Baylor Law to honor pioneering female graduate
Her father warned her it would be difficult for a woman to succeed in law. Not because he didn’t believe in his daughter; her parents were quite progressive, by standards of the time, and encouraged her to develop her intellect and knowledge regardless of her gender. But society wasn’t used to women wanting something other than the life of a housewife.
She told society to get used to it.
Margaret Amsler was the daughter of Judge Nat Harris, a Baylor graduate (class of 1900) and longtime Baylor Law School professor. And she was determined to follow in her father’s footsteps.
After graduating from Baylor with degrees in both English and French, Amsler returned for her law degree. She graduated first in her class (of which she was the only female) — and that was just the beginning of her many “firsts.”
Amsler, BA ’29, JD ’37, went on to become the first woman in Texas (and just the third in the nation) to hold a tenure-track position in a law school (1941), the first woman employed by the Texas Supreme Court (1942), and the first recipient (male or female) of the State Bar of Texas’ Presidents’ Award (1961). In 1946, she served as acting dean of Baylor Law when the school reopened after World War II, and in 1963, she helped write the Texas Married Women’s Act, which gave women the long-overdue right to own property and enter into contracts.
Amsler spent 30+ years as a Baylor Law professor (1940-72), during which time her students knew her respectfully as “Lady A.” (You would, too, if your professor showed up to class each day in a hat and gloves.) Even after retiring from teaching, she continued to practice law from another two decades in nearby McGregor, Texas, finally retiring in 1990 at age 82.
This fall, a specially commissioned portrait of Amsler will be added to the walls of the law school — the first woman to be so honored, joining such Baylor Law greats as Abner McCall (JD ’38, BA ’42), Leon Jaworski (JD ’25) and Price Daniel Sr. (BA ’31, JD ’32).
“Baylor Law School has now produced many highly accomplished women lawyers who have made outstanding contributions to the legal profession and society at large,” says Baylor Law professor Elizabeth Miller, BA ’82, JD ’85. “But it should be a point of pride for Baylor Law that it had the wisdom and open-mindedness to secure the talents of Margaret Amsler on its faculty at a time when law schools were generally not interested in hiring women law professors.”
Sic ’em, Margaret Amsler!