Yale faculty. I never had anything
approaching the relationship I had with Miss Dilly in college with any of the Yale Law School
professors. I did well with most of them. I got to know J.W. Moore, but only when I was clerking
for Frank because Frank had his office in New Haven next to J.W. Moore. George Pugh, who
now teaches at LSU, was Moore’s special assistant, when he was working on a couple of volumes
of his Federal Rules series. The four of us would go out to lunch a lot, so I got to know Moore
well. But I really didn’t have what I’d call a close personal relationship.
Mr. Pollak: Did you have any other extracurricular activities at the law school
besides the journal?
Judge Wald: Not really, I did legal aid, and moot court, and barristers’ union, the
Mr. Pollak: What about your experience in moot court, which everyone had to
Judge Wald: My experiences in both moot court and the Barristers Union trial
were actually pretty ordinary. I did not seem to have any unusual facility for getting up and doing
Mr. Pollak: Even though you had been a debater?
Judge Wald: Yes. I don’t know why. Maybe it was that I was too busy with other
things like the journal to put my heart and soul in the mock trials. As a matter of fact, my more
interesting experiences in the Barristers Union trials were as a witness; for some unknown reason,
many of the trials were rape trials, and the student barristers would always get a woman law
student to play the part of the complainant. Again, this is the sort of thing which nowadays
women reject, but we thought it was great fun. I was the plaintiff in a trial that Leon
Higginbotham and Dick Gardner did. Leon still likes to tell the story of the great plaintiff I made
in a rape trial where the defense was consent. The key question on cross-examination came down
to, “If you were raped in that 30-second interval, how did your assailant have time to pull off your
girdle?” I responded quickly (ad lib), “With my figure, I don’t wear a girdle.” And this reply Leon
remembers to this day. That was the fun part where you had to think of things quickly on the
Mr. Pollak: What were your finances in law school?
Judge Wald: The fellowship was quite generous. My stash consisted of the
fellowship and what my mother and aunts would provide me on the side. But I waited on tables.
I got my meals for almost the entire three years by waiting in the law school dining room. This is
another reason why I didn’t get too involved with other things because, not only was I doing the
journal, waiting on tables for at least two years, but also for at least one year until I got
mononucleosis from overload, I was Louie Loss’s research assistant on his first treatise on
securities. So, there really wasn’t any time for much more, especially if you wanted some kind of
Mr. Pollak: Was the experience with Loss and doing that work useful?
Judge Wald: Yes, although basically it was scut work. I had to do things like find
every securities law for all the provinces in Canada, but, a couple of things about the job were
good. I did my law journal comment on securities law, and Louie was helpful to me. I think he
was the faculty advisor for it. I also got to know him, and get some sense of a person working at
the legal trade. He was the counsel to the Securities and Exchange Commission and just came up
on Fridays to Yale to do the course. So, it was altogether a profitable experience. At a certain
point in the middle of the third year, however, I just broke down, I got mononucleosis so I had to
give the job up.
Mr. Pollak: Did you have any contact with any other parts of the university? I
know there were some cross professors who came from other parts of the university into the law
Judge Wald: I remember going to a few interdisciplinary seminars. And I would
go over to the university library sometimes, and poke around. I had some friends who were in the
university graduate schools. But basically life was in the law school.
Mr. Pollak: Who was your editor-in-chief on the journal?
Judge Wald: Bayless Manning I think was the Editor-in-Chief my first year. Don
Turner, the second. And then Stu Thayer in my third year. Burke Marshall was the executive
editor and Bill Rogers and Bernie Greene were the comment editors. Dan Freed was one of the
note editors. Dick Gardner was one of the note editors. Nick Farr and I were the case editors, and
Jack Hoffinger, the criminal lawyer in New York, and Hank King, the managing partner at
Davis/Polk, were the managing editors.
Mr. Pollak: What has been the importance of Yale and the Yale contacts to you
and your career?
