First Person Singular

(Matthew Girard)
Sunday, February 17, 2008

My father had a very aggressive athletic sister, so he just assumed all women could do anything. I think it was not until I got to Harvard Law School [in the early 1960s] where it suddenly hit me that not everybody was quite as open and supportive of women as my father. All my life I have gone to public schools, and I got to Harvard, and there were only 15 women in the class. And almost every one of them there had been in "sexagrated" grade schools from kindergarten on. They just thought this coed situation was so amazing. Fifteen women, and all the rest are men?

All of a sudden, you had people saying things like, "Do you realize you have taken this position from a man?" And even the dean of Harvard Law School said the same thing, and he was then [a member of] the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. He had all the women over to his house the first week, and he put us in a circle and said, "I want to know why you came here." His spin was: We let you in equally, but I don't think any of you are going to use this [law degree]. So, we count how many of you there are, and we let in that many more men.

I don't know what they thought -- that we were going to hang the degree over the changing table or something? It seemed quite amazing to me that this incredibly bright group of young women would just be there on a lark. Here was this very bright man who understood racism, but did not understand at all that he was being very sexist saying such a thing. Well, he went around and asked each of us why we came [to Harvard]. Of course, everyone is shaking in their chair because this is the dean -- except for this wonderful young woman from California. She looks him straight in the eye and says, "Well, I am only here because I could not get in at Yale." He went ballistic.

Harvard really prepared me for Congress.

Interview by Cathy Areu

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