A year after Christopher Columbus Langdell assumed the deanship of Harvard Law School in 1870 with the promise of making the school competitive and meritocratic, the first woman applied for admission.

Helen Sawyer, a 27-year-old New Hampshire resident, wrote: “I trust that under the present liberal tone of Harvard, my sex will post no misfortune for me.” The Harvard Corporation debated her request over two meetings, but ultimately rejected her. For 80 years the Law School continued to bar women applicants, until, in 1950, 13 women were granted admission to Harvard Law School.

In September, Harvard Law School hosted more than 600 alumnae back to campus, including several members of the pioneer class of 1953, as part of “Celebration 60,” a reunion event to mark the 60th anniversary of the first women graduates of Harvard Law School.

The three-day event, which was held Sept. 27 to 29, celebrated what Dean Martha Minow described as “the smashing of the Harvard Law School tradition of exclusion.” The event was part of a worldwide women’s leadership summit of Harvard Law School alumnae, titled “Leaders for Change—Women Transforming our Communities and the World.”

Read more on the Harvard Law School website.

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