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Brooksley Born, the Cassandra of the Derivatives Crisis

She wasn't buying any of it, and she wasn't backing down.

Arguing with the Big Boys, as it turns out, is exactly what she'd been doing her whole life.

'The Little Girl Has It!'

Born's father, a San Francisco welfare agency director, wanted a son. The boy would be named after his best friend, Brooks. He got a girl instead, and came up with Brooksley in "a last-minute attempt to feminize" the name, Born said.

Born was "awful" at junior high school home-economics class, she said, and "a bit of a nerd." As an undergraduate at Stanford University (1957-1961), she scored high as a doctor on an aptitude test and low as a nurse. The guidance counselor chided her, she said, accusing her of only wanting to be a doctor because it paid well.

"It certainly was a reflection of the society we were living in," Born recalled. "To aspire to be a doctor or a lawyer was thought to be arrogant and somewhat inappropriate."

The summer after she graduated, Born was a bridesmaid in two weddings. Some of Born's girlfriends in her Stanford graduating class were going off to be stewardesses, dental hygienists, nurses, teachers. She headed for Stanford Law School.

Not long after she started law school, a male classmate confronted her.

"He told me I was taking up space in the class for a man who undoubtedly was being drafted to go to Vietnam," she recalled.

One law professor tried to trip her up by making her answer questions for an hour; another refused to call on her or any other women in the class. After watching the professor skip over female students on a question that had stumped all the men, she shouted out an answer.

"The little girl has it!" Born remembers the professor saying.

She became the first female president of the Stanford Law Review and the first to finish at the top of a Stanford Law School class. Still, a dean told her that "the faculty stood ready to take over the law review if I ever faltered," she said. "I told him I didn't intend to falter."

Traditionally, Stanford's top law student was essentially guaranteed a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship. But the law school's selection committee recommended two male students instead. She flew to Washington anyway, and had tea with Justice Potter Stewart, who told her he "wasn't ready" to have a female law clerk, Born said. Justice Arthur Goldberg, whom she'd met previously at a reception, didn't extend an offer either, but gave her a note to help her get a federal court clerkship. "It said something like, 'Of course, I can't have a woman law clerk, but she seems well qualified,' " Born recalled.


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