Berkeley Law Professor and former dean Herma Hill Kay, an iconic pioneer among women in the law, passed away Saturday, June 10, 2017.
Kay, who taught at Berkeley Law for 57 years, wrote seminal works on sex-based discrimination, family law, conflict of laws, and diversity in legal education. A powerful advocate for equality in legal education and for women’s rights under the law, she also published numerous articles and book chapters on subjects including divorce, adoption, and reproductive rights.
In 1960, Kay became just the second woman to join the Berkeley Law faculty—hired when the first, Barbara Armstrong, announced plans to retire. During Kay’s tenure, the number of women students increased from a small handful to more than 50 percent of the class, and the number of women faculty grew exponentially.
She became the school’s first woman dean in 1992, serving for eight years. Despite facing severe budget restrictions and the 1996 passage of a California law barring public institutions from recruitment based on affirmative action, Berkeley Law thrived during her tenure with significant expansions to its curriculum, faculty, and clinical program.
Read more about Herma Hill Kay here.
Explore thoughts, memories, and tributes in the right column.
When I enrolled at Boalt, there were two woman on the faculty. Babette Barton and Herma Hill Kay. I took Barton’s tax course, but I am not a tax type. I took all of Professor Kay’s courses. If she was teaching, I was there. I needed her voice. I needed her example. I need her knowledge and wisdom. She was an island in a big male sea. Thank you Herma Hill Kay from an ol’ timer.
I am very fortunate that Herma was my boss the entire time she was our dean. I have had many wonderful supervisors in my life, but Herma stands out in my mind as especially sensitive and kind. She liked to call me “Edward,” and with her steel-trap mind I had no option but to go along with the formality.
I have one particular memory with Herma that will always be special. It was the way she handled the furor and media circus that happened before and after the passage of Prop. 209, a state law that eliminated the use of race, ethnicity, and gender in the admissions process for public institutions. Boalt Hall (by way of Herma) pretty much carried the water for all of the UC law schools throughout this moment in history. At the time, in 1997, my office was located on the ground floor and my window had a westward view toward Kroeber Fountain. I remember seeing Herma out there, alone with her back to me, facing a score of reporters, cameras, lights, and microphones. I will be forever thankful that it was she and not me. She protected me throughout that entire process; my name never once appeared in the media.
Herma taught Conflicts of Laws to the Class of ’62 in the Spring of ’61. She was w/o doubt one of the best Law Professors in the school at that time. Some 20+ years later I was a Bar Review Guru for Bar/Bri and had another marvelous time working with her on a professional basis.
She will be missed- our class gave her the Rookie of the year award after her first year.
So sad…I remember her humility and modesty despite her obvious talents and commitments !!!
Judge Kelvin D. Filer
Los Angeles Superior Court – Compton
A phenomenal human and life and massive influence on many, many lives!
…but you missed her loved Yellow Jaguar XJE (I think that was the model)….
Brent S. Stewart, Ph.D., J.D.
Boalt Hall ’97
Senior Research Scientist
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute
Herma Hill Kay attended the International Association of Boalt Alumni (IABA ) meetings for several year , including those in Milano and Bologna which I, as an Italian LLM alumna, organized, and she always enjoyed them and was always very interested in the relations with the foreign alumni of the Law School to which she contributed original ideas and valuable opinions.
I will miss very much her brave spirit, her sense of humor, her sensitivity towards the persons’ needs and her smartness .
Goodbye Herma, you have been a wonderful person !
Paola Parma Sforza
(LLM -Class of 1986)
Thank you for this email. I am very saddened to hear this news. I was a research assistant for Herma while in law school, helping conduct research on the first women law professors. I very much enjoyed working for Herma and admired her immensely. She was not only a brilliant legal scholar but a very kind soul. She will be missed. My condolences to her family.
Immortality is the process of living one’s life beyond its parameters. I was with Herma when she met in San Francisco with individuals who were recommending a substitute Attorney General to incoming President Bill Clinton. Although we didn’t realize at the time that Janet Reno was already being vetted, Herma conducted herself with such extraordinary competence and class that I never have forgotten it.
She was a beautiful and intellectual guide and role model for an entire generation of lawyers, men and women alike, that my heart can not come close to articulating the emptiness I feel in her passing.
I love you Herma. Thank you.
Herma and I started Boalt on the same day. I was an entering student and she was a beginning professor. At the orientation she was the first faculty member I met.
