When told she couldn't come to court, a white girl in a Southern town sneaked up to the courtroom's "colored" balcony in the 1930s to see her father defend an unpopular client.***
Long before Harper Lee wrote about Atticus and Scout Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," a teenage Phyllis Kravitch yearned to watch her father work in the Savannah courthouse. Kravitch abandoned the idea of becoming a ballerina.
Kravitch learned from her father, lawyer Aaron Kravitch, that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law, although neither law nor custom was granting it to African-Americans or to women in those days.
Graduating from Goucher College in 1941, Kravitch wanted to attend Harvard Law School, but it wouldn't admit women for another nine years. (African-American men had been getting Harvard law degrees since 1869.) At other elite law schools, women were admitted but were ignored or marginalized by professors.
So Kravitch went to the University of Pennsylvania law school. At the top of her class after her first year, she was elected to Law Review and graduated in 1943, having slipped to the No. 2 rank in her class.
She applied for clerkships in federal courts, but no judge would hire a woman. She did get an interview at the U.S. Supreme Court, which had no female clerks, she told a 2009 luncheon gathering sponsored by the Atlanta chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Kravitch didn't name the justice who interviewed her but said he told her that she was his second choice, the first one being a man with a Harvard law degree.
She sought work at law firms in New York and Philadelphia but again was turned away because of her gender or, in at least one case, because she was Jewish. So she returned to Savannah to practice law with her original mentor.