Feminist Legal Realism

Mae Quinn | 35 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender 1 (2012)

This article begins to rethink current conceptions of two of the most significant legal movements in this country — Legal Realism and Feminist Jurisprudence. The story of Legal Realism has been retold for decades and is ever evolving, but one thing has remained constant: male-centered descriptions of Legal Realism have occupied the center of the discussion. In contrast, this article offers a gendered account of the realist enterprise that shifts those in legal history’s margins to the mainstream. Focusing on the realistic work of Anna Moscowitz Kross — one of the country’s first women law graduates, practicing lawyers, and judges — the article examines the work of realistic women in law during and after the realist era’s heyday. Like other women of her generation, Kross did not just talk about Realism; she actually did Realism. As outsiders and reformist lawyers, Kross and her cohorts sought to address social problems they believed contributed to the oppression, marginalization, and day-to-day inequality experienced by women, families, and communities. In this way, the article serves as a two-way mirror — reflecting on our realist past while looking into our feminist future. It suggests that those who are currently grappling with the realities of feminism and the law — particularly within the academy — may draw some lessons from the life and experiences of Kross and her contemporaries. Like feminists today, in the shadows of constructed categories and lists, Kross and her cohorts also sought to establish their own agency and identities while challenging lived injustice. And although no path is ever perfect, their generally more rooted, communal, and practical approaches to feminist concerns — through activism and not just academics, doing beyond talking — may provide a potent shot in the arm for those feeling the frustration of feminism’s limited impact on the law and its institutions as lived. As such, this work suggests a new legal realist history, as well as a new feminist jurisprudence agenda, one that may be called Feminist Legal Realism. Read more...