She is a great loss to the Boalt community.
Class of 1963
How sad! Such extraordinary jurist and professor. She was Dean at precisely same period I was dean at my law school. She will be missed so dearly!
LLm Class 1987
Dean and Professor of Law
Interamerican University of Puerto Rico
I was (and am) honored to be named a Herma Hill Kay Fellow while at Boalt.
Sarah Martin ’12
Phenomenal person we had a class dinner at Larkmead which she attended…she and her husband both loved wine and Herma like me a chocolate addict…Herma and Ed two tough losses..ever onward
I am sure that many people who were either students or friends of Dean Kay will contact you with their individual stories. Mine is short and memorable (at least to me). I took Conflict of Laws from Dean Kay, and because my name begins with a “C” I was seated down low in the rows of seats that formed the circular theatre where the daily performance took place. On the first or second day, there was a fellow student, seated higher up and behind me such that I didn’t notice him until he spoke (or was called upon), and immediately turned because he had a high pitched (squeaky) voice and I almost chuckled at the sound of his voice answering what Dean Kay had posed. Then, and quickly so, what he said made so much sense and he kept talking and I knew I was listening to someone much smarted than me! I made a point of meeting him, and it was none other that Peter Weston, who ended up Editor in Chief of the Law Review! Deal Kay had a luscious sense of humor with us (mostly guys in those days, although Emmie Guggenheim was in our class), and that made for a memorable and useful learning environment.
She (Dean Kay) mixed with us students all the time and it was always a pleasure to talk with her about subjects far and wide. We’ll miss he, but it’s good to know that she lived the life she chose.
Herschel Cobb (’68)
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. Definitely news I didn’t want to hear. She’ll be missed. Greatly missed.
I graduated from Boalt in 1961. We were the first class she taught at the school. Her class was conflict of laws. When we graduated our class presented her with a plaque inscribed to the”rookie of the year.” She told us at our 55th class reunion she still had the plaque on her office wall. We all thought very highly of her.
A major loss! She was one of my favorite teachers because she was an excellent professor and a great person. I will miss her.
Kit Choy Loke
She will truly be missed. She was always good to staff!
Professor Hill’s Family Law course came in the dynamic era of Roe v. Wade and no-fault divorce. I’ll never forget the student involvement (bickering, jabbing, etc) she engendered. Great practice for the practice of law!
Herma Hill Kay inspired generations of women at Berkley Law as a brillant teacher, innovative leader and genuinely fine person. Rarely has one life resulted in creating so much equality for women and other minorities. Her spirit will always be with us. She made such a huge difference to so many of us and the world. Her spirit lives on .
Professor Kay was my favorite professor at Boalt. She was brilliant, kind, and made me a better thinker. She built Boalt into what it is today. Her legacy will live on.
J.D. Class of 2011
I feel so privileged that I got to know her and learn from her. She remains an inspiration to me and I will always be grateful for her kindness and encouragement. It’s always nice when a legend also turns out to be such a lovely person.
Coming out of her conflict of law exam, I saw the professor and without thinking booed her. Her test hurt my brain. It turned out my hurt brain did well on the test. What makes the story fun is that when I ran across her at an event thirty years later she remembered me and my boo. Apparently it was the only time it happened. She was a great professor.
Professor Hill Kay was an amazing example of strength and courage. She always wanted to learn about family law overseas. She inspired me to be strong and keep looking for justice.
Back in the 1990s, I represented the American Bar Association on law school accreditation matters. The accreditation program was led by a Council composed of law school deans, judges and prominent lawyers and my relationship with them started as a baby lawyer giving them counsel that they often did not want to hear. Herma was a member of the Council and, at every meeting, she would greet me with a boisterous “Stewie!” and a big hug. In addition to all her ground-breaking work, she was a wonderfully warm and enthusiastic person who knew how to provide encouragement and support in wonderfully subtle and not-so-subtle ways. She was a paragon of virtue and reason and always served as a voice for handling difficult situations directly and for doing the right thing in the short term and the long term. I miss her dearly.
I graduated in 1963 and was in Professor Kay’s classes in family law and conflict of laws as she was learning to be a teacher. In the second semester of the third year, she taught a seminar on Law and Anthropology with Laura Nader – who is related to the famous Ralph Nader. Professor Kay was fabulous and among the top 10 “teachers who influenced me” during my life. While she had a great reputation as a scholar and legal thinker, what I remember most was her “kind heart”. Although that was over 50 years ago, I feel her loss today and am grieving. Thank you, Herma, for not only your learning, but also your inspiration that stayed with me for more than half of a century.