Judge Wald: Yale has been very important to me in two ways. One, just the
credential; Yale Law School carries a lot of weight. It carried a lot of weight in the beginning
when it was harder for women to get through the door. Candidly, I think it meant a great deal in
terms of entree. It certainly was the connection that got me the clerkship with Frank and the two
together got me the first job opportunity with Arnold & Porter, a big Yale Law School bastion.
They looked to Frank and they looked to people at the law school for recruits. Throughout my
career, there have always been Yale connects. Even now when you go back to the reunions, there
are all sorts of key people in government and academia and in the practicing profession. They are
not all your closest friends, but generally you can call on them for information or even
endorsements, as needed. There was also the legal education Yale offered, though I must admit in
retrospect, I really worked so hard on the journal, I think I slighted a lot of my courses in the last
year or two. Still, the process, the orientation, again, the emphasis on law as a tool, the fact that
law was not a given, it wasn’t something that was there that you just went and found. It was
maneuverable. Now that philosophy is not one of great popularity on this court right now but in
other periods of my life, it’s been completely compatible with what I was doing and who I was
working with. Of course the legal realists were in full bloom at the Yale Law School of my era.
Mr. Pollak: You were speaking about the importance of Yale to you. I’m
interested in knowing how you saw the law when you got through there and what ambitions you
had in the law as you concluded. You indicated that you had met and then dated Bob Wald. I’m
interested in placing that and the time of your marriage.
Judge Wald: The law school satisfied something for me that was still quite
amorphous after leaving college. It gave me a discipline, an institutional perspective with
historical roots, a skill, a series of skills, in which to try to attain, basically the same kind of aim I
had when I left college, but which I hadn’t much of a clue as to how to attain. When I left college
I felt there were things to be done out there in the world. It may have been a more sentimental
vision after college than after law school. There are poor people. There are people who don’t
have their rights. A better society can be built. I think that the law school did not take away that
general notion of how one should spend one’s life. In fact, it reaffirmed it, but it did two things. It
gave you a particular skill to sell in order to get entree into areas of power where you might do
some good. Second, it made you tougher and it gave you a tougher notion of the obstacles you
would have to meet to make any kind of change. Perhaps it gave you a toughness which would
allow you to fail, and not feel you were a personal failure. It vindicated a general notion I had that
I wanted my life to have some meaning in the progress or betterment of mankind. I wanted to
play some role in my time, a role that forwarded a vision of society as a better place for people to
live. That’s very mushy, but reasonably accurate. Yale, I think, said it’s okay to have a vision like
that. You’re not silly. There are changes to be made and people with skills, lawyering skills,
ought to devote themselves to such changes. It said, here are the skills to do it. Here are a lot of
contacts with people which will be useful as you move along, to know and to keep contact with;
and get on with it.
Mr. Pollak: Did the vision have public service in it?
Judge Wald: Almost surely. I never had any desire to practice law in the
commercial sense. I had an offer from a Wall Street firm actually before I got the Frank
clerkship. It was a securities firm. I think they thought they were doing a very good thing
offering a job to a woman, and by the light of the day they probably were. I was interested
because they offered me and Dan Freed the same job. Neither one of us was married at the time,
and both of us had equivalent positions on the law journal, and they offered him $1,000 more
than me. But that really wasn’t the reason I didn’t take it. It would be a good enough reason,
though. Jody Bernstein and I went down one day to Wall Street and we just went around and
interviewed all the firms. She ended up getting a job with Shearman & Sterling, so it was not
impossible to get a job down there. The intellectual challenge of working with securities, which
I had done in law school, had some attraction, but I knew I wanted the clerkship more. I almost
certainly would have gravitated toward some form of public service if and when that option
Mr. Pollak: You commented that Jody Bernstein had gotten an offer from
Shearman & Sterling, a major firm. Was anti-Semitism in hiring present and observable?
