Oral History with Carin Clauss

University of Wisconsin Law School Library
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Family background and elementary education

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So I’m Lisa Mazzie and I am here with Carin Clauss, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Segment Synopsis: Lisa Masey, the interviewer, introduces herself and CC. CC was born in Knoxville, TN, in 1939, when it was largely undeveloped yet. Her father had become an architect for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Her family knew many people affiliated with the TVA and with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), including artists, photographers, and lawyers. Her childhood exposure to such political entities… CC’s parents created the world’s first modern development of international houses along a mountainside in TN. Her mother, who was born in MN, was sent to Europe for a cultural tour, where she aspired to work for the French architect Le Corbusier.

CC’s father was an architect from a military family in Germany. His father (CC’s grandfather) and his older brother (CC’s eldest great uncle) followed his father’s military example; both were killed in World War I. Most of CC’s grandmother’s family members were architects or artists. As a socialist, CC’s father hated the militarism of Germany at the time. He sought to move to New York after hearing about FDR’s governorship there. There he met his wife, who was also involved in architecture; she obtained her degree from the University of Minnesota, specifically in interior design and engineering. She wanted to work for Le Corbusier, who eventually hired her in Paris. She returned home after running out of money.

Her parents moved to Tennessee to practice architecture. They lived alongside a mountain. The lived near a hillbilly they called “Old Charlie.” CC enjoyed watching him feed his hogs. Old Charlie’s eldest daughter took CC to church because CC’s parents were well-known atheists. CC was born between two brothers (both of whom are still alive at the time of this interview). Her older brother became a lawyer and her younger brother became a businessman. CC’s father discouraged CC’s younger brother and her from pursuing architecture after they demonstrated a poor aptitude for it. Her older brother, Peter, did show potential in architecture but wanted a more lucrative career, so her pursued law.

CC could not afford to travel to Knoxville for school, so she attended the country schoolhouse. Her father improved the school’s building, which the principal and teachers appreciated. CC attended this school through the third grade. During this time, she learned to read from the Bible: after completing each book, students would receive their own paper copy of it; eventually, CC received a full copy of the New Testament (the Old Testament was not taught).

Keywords: Europe; Franklin Roosevelt; Germany; Great Depression; Knoxville, Tennessee; Le Corbusier; Minnesota; New York; Paris; Philadelphia; TVA; Tennessee Valley Authority; University of Minnesota; WPA; Works Progress Administration

00:12:42 - Educational plans

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Great. So then you moved to--your family moved to Philadelphia.

Segment Synopsis: CC attended public school after her family and she moved to Philadelphia. Her parents wanted to move partly because they were appalled by the education system in the South. Her grandfather was the head of the history department at the University of Minnesota. Her maternal grandmother was the first female head of the U of M debate team, during which time the team defeated its Wisconsin rival. CC’s father took a job with a Philadelphia firm and a temporary position at Yale University.

CC was always sure she would attend college; all of her mother’s siblings attended college, and many of them continued for advanced degrees. CC’s father hoped she would become a doctor but CC herself had no interest in medicine. She wanted to be a foreign journalist but learned quickly that such a career would not begin the way she hoped. Having majored in economics and minored in Russian, she earned a Ford scholarship to study in Russia; however, her interest pivoted to law, so she asked Columbia Law School if she could transfer her grant to attend there, and the school agreed. The Ford foundation allowed her to use the money so long as she studied international law.

Keywords: Columbia Law School; Ford scholarship; New Haven, Connecticut; New York; Philadelphia; Russia; University of Minnesota; Yale University

00:18:54 - Adolescence and political involvement

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Okay, so, well, let's back up a little bit and then we'll get back up to law school.

Segment Synopsis: CC recalls several influential people from her adolescence. After moving to Philadelphia, CC’s father reconnected with a colleague from Germany who taught CC some life lessons. He invited her to have dinner with the adults, which allowed CC to engage in serious conversations. She recalls a particular occasion when she made a political remark at the dinner table; an adult named Johannes (a speechwriter for Harry Truman who greatly influenced CC politically) asked her for factual support, which mortified CC because she had done little more than read the remark from a newspaper. CC learned a lesson that she hopes she passed on to her students, namely, to justify their opinions.

Another lesson CC learned was at a dinner party for the mayor of Minneapolis. Hubert Humphrey did the dishes and asked CC to dry them, during which time CC became smitten with politics. She recalls school history projects that furthered her political interests. In junior high, she had a history teacher who asked students to try to get neighbors to sign a petition: unbeknownst to the neighbors, the petition was nothing more than the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. None of the neighbors signed the petition, CC recalls, because of the Red Scare, i.e., the McCarthy Era, which rendered Americans paranoid. CC became involved in union activities, writing columns about the labor movement and assisting with other advocacy. She also participated in a mock United Nations.

CC’s parents believed that their duty was to make their kids self-reliant; so, CC and her brothers spent most of their time on their own. She showed her older brother around New York subway system. CC recalls attending her high school’s 56th reunion, where she met a woman who saw her as a role model against bullying.