Prof. Kay was my advisor for a research paper on Sex-based discrimination. She was brilliant, compassionate and helpful at a time when I needed her support. I appreciated her incisiveness.
Entering Boalt in September, 1967, I recall that our class had 17 of the approximately 27 enrolled women — a much different place than today. Prof. Kay not only gave me my first exposure to family law; she changed my entire perspective on the imperative of gender equality, and how far our society needed to go to get anywhere close to that objective. 47 years later, we’ve not yet attained it, but generations of her former students are still engaged in the ongoing struggle.
In the summer/fall of 1972, a class comprised of 30 Black students entered Berkeley Law. If memory serves me well, there were only two women professors-Babette Barton and Herma. She was my Conflicts of Law professor and introduced me to a quasi-metaphysical concept called characterization. Although it was used to determine in which court a case should be filed, the notion that one can characterized the same fact pattern in a number of ways has stuck with me for over four decades. Herma was a heroine of mine once I began practicing law through her work for gender equality in many fora including Equal Rights Advocates. As I got to know her, I heard her stories about being one of the only women in her law school class. I think she told me that she wore white gloves at that time!!! When race conscious admissions were eliminated and the number of Black students plummeted from 30 to ONE, Maria Blanco and I went over to the law school on the day the ONE Black student started classes. I remember seeing Herma standing against one of the walls outside looking deeply pained at this horrid turn of events. I felt so badly for her that day.
When I learned she had passed, I cried. She was a lovely lovely woman-a gentile woman who made her way in a rough and tumble word. My buddy Steve Brick the husband of my classmate Ann Brick died the same day. Many of us are at an age when death is around us. We will lose many many wonderful people who have made our lives brighter. Her passing is a true loss. Rest in Power dear Herma Rest in Power.
Beautiful tribute, Eva. My mother – my lifelong champion – just passed away in February. And I think then receiving the news that Professor Kay had died hit me particularly hard personally, too. Just as you eloquently wrote.
I was very saddened to receive Professor Murray’s email announcing that Professor and Dean Herma Hill Kay had passed away. I felt such an immediate loss, of another great woman and leader slipping away quietly from our lives. Professor Kay was my favorite professor from my years at Boal Hall (class of ’91). I took her Family Law course in my 2L and she, and the content of the course as she presented it, inspired my own path in the law that eventually led to the past 16 years of work helping children in foster care. Her grace, dignity, intelligence, strength, and compassion inspired me. When I would go back to Boalt each year for alumni weekend, I would see her occasionally and always went up to say hello. I cherish a photo of the two of us from about five years ago, standing outside the very same lecture hall where I first learned from her about the gut-wrenching decisions judges have to make in family law cases. I was so proud to tell her that I was now representing adoptive parents and helping kids in foster care, and I saw a smile of pride that mirrored what I would see on my mother’s face. I was able to thank her for making a difference in my life. Great teachers, great professors, great leaders are to be cherished and never taken for granted. Godspeed, Professor Kay. We will miss you and your lovely, reassuring presence in this world.
HHK AND BB were our only female professors. I was so lucky to see them in many venues including the AALS and the ALI. Herma was so loving and encouraging to me as I navigated my path as One of the few black female law professors in the nation. I was also fortunate to know a few of the early pioneers who,like her, broke the mold!!
Several were from Wisconsin , where I currently teach. Obviously, she was brilliant, courageous, and formidable. But more importantly she was loving, kind, and encouraging. I miss the idea of seeing her. They’ll never be another. Linda Sheryl Greene, Evjue Bascom Professor, The university of Wisconsin law school there never be another
HHK AND BB were our only female professors. I was so lucky to see them in many venues including the AALS and the ALI. Herma was so loving and encouraging to me as I navigated my path as One of the few black female law professors in the nation. I was also fortunate to know a few of the early pioneers who,like her, broke the mold!!
Several were from Wisconsin , where I currently teach. Obviously, she was brilliant, courageous, and formidable. But more importantly she was loving, kind, and encouraging. I miss the idea of seeing her. They’ll never be another.
Linda Sheryl Greene, Evjue Bascom Professor, The university of Wisconsin law school.
