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Clarice Baright, Trail-blazer, Brought Women to the Bench

October 14, 1934
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To be the first in arriving at some goal or in realizing some achievement has been, since ancient times, the most potent lure for human ambition. And special honors are very justly paid to those who are not followers, but trail-blazers, not seconds and thirds, but firsts.

Former Magistrate Clarice Baright—now practicing as one of the most able and versatile women attorneys of our city—has abundantly tasted of the joy of being first in the various endeavors connected with her profession.

She was first to present a demand for women judges before the proper authorities and she argued a motion to that effect before Corporation Counsel Lamar Hardy at a time when women had not even been granted the vote. She was the first woman to belong to the Bar Association and, during the war, she was the first, nay better, the only woman who ever tried a case before the General Court Martial. She was also the first Jewish woman appointed to the bench, although one “primeur” that was hers by right and which was actually promised to her—to be the first woman magistrate ever appointed—was denied her through political machinations.


She herself tells the story with a rueful smile.

“You see,” she says, I had worked for years and years to have women lawyers appointed judges. I had argued motions, presented briefs, and when success was achieved Mayor Hylan decided to call me to office and I was supposed to come up next day to be sworn in as magistrate. And then politics took the stage. Certain circles resented the idea that a Jewess should be the first woman magistrate, and so Jean Norris was chosen instead of me.

“Of course it was a disappointment. But, after all, it is a test of character to bear a personal disappointment without losing the enthusiasm for the principle involved, and I did not permit any feeling of hurt to vitiate and weaken my labors for the cause. And in the end I received a belated justification. For the career of Jean Norris ended in disaster, while I may say that as a magistrate I had never a reversal, never lost a case on appeal.


“And the reason for this fact is that, though being judge, I was first of all a human being. I never lost a fellow-feeling for those who came before me not to be punished, as I saw it, but to be guided back on the way to moral and social readjustment.”

No wonder that a woman who is imbued with such sentiments has been an organizer of the Prisoners’ Welfare League and has done splendid work in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders.

She is strongly opposed to the Baumes Law. “It kills hope,” she says, “and hope is the vital principle that makes regeneration possible. In killing hope one kills the soul and that is worse than to destroy the body.”

Clarice Baright has the invaluable gift of being able to win the affection of all with whom she comes in contact, and even to those she had to reprimand and to punish she is “Judge Darling.” She is married. “Twenty-eight years,” she says smilingly, “and I still get my flowers on our anniversary.” She believes strongly that the ideal vocation for women is motherhood. Altogether she presents a delightful combination of the splendid efficiency of the highly trained modern woman with the gentle charm and graciousness which is the most potent heritage of Mother Eve.

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