Judge Wald: I don’t know all of Jody’s experiences. She only stayed in New York
for a year and a half and then moved to Chicago. But we did see remnants of anti-Semitism all
around. In my class, one of the brightest guys and a law journal officer, changed his name during
the hiring process. He wasn’t alone. In the middle of the hiring season in New York, you would
see people put up these little notes on the bulletin board, announcing they were changing their
names. The assumed wisdom was that even if the big city firms hired Jews, they wouldn’t hire
those with obviously Jewish names. There was a contingent of what we called the CCNY boys,
all bright and on the law journal, Jack Hoffinger, Bernie Greenberg, Hank King, among others.
They sat in the journal office constantly talking about whether or not you could get a job in New
York if you were a Jew. Now they all did in their different ways very well. Bernie’s a partner at
Paul Weiss. Hank went on to head up Davis, Polk. Jack Hoffinger became a white collar
criminal lawyer of note. But then, they talked about the problem all the time.
Everybody just assumed that women would have a problem getting jobs and nobody talked
much about it. Jody and I went down to Wall Street cold one day, almost like, the hell with it,
we’re going to show you, and we both got job offers. Things were probably beginning to break
loose, and also we were the only two women on the law journal, so, we had some advantage.
But all my ambitions were to do something meaningful in the world around me. And that
takes me back again to my hometown. I still remember in one of my factory stints, back in the
Torrington Company, as I was leaving to go back to college, or maybe it was law school, one of
the factory workers who was operating a press said, “Well, I’m sorry to see you go.” I always got
along quite well with the factory people. I came from that same background. I don’t think they
thought I was high hat. He said, “I think that’s terrific, you’re going to get a degree. You know,
I’ll be going into my 35th year in the company and I’ve been sitting at that press for the last
25 years, and that’s no way to spend a life.” Some of this may sound blown up, but there was no
question in my mind that the direction I wanted to go in was to make life better for working
people and for poor people.
Mr. Pollak: Two questions. What did you do in the summers at law school and,
second, you were going to say something about the relationship with your husband, Bob Wald, as
Judge Wald: We started dating in our third year of law school.
Mr. Pollak: Was he in your class?
Judge Wald: Yes. I knew him from the beginning of law school but not, we joke
about this, but not terribly well. First of all, I had this other boyfriend who I was still seeing who
was first at Harvard Business School and then went abroad with the AID program. We still had a
relatively serious relationship so I wasn’t doing a lot of side dating. That relationship broke up in
the summer between my second and third years in law school. So, when I went back for my last
year I was much more available. Secondly, Bob and I waited on tables in the dining room
together that year, so we really got to know each other, and we just started dating fairly casually
and then, over the course of the year, it became much more serious.
Fred Rodell loved to think that he was a sort of matchmaker. He liked Bob and thought he
was the best writer in his writing class. Bob had had journalistic experience and had been to
Europe several times where he had a lot of experience covering stories for his hometown
newspaper. Also, Jody was dating Bob’s friend. We did a lot of double dating, had good times,
and it gradually developed into something more serious.
Rodell recommended two people to Frank for his clerkship, Bob and me. Now, I had the
benefit of three things. One was, I think Frank liked the idea of taking a woman again; he liked to
do the extraordinary thing. Secondly, I had Borie Bittker coming in on my side. And, third, I was
on the law journal and had a better overall average than Bob. Bob never really liked law school
that much and so, until the third year, he didn’t work very hard at it. He lived across the hall from
Norman Redlich and Norman was the kind of person who studied till the library closed at 10:00,
occasionally would take Jody and me out for a cup of coffee, go back with a thermos of coffee
from George and Harry’s, and stay up till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I’m not sure how necessary
all that was in retrospect, but anyway, that was his style, he was an absolute demon on
Across the hall from him lived my Bob. His roommate for the first year was Robert Silver
of the New York Review of Books, who left law school after his first year. They were sort of the
wine drinking, poetic, literary group who did not always get their homework done, did not like to
talk in class, and were certainly not workaholics. When I first began to date Bob, Norman, who
was then out of law school but still keeping contact with Jody, said, “Oh, I don’t think she should
do that; they’re not emotionally suited at all.” But anyway, we were not in the same world, really,
until the third year. We had seen each other briefly, we both went to Europe between second and
third year of law school. He had been to Europe several times and to Finland before he came to
It was my first trip to Europe. How did I finance it? I saved my money; believe it or not; it
was possible on a couple of hundred bucks to go to Europe for a month and a half. I went on one
of the student troop ships and we lived on about $1 a day. I just wanted to go to Europe, and if I
wanted to do something, somehow I usually did it. Also, I was going over to visit my boyfriend
who was working for the Marshall Plan in Greece.