As a Boalt graduate coming from (and returning to practice in) New York City — Winston & Strawn — I would get together with Herma when she did her at-least-annual East Coast swing to see alums who had demonstrated the bad judgment not to return to California to practice after graduation. Whenever I was in San Francisco or Oakland on legal business, or just on vacation, I would always try to break into her heavy schedule and spend 15 delightful minutes with her just chatting in her Office. As busy as she was, she always made time to see me. These occasions were 90% social, but I do remember one time(in NYC) that had a little surprise business in it. She was on her way to (as I recall) appear in Washington before the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the Supreme Court nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, before that, to “prep” the future Justice before the nominee appeared before the Committee for her interview. I just happened to have watched numerous televised Judiciary Committee interviews of prior Supreme Court candidates (e.g., Haynesworth, Bork, Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, Rehnquist), at least the first three of whom had received a semi-hostile grilling. While we both expected that Candidate Ginsburg would receive a relatively cordial reception, Herma was nevertheless a little nervous — probably mostly because she could not think of any difficult-to-field questions that might be directed to her. I was able from memory to come up with some tough (some might say “unfair”) questions that some of these earlier nominees had received, and recounted them to Herma. She was fascinated, and the twenty or so minutes we spent discussing these historical questioning sessions was undoubtedly the only time that law-related information have ever gone from me to Herma, rather than vice-versa. To me, it was a wonderful example of Herma’s intrinsic humanity (and humility) that she could actually listen to, and be genuinely interested in, the non-scholarly views of a former student. I will greatly miss seeing Herma again. Sorores qui fuerunt sed nunc ad astra.
When I finally screwed up my courage and entered Boalt Hall in the Fall of 1970, my friends and family had been saying for years, why would you want to be a lawyer? They opined it wasn’t an appropriate profession for a “girl.” But our entering class was a snapshot of what was to come – we had the greatest percentage of women yet. That was early in the evolutionary and revolutionary increase in women that had its first surge in 1968 when 11% of the first year class was female.
Herma was one of only two woman professors at the time; I was enamored because she was only seven years older than I and had already been a Boalt professor for 10 years! She made everything seem within reach. She was brilliant, accessible, empathetic and fun. Then came her decidedly cutting edge seminar on sex discrimination under Title VII. She and Ruth Bader Ginsberg had assembled a mimeographed “case book” of the very few lower court opinions and pending cases interpreting the language that prohibits discrimination based on sex, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin. The near-legendary impetus for adding “sex” to this clause was the opponents’ vain hope of shooting down the whole Act. So, there it was for the courts to decide: what, if any, employment action based on the sex of the individual could be lawful under this apparently total ban. Our seminar was tasked with deciding that knotty question. As I recall, we decided being a wet-nurse or a sperm donor were among the very few things that could be deemed a “bona fide occupational qualification” lawfully dictating an employee’s gender.
I credit Herma Hill Kay with inspiring me to fearlessly go where others feared to tread — to become a labor arbitrator, a decidedly non-traditional career for women in the 1970’s. Thank you, Herma, you leave a great legacy.
I had the good fortune to teach as an adjunct at Boalt when Herma was Dean, and I got to know her well. What stood out most to me was her love of the students, and the importance to me of quality teaching and mentoring. Accordingly, she was very supportive of my adjunct teaching and frequently inquired into how the students were receiving and reacting to my classes and my interactions with them. She was dedicated to excellence and high stabdards. One semester early on I approached her about the curve grading curve being too restrictive given the large number of truly excellent exams I received, and was beaming that I felt the students did such a great job and she said firmly “the curve is the curve, and we all have to live with it.” In future years she continued to inquire about the students, , I continued to tell her they did a great job, which they did. When she completed her term as Dean, I asked how her new role felt and she said now she could return to her two primary loves at Boalt, teaching and writing. Herma was a force of nature in a strong, quiet and dignified way. She touched an enormous number of lives and she will be dearly missed.
Very sad. As a foreign student from London on the one-year LLM degree in ’68/69, Herma supervised my thesis. She was wonderfully encouraging. She inspired, engaged and supported me, a mere male, with a warmth that I remember fondly to this day.
In the spring of 1968, Professor Kay was active in the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. She was giving one of the last final exams of our class’s career in the morning of June 6. Late the evening before, however, Robert Kennedy was shot while the results of the California primary that day were coming out; he died during the night. The event was most distressing, whether you supported him or not.
