May 23, 1889 – Birthdate of Mabel Walker Willebrandt, “The First Lady of Law”

On this date, Mabel Walker was born in Woodsdale, Kansas. After her marriage, she studied for her law degree at the University of Southern California, receiving her degree in 1916.

Mabel Willebrandt

Mabel Willebrandt

A trailblazer in every way, she represented prostitutes pro bono as the first public defender for women.

Her service as head of the Los Angeles Legal Advisory Board for draft board cases was so highly regarded that a number of prominent men recommended her for the post of Assistant Attorney General in the Warren G. Harding administration.

The first woman to hold a permanent appointment as a U.S. Assistant Attorney General, she was also the highest-ranking woman in the federal government at the time. Among her duties, Willebrandt headed the division in the Justice Department dealing with federal taxation, federal prisons and matters relating to the enforcement of the 18th Amendment.

Mabel Willenbrandt taking the oath of office as U.S. Asst. Attorney General

Mabel Willenbrandt taking the oath of office as U.S. Asst. Attorney General

According to the annual report of the U.S. Attorney General, Willebrandt’s office prosecuted 48,734 Prohibition-related cases from June 1924 to June 1925, of which 39,072 resulted in convictions. She acquired the sobriquets “Prohibition Portia” So seriously did she take her work that the press christened her “Deborah of the Drys” and “Mrs. Firebrand ” for her diligence.

In addition, Willebrandt submitted 278 cases of certiorari to the Supreme Court regarding the defense, clarification and enforcement of the Prohibition Amendment and the Volstead Act. She also argued more than 40 cases before the Supreme Court.

Later in life, she became a counsel of California Fruit Industries, and received several honorary doctorates. She died in Riverside, California, on April 6, 1963.

Of her choice of a career she once said:

I didn’t care much for law when I was young. I loved science and medicine and wanted a career in either field. Later, when I learned I would have to work my way through college, I found I could teach and study law at the same time. I couldn’t have done that with a medical course. I have partially made up for that disappointment by treating law as a science.”

Mabel Willebrandt on the cover of Time Magazine, August 26, 1929

Mabel Willebrandt on the cover of Time Magazine, August 26, 1929

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