Well, we broke up after that summer, but while I was over there, I saw Bob. I bumped into
him in England and again in France, but we were not dating then. When we came back to law
school, we started.
Mr. Pollak: When was your marriage?
Judge Wald: The end of the clerkship in 1952. Frank was a great guy in
retrospect. He wanted to take both of us as clerks but, of course, there was no spot for two clerks
then. He first thought he could get rid of the bailiff and take two clerks and we could both clerk
and bailiff on the side. He liked the idea of our romance. It kind of tickled both Rodell and
Frank to have this romance going on between two people they liked. But the clerk-bailiff switch
couldn’t be done administratively.
So Frank did something else. Irving Kaufman had just come on the district court about
two years before. Frank put the arm on Irving Kaufman to take Bob as his clerk. If there were
ever two personalities on the opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s my Bob and Irving Kaufman.
However, Irving Kaufman was then quite close to Frank and a lot of that had to do with their both
being Jewish. Kaufman felt, although there was at least one other Jewish district court judge at
the time, a little bit isolated and very conscious of his Jewishness and he allied himself then with
Frank despite their different personalities and different philosophies. So he would listen to Frank,
although he normally wanted to take only the number one students with law review and all the
rest. Because he wanted to please Frank, he consented to interview Bob.
We both went down to New York City. I actually had my job, but I went down with Bob
when he went for his Kaufman interview. While Kaufman was interviewing Bob, the Rosenberg
case was being tried. I went and sat in one day on the Rosenberg trial and watched Harry Gold
testify. Kaufman said to Bob, “I’m going to give you three trial assignments. I have motions,”
Irving said to Bob, “and I’m going to give you three of these motions.” This is a Friday afternoon.
“I want you to come back down on Monday morning with the three recommended decisions
written up for the three motions I’m giving you.” Bob had a car. We went to the theater that
night and then we drove back to New Haven. We got almost to West Haven, it must have been
2:00 or 2:30 in the morning, when Bob realized he left the envelope with the motions under the
seat in the theater in Manhattan. We turned the car around, went back down to New York, routed
out the night janitor, and fortunately the envelope with the motions was still under the theater
seat. Can you imagine if Bob would have had to tell Irving he had lost his motions in the
theater? Then we turned around and went back to New Haven. He worked all weekend on the
motions, did a very good job, and Kaufman ended up hiring him.
Mr. Pollak: Great story. What did you do between first and second year?
Judge Wald: Between first and second year, I worked for part of the summer at
home and then I bought a round trip, cross-country bus ticket on a Greyhound bus because I had
never been west of New York. I just got on the bus. I arranged it so I never had to stay in a hotel
at night. I just took night buses; I went up and down the country and went this way and that. I
stayed in California at the YWCA for a few weeks.
Mr. Pollak: All on your own?
Judge Wald: Yes. And it was a crazy trip. I traveled all through the segregated
South. I knew about segregation, but it was a memorable experience to see it first-hand down
through Louisiana, Georgia, and all of that region. I went out to the West Coast, got in with a
bunch of girls at the YWCA and saw a lot of that area, and met one girl and went up to her home
in Sacramento. I went to Reno and then came back zigzagging across the country. I think I did it
all over a period of three weeks for about $200.
March 24, 1992