Professor Hill arrived in the morning to give the Family Law exam as scheduled. I don’t know if she had gotten any sleep the previous night; it appeared she hadn’t. Before handing out the exams, she spoke briefly of the loss, the distress, and the sadness most in the room were feeling, and informed us that she would take the circumstances into account in grading the exams. Nevertheless, she said, out of respect for those who were prepared on time and could not arrange a make-up exam, and for the law school as a whole, she would proceed with the exam as scheduled.
With all of her intelligence, academic achievements, and formal teaching skills, in those few moments Professor Kay touched me for her humanity and her ability to keep events in their proper perspective.
May her memory be for a blessing to all who knew her.
Herma Hill Kay was/is an inspiration. I took her Family Law class at Boalt in 2005, and not only was she a great professor, she was lovely and kind and humble — a quiet heroine that I truly admired. Thank you for being such an amazing role model and trailblazer.
Jennifer Landsidle, Class ’06
Herma Hill Kay was my most important mentor during and after law school. I showed up at Boalt wanting to become an academic, and thankfully Herma Hill Kay believed in my future, even more than I did. I am happy to say that her guidance, support, and mentorship helped me land my dream job in legal academia earlier than I ever thought possible. I will miss sending her periodic updates, but will always cherish how much support and inspiration she provided.
Hannah Haksgaard ’12
Assistant Professor, University of South Dakota School of Law
Herma was my conflicts professor but my fond remembrance took place while she was Dean. There is another Chuck Miller, who is several years ahead of me and more generous in his support of Boalt. One day I received a personal letter from Herma inviting me to a private dinner at the Chancellor’s home on campus. I RSVP’d knowing that there was a likely fund-raising purpose. Several days later I received a very apologetic call from Herma that the invite had been sent to the wrong Chuck Miller and what could she do to make it well. At that point, there was a sold-out Cal Performances recital that my wife really wanted to go to. I told Herma all would be foregiven if she could wrangle a few tickets. She did and I learned later that she had given us her tickets. We always joked about that and she called me the “other Chuck Miller.” I finally met the other Chuck Miller at a reunion and I told him about the time that Professor Jennings, a big fan of the other Chuck, told me I was no Chuck Miller. Herma was a great scholar and teacher and she will be fondly remembered.
What a great loss to the Boalt community and the legal profession. A true original. HHK encouraged her students to engage in thoughtful discourse and invited them to share ideas from every part of the legal, political, moral, and ethical spectrum. She did this without the slightest bit of judgement or reproach. I took one class from her on a whim because it fit my schedule; after that, I was so impressed with her genuine care for her work and her students that I changed my 2nd and 3rd years schedules in order to take every course she taught. Without HHK, my time at Berkeley would not have been the same, not even close. I am grateful for what I learned from her as a person and as a professional. She will be missed by many, including me. Thank you Ms. Herma Hill Kay.
I was an above-average but not outstanding student in Conflicts of Law, a class she made so interesting despite what could be dry matter. She did not remember me when called as a reference by Justice Ginsburg, whom I had the honor to serve as a clerk. When I returned once I started a teaching career, she then recalled me, pointed out that 6 other students in that class
had become law professors, and henceforth was a wonderful mentor to me. Her vision of legal education and her barrier-breaking will long be justly recalled.
I never had the pleasure of taking a course with Dean Kay, but remember her gentle and reserved demeanor as she walked Boalt’s hallways, her reknown as a great legal mind AND her yellow jag parked out back. She was a gentle force who will be missed!
I was greatly saddened to learn of Herma’s recent passing. She was an absolute ‘beacon light” for me, during law school (1970-1973), and thereafter, during my years in the legal profession.
I first met Herma in the fall of 1970, through various women law students (classes of 1971 and 1972) who had worked with her in establishing the Boalt Hall Women’s Association. Thereafter, Herma provided valuable advice and guidance to me when I was working to improve employment interview opportunities for Boalt women law students.
I took three courses from Herma, and have always thought that she was a fabulous teacher, one of the very best with whom I studied, through my many years of education at all levels.
Additionally, I had the honor to serve as Herma’s research assistant when she was writing Sex-Based Discrimination and the Law with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ken Davidson.
Herma had a “reach” far beyond California, with respect to dissolution of marriage and marital property issues. For example, she addressed a group of “law reform women” in Wisconsin on issues of no-fault divorce and equitable marital property issues, which led to significant changes in Wisconsin law.
