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Remembering Barbara Babcock

photo of Babcock seated at desk before large portrait of Clara Foltz
Courtesy of Stanford Law School
Jun 25 2020

A legal trailblazer who played a leading role in the development of public defenders; a beloved teacher on women and the law; the author of a law text on civil procedure, a biography and a memoir; and for the Clayman Institute, an “enormously supportive” friend from our earliest days.

Barbara Babcock, the first woman member of the Stanford Law faculty, held diverse roles and won many admirers in her celebrated career. The Clayman Institute is grateful for her contributions to our organization and to women at Stanford. She was the featured guest at a 2013 Clayman Institute Honoring our Founders event. Babcock died of cancer on April 18.

Founding Director Myra Strober, a labor economist and professor emerita at Stanford’s School of Education, said she and Babcock arrived at Stanford around the same time, with each the first woman faculty in their schools. “She had a huge following of women law students who adored her,” Strober says. Babcock was honored by the graduating class four times with the John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching. 
Strober remembers Babcock giving lectures in the early days of the Center for Research on Women, and also her participation in a biography seminar alongside Edie Gelles, an Institute senior scholar who was writing a biography of Abigail Adams, and Diane Middlebrook, a former director who was writing about Anne Sexton. Babcock was working on Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz, the biography of California’s first woman lawyer. Babcock also wrote about her own career in Fish Raincoats: A Woman Lawyer’s Life.
“She really was unique,” Strober says. “Her sense of humor; her voice. When Barbara supported you, you felt like the whole world was behind you, because she was such a strong presence and so clear in her support.”
Philanthropist and nonprofit leader Michelle Mercer, who serves on the Clayman Institute Advisory Council, remembers that support when she was a law student. Mercer says of Babcock, "She was a beloved law professor at Stanford Law School. When I was a student at Stanford Law School and attended Barbara's popular office hours, there would be a long line stretched down the hallway outside Barbara's door." In addition to being a "trailblazing feminist scholar" and an ardent early supporter of the Center for Research on Women (CROW) at Stanford, Babcock to her students was a valued mentor. "Barbara was the go-to professor for women law students, students of color and the LGBTQ students. Over a 40-year period, she nurtured literally hundreds of us interested in social justice work," Mercer says.
Obituaries of Babcock:
  • Barbara Babcock, legal trailblazer who led D.C. Public Defender Service, dies at 81 (Washington Post)
  • Barbara Babcock, a Force for Women in the Law, Dies at 81 (New York Times)
  • Legal scholar Barbara Allen Babcock, the first woman member of the Stanford law faculty, has died at 81 (Stanford News)
  • Remembering Barbara Babcock, First Woman Member of Stanford Law Faculty and Legal Trailblazer (Stanford Lawyer)
  • Tribute board at Equal Rights Advocates (Equal Rights Advocates)

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