Pa­tri­cia Wald, 90, first woman to serve as chief judge on fed­eral ap­peals court

The Republican Herald - - OBITUARIES -

Pa­tri­cia M. Wald, the first woman to serve as chief judge of the fed­eral ap­peals court in Wash­ing­ton and later wrote sem­i­nal rul­ings while serv­ing in The Hague on the in­ter­na­tional court for war crimes in the for­mer Yu­goslavia, died Satur­day at her home in Wash­ing­ton. She was 90.

Her daugh­ter, Johanna Wald, con­firmed her death and said the cause was pan­cre­atic can­cer.

Wald was a pi­o­neer for women in law, ris­ing from a work­ing- class Ir­ish fam­ily to en­ter the le­gal pro­fes­sion at a time when women were a rare pres­ence. She even­tu­ally be­came the first woman to serve on — and pre­side over — the U. S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit, widely re­garded as the sec­ond most in­flu­en­tial court in the coun­try. Her ca­reer spanned a gen­er­a­tional change that pro­pelled women into vis­i­ble and prom­i­nent roles, in­clud­ing on the Supreme Court, a job for which she was once in con­sid­er­a­tion.

Her path to be­com­ing an im­por­tant pro­gres­sive voice in Amer­i­can ju­rispru­dence showed the ob­sta­cles women faced in the mid- 20th cen­tury. She grad­u­ated from Yale Law School in 1951; when she be­gan, three years ear­lier, Har­vard Law School did not even en­ter­tain ap­pli­ca­tions from women. She be­came a law clerk for Jerome Frank, a prom­i­nent ap­peals court judge in New York, and worked briefly for some of Wash­ing­ton’s most prom­i­nent lawyers be­fore leav­ing the work­place for 10 years to be at home with her fam­ily. She raised five chil­dren with her hus­band, Robert Wald, a Yale Law School class­mate who es­tab­lished a thriv­ing Wash­ing­ton law prac­tice. He died in 2010.

She de­scribed her choice with­out com­plaint or re­gret. “I didn’t feel any ter­ri­ble sense of iso­la­tion or loss,” she said of leav­ing the work­place. “I just as­sumed I would go back.”

In a 2006 in­ter­view, she de­scribed the ques­tion of whether moth­er­hood is a real or ful­fill­ing job as a false de­bate. “In my view, how you pur­sue your life as a par­ent and ca­reerist is a ques­tion of in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­ity,” she said.

“I did not want to go back to work un­til my kids were in reg­u­lar school,” she said, though she added that “I re­spect other women’s choices to go back ear­lier.”

She first be­came preg­nant in the early 1950s while work­ing at Arnold & Porter, then a small firm formed by a few of Wash­ing­ton’s top lawyers. She hid her con­di­tion for a time be­cause she feared that it would re­in­force a neg­a­tive view of hir­ing women. “I was afraid they might say, ‘ You take your first woman as­so­ci­ate and in three months, she’s preg­nant,’ ” she said.

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