On the non-law side, Herma took me up on an exciting trip in her airplane when she was practicing “touch-and-goes,” meaning landing and taking off in rapid succession. Wow!!
I can also personally attest that Herma was a fantastic chef, and was honored when she invited me to chop vegetables for her in preparation for a holiday extravaganza.
Also, as I recall, I did some editing work for Carroll Brodsky on one of his publications, upon referral from Herma.
AND, AND, … being an “expatriate Badger,” having grown up canoeing during the summers, I took one of Carroll’s boys on an epic canoe ride around Lake Merritt in Oakland!
All in all … quite a rich storehouse of wonderful, warm and varied memories of Herma and her family …
Our class of 1974 was the first to have an enrollment of one-third women. How inspiring it was to look up to Professor Kay (Herma) as a leading member of the faculty and a nationally-acclaimed legal scholar! My favorite memory of Herma was a glimpse at her human side: when I was working for her on the Sex-Based Discrimination book in 1974, Herma had met and was falling in love with her Carroll. Here was my role model, an iconic woman law professor, who managed to have a romantic personal life along with her astounding career! We all wanted to be like Herma – she was a symbol of brilliance, accomplishment, compassion and grace. She shaped so many lives and forged the path for numerous attorneys, judges, mediators and arbitrators – an awesome legacy.
I first got to know Herma Kay as an engaging and extraordinarily knowledgeable professor in a class she taught on women and the law. Everything she tackled she seemed to excel at. Don’t know if anyone has mentioned when A’s Dean she was invited to throw out the first pitch at an A’s game. Determined not to be embarrassed and accused of throwing like a girl she practiced ahead of time with a Boalt student who played baseball in college — at the game she made her toss to the catcher look effortless.
Herma was an inspiration to all who fought for justice in the courts, on the streets and in the classroom. I have fond memories of Herma helping persuade the Rosenberg Foundation to include criminal justice issues in its docket. And as a young attorney at Equal Rights Advocates, she helped provide needed legal strategy as we tackled gender discrimination. I was once in her presence when an attorney (man) asked sarcastically, “when was ERA going to hire a male attorney?” and with her great smile, she replied, “as soon as we find one that is qualified to do the task.” And of course I’ll never forget her driving her yellow Jaq sports car. She was one of a kind!
Herma Hill Kay was a source of personal and professional support during my difficult years at Boalt. She encouraged me to submit two papers I wrote for her classes to appropriate law journals, where they were published. She gave voice to all students, not only the men, who were too often the only ones heard in our classes. She was an inspiration to us all.
There was none like her.
Her clarity, honesty, strength, focus, integrity and creativity set the bar for her students, for the faculty and staff, and in the legal community. She was instrumental in changing family law, not just for California, but throughout the United States.
She was crucial in the modernization of Boalt — and by modernization, I mean the transformation of the law school from the staid homogeneous pompous institution of the 1950s into a vibrant diversified and socially engaged part of the new culture demanded by the 1960s and thereafter.
She had my mind from the moment I stepped into her classroom; she had my back from the moment I became an assistant dean; and she had my heart every time she laughed —
I cannot imagine this planet without Herma Hill Kay.
I got to know Herma at a meeting of the International Association of Boalt Alumni, where we discussed whether women would make a difference in the bench. This led to a wonderful term teaching a course with her on the subject in 2000.
She challenged, supported and befriended me in a remarkable way, as she has done for so many. I will remember her with fondness, admiration and gratitude forever.
In 1968, as a first year law student, I had Professor Kay as a small section teacher. She was warm and compassionate to her students and she was the ONLY Professor in my entire law school career at Boalt who I communicated with outside of the classroom–in those days, I viewed Professors as the enemy, intent on making our law school journey as difficult and intimidating as possible. From time to time over the last 40+ years, I have reflected back on my fond feelings for her as a guiding light for me, and she has been the single most important reason I have continued to support Boalt. Her loved-ones should be very proud to have had her as part of their family.
Sometime during her tenure as Dean Herma invited us all to a women’s reunion. It was a wonderful occasion, but it was also very formative in my thinking. Despite having been out of school for some time, and obviously aware that my class of 20 or so women admits was a huge advance for the school at that time (I think 17 or 18 of us graduated), I hadn’t really focused on why in particular it was a challenge to be a woman at law school at that time. I was aware (painfully sometimes) we were new and different and a clear minority—that there just weren’t many of us around so we really stood out. Some professors welcomed us more actively than others. It took me a year, really, to get my sea legs at Boalt and to build my confidence.
