Women and Justice for the Poor: A History of Legal Aid, 1863-1945 re-examines our fundamental assumptions about the American legal profession, and the boundaries between “professional” lawyers, “lay lawyers,” and social workers. Putting legal history and women’s history in dialogue, it demonstrates that nineteenth-century women’s organizations first offered legal aid to the poor and that middle-class women functioning as lay lawyers, provided such assistance. By the early twentieth century, male lawyers founded their own legal aid societies. These new legal aid lawyers created an imagined history of legal aid and a blueprint for its future in which women played no role and their accomplishments were intentionally omitted. In response, women social workers offered harsh criticisms of legal aid leaders and developed a more robust social work model of legal aid. These different models produced conflicting understandings of expertise, professionalism, the rule of law, and ultimately the meaning of justice for the poor.
“Women and Justice for the Poor is an exciting and timely intervention into work on lawyering in the United States. Batlan establishes the deep relevance of ideas about gender and race to the history of law and legal practice through ambitious research, provocative analysis, and engaging narrative.”
– Martha S. Jones, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, University of Michigan
“By tracking legal aid through the winding corridors of urban social institutions, Batlan gives us evocative insights into gender, reform, capitalism, and lawyering in a cogent and fascinating historical account. Her erosion of lay and professional boundaries, demonstrated by women’s contribution to legal aid and the pragmatic relief they provided to underprivileged clients, illuminates the value of using gender to frame the story.”
– Norma Basch, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University
“In a remarkably original social/legal history, Batlan is asking readers to rethink what lawyering has meant and could mean. And when you ask ‘outside the box’ questions, you come up with surprising answers. This book can help us understand why law today can be far from justice.”
– Linda Gordon, Florence Kelley Professor of History, New York University
2016 Law & Society Association’s Willard Hurst Prize