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Learn the Laws

October 30, 1895 — Portia Law Club, Beethoven Hall, San Francisco CA


[Referring briefly to her recent Eastern trip, Mrs. Foltz said that she was every where impressed with the growing necessity of woman’s knowing something about law, and she also said that she was constantly on the defensive in repelling the insinuations that were made regarding California by those who had formed their impressions from a certain recent notorious crime committed in this City. She meant the [“Theo”] Durrant case, but she mentioned no names, although there were several other references to the same subject, particularly when she said that if her hearers would go with her to the new City Hall they could watch the women struggle for a place to witness a trial now in progress there, and again when she deprecated the custom of attributing a certain brilliant young official attorney’s ability to traits inherited only from his father.]

The Portia Law Club of California was the first law club of women in the world. In San Francisco its purposes have been fully realized.

That prejudice that used to be felt against women attending court is in its last throes; it should be buried 100,000,000 feet deep. When Judge [James Vincent] Coffey cast an imputation upon the delicacy of a woman who would wish to attend trials like the Martin case, this club was obliged for several months to keep ablaze in refuting his statements. Congratulatory letters came to us from abroad and from all part of the East commending our stand, and then men here fell in line and said Judge Coffey was wrong.

The women of the country ought to be just to their boys. You cannot if you neglect the consideration of law.

I maintain that the reason there is so much crime and immorality in this country is because mothers do not understand law and impress it upon their sons.

The Government is only a home on a broader scale, and a woman that understands the laws of her country as she should will never give to her country a criminal son. What is this Government? It is simply a magnificent system of rules known as laws.

For the last two years there has been unusual activity in thought all over the world. That is why there is talk of a new woman. The new woman, God bless here, is here, and if you only knew it she is the partner of the new man, and many of the men are looking for her to become their wife.

Think how important it is that you should know not only the laws of your beautiful bodies, but the laws of your country. From the moment that maternity becomes possible think of bringing forth a perfect offspring, and in understanding the functions of the Government under which you live you cannot bring forth an imperfect brood.

The law presumes that you know the law, and there is not a more ridiculous presumption. Not one many in fifty knows the law and not one woman in 500.

If the women of the Portia Law Club will increase the membership, provided, of course, the applicants can pass the necessary examination, women’s law clubs may be instituted throughout this State, and what has been accomplished by these members may spread throughout California.

Women have shirked their duty. There is too much “la-tee-da” talk among them. There should be more sympathy among them, more sisterly feeling. The women in high social positions should come down a little to help those who are struggling to make the world better, to aid those who have the ability to do the work.

You should demand, coax, insist, beg, do anything to get the right to express your opinions in the ballot-box. At the next election I think the gentlemen will pass the amendment permitting women to vote.

I want to see women grow broader, wiser, and that she may I am eager to see her be given an opportunity to do everything from rocking a cradle and singing a lullaby to filling the highest positions in science, medicine and law in the land.

It is all due to your narrow conservatism that you have not been able to attain more. Let us be more loving; let us be better sisters, better mothers.

[The speaker spoke in passing of her twenty years and more of experience in this City and on this coast as a woman lawyer and of her numerous visits to Sacramento advocating women’s rights until she believed the very capital used to frown on her persistence.]



Source: “A Representative Lady Advocate Says a Last Public Word,” San Francisco Call, Oct. 31, 1895, p. 7.