But seeing and hearing from the women on the faculty at the time of the reunion (obviously sometime between ’92-2000), I focused for the first time on the specifics of what difference it makes to women (or to any student for that matter) not only to have intellectual models but to have life models among their teachers. For the first time, it wasn’t just 2 or 3 women on the faculty. And each of the women professors was very different – single, married, with or without children, straight and gay, various life paths, many different options. I was also reminded that when there are more women, the women are more free to be themselves in ways that are harder when a tiny number of women must always be abnormally constrained because who knows how their behavior might influence future hires. All of this is equally true for other minorities although progress there is slower.
Herma was a major part of making that change and Boalt was ahead of the pack, and I will forever be grateful to her. I am glad that Boalt will celebrate her life and accomplishments and wanted to weigh in as you collect the many ways she influenced lives and careers.
Herma explained everything so clearly. It was easy to learn in her classes. She was patient, witty, and just wonderful. How lucky were we…
When I entered Boalt in the fall of 1970, although only 17% of the class were women, this was the highest percentage to date in US law schools. Prof. Kay gave us needed encouragement through both her intellectual and personal leadership. She was an early supporter of the Boalt Hall Women’s Association. In her class on Conflict of Laws, I learned a way of thinking that stood me in very good stead, first as a labor lawyer and then as an international lawyer. After graduation, I had a personal experience that led me to write to her to let her know that “conficts works in practice,” and she graciously replied. Much later, she also wrote to thank me for contributions to Boalt made in her name. Her prestige as a scholar and professor did not stand in the way of real humanity. The copy of her co-authored path-breaking textbook, Sex-Based Discrimination, holds pride of place on my bookshelf. I feel privileged to have had her as a professor and role model.
Herma Hill Kay was such a remarkable person, it is hard to know how to remember her in a way that will do her justice. She taught family law at Stanford in 1975, my final year, and was the only woman professor who taught me in a law school class (though Barbara Babcock was a wonderful influence and mentor). As was so often the case in Herma’s career, her gender alone made her noteworthy, but this was hardly the most significant aspect of her teaching and presence. The clarity, dry humour and down-to-earth practicality she brought to her subject are still vivid in my memory, along with a style of dress that was elegant and conventionally lady-like, in contrast to her somewhat radical scholarship, advocacy, activities and attitudes.
Some years later she and Carroll visited the University of Adelaide Law School, where I was on the faculty. She was in high demand, but very generously took time at my request to attend a small internal seminar, to add her support to the need to increase the representation of women on university committees, especially in relation to appointment and promotion, an issue I was advocating, against some resistance (including from other women). Her influence was well-received, and I believe was a factor in changing university policy.
Herma was my mentor, my role model and my friend. She, Babette Barton and Barbara Armstrong took the female members of our class (16 out of 289 in 1964) to lunch in small groups at the Women’s Faculty Club at the beginning of the first year. They wanted us to know that they were there as a support system for us. It really helped! One of my fondest memories of Herma is the trip to Yale University in the early 70’s for the first Women and the Law conference. It was an impressive gathering of truly involved women. One night, several of us went out to dinner for lobster. Herma and I decided that we each wanted another lobster (it was so good!). We told the waiter to just bring us the lobster and forget the rest of the dinner. He said that we couldn’t possibly eat another lobster. We both replied that we were from San Francisco, knew our seafood and just watch us! Then there was the course in Conflicts that Herma taught. She was using the new Curry technique. At the end of the semester, she realized that most of us hadn’t a “clue” how to answer a Conflicts question on the Bar Exam. So she scheduled a series of lectures to cram the black letter law into us—that was real dedication by a teacher. Herma will be missed but will be remembered for her many contributions to so many areas of the law and for her loving guidance given to so many women.
When I attended law school, Professor Kay was one of two women professors on the faculty. I gladly and proudly took classes from both. Both of them were blessed with great intellect and eloquence, and they were prominent in their fields of expertise. What I admired most about Professor Kay was her integrity/humanity. Her door was opened to all, always eager to help students. She encouraged inquiry and dialogue, and taught us how to think in a disciplined way. She regaled all of us with her total recall [memory] of case facts and citations contained in her book on Conflicts of Law. Professor Kay relished her role as a teacher, advisor and mentor, and she did it all superbly. I am so very grateful to have been one of her students.
To the berkeley.edu owner, Thanks for the informative post!