Keywords: Beaver College; Declaration of Independence; Democratic National Convention; Harry Truman; Hubert Humphrey; McCarthy Era; Minneapolis; Munich, Germany; Philadelphia; Preamble; United Nations; United States

00:30:33 - College and law school

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So you graduated high school in 1956.

Segment Synopsis: CC attended Vassar College in New York. She lived across the street from Swarthmore but wanted to attend a school farther from home. She applied to Vassar, Swarthmore, and Radcliffe: the former two offered her full scholarships so she chose to attend Vassar. She majored in economics because one of her early heroes, her Aunt Ruth, had led the orphanage for the international Red Cross after WWI. One of her friends, Mabel Newcomer, was an economics professor at Vassar. CC did projects for her and for Emily Clark Brown, a comparative economics professor who specialized in Russian labor. Brown did not speak the Russian language, so CC translated the newspapers for her.

CC entered Columbia Law School in 1960 as one of six women admitted in a class of 320. There were very few female faculty members, lawyers, or judges at the time. The student body appreciated having six women attending. Three of them were older students whose kids had grown. Each of them worked in a different study group. From the perspective of the instructors, female students were admitted for intellectual interest but not to practice law. There was one black student, Frank Thomas, who later became president of the Ford Foundation.

Many of the professors did not respect women. The few exceptions included Herb Wechsler, whom CC served as a research assistant; Mike Sovern, who taught labor law; and Allan Farnsworth, who taught contract law and in whose classes CC learned to analyze law. CC attended his classes on memo writing and urban planning. There was a professor of legal history who called on female students only on the day of the right of the vestal virgin. The male students did not appreciate this but did not speak up about it. CC recalls law school was very different, requiring formal attire and class attendance five weekdays plus Saturdays. Students stood up before speaking in class. When students did not meet the dress code, professors instructed them to leave class for the day.

Keywords: Allan Farnsworth; Columbia Law School; Declaration of Human Rights; Emily Clark Brown; Ford Foundation; Frank Thomas; Herb Wechsler; Mabel Newcomer; Mike Sovern; New York City; Radcliffe University; Sonia Mentacroft; Swarthmore College; Vassar College

00:43:15 - Feminism

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Right, right. So, and you had this, this, you seemed to have, to have this interest in labor law.

Segment Synopsis: CC was interested in labor law and became a policy wonk during law school. She recalls Milton Handler, an anti-trust instructor who captivated CC. This interest in antitrust law persuaded CC to look for Wall Street jobs, but to no avail, which initially shocked CC. She had her heart set on a career in litigation but faced demographic barriers. She met a woman named Bessie Margolin, the head of litigation for the Department of Labor, who told CC to look for her when she needs a job. CC sought work in Washington, D.C., where Margolin introduced her to many bureaucratic colleagues. CC found work in the labor department.

In an employment law class, CC and her female colleagues were called into the instructor’s office. At the time, women typically found work in only two sectors: teaching and librarianship. For the former, women usually attended Harvard University for a master’s in education; for the latter, they usually attended Columbia University’s library school for a master’s in library science. Otherwise, many women attended Katie Gibbs School to learn shorthand and then work in a publishing house. CC had already learned shorthand by this time. Very few women attended law and medical school.

CC talks about gender gaps in employment, including pay disparities. Typically, workplaces had policies that did not allow genders to mix, so women usually competed only with other women and were largely unaware of their male counterparts. Columbia, Harvard, and other law school administrations called their few female students to discuss what to expect for employment after graduation. CC and her colleagues were not shocked by the fact that women were paid less than men were. Initially it did not seem unfair: it just was the status-quo. CC did not attend to inequality until Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963.

Jane Wirtz, wife of Willard Wirtz, a U.S. administrator, was a political activist whose lawyers told her she could not petition about laws that stripped women of certain rights. She deferred to CC, who told her she could come up with a way to accomplish her goals. This was at the time of the Civil Rights Act. Though she was not aware of it at the time, CC was among the pioneers of second-wave feminism, seeking fairness in the workplace. She was recently inducted into second-wave feminism with several other women, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Not all of CC’s female colleagues agreed with equality in the workplace; they feared being subjected to the same conditions as men. CC worked to remove fetal protection policies, which served to protect the fetus from workplace hazards. The U.S. Supreme Court found such policies in violation of equal employment laws. Many third-wave feminists disagreed.

CC worked half time while she attended law school. She was an editor for T.Y. Crowell and an au pair for the family with whom she lived. She edited the American Encyclopedia of Literature, among many other titles. She participated in few law school extracurricular groups but was politically active. While at Vassar, she worked with the New York Reform Democrats.

Keywords: AID; Arthur Goldberg; Bessie Margolin; Civil Rights Act; Columbia University; Department of Labor; Equal Pay Act; Esther Peterson; Frances Perkins; Harvard University; Janet Norwood; Japan; Jimmy Carter; Katie Gibbs School; Milton Handler; New Orleans; New York; Northwestern University; Richard Nixon; Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Supreme Court; TVA; Tennessee; Tennessee Valley Authority; Vassar College; Wall Street; William Douglas

00:58:57 - Job pursuit

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So then, um, you landed at the Department of Labor.

Segment Synopsis: CC began legal work at the Department of Labor. She did appellate work but wanted to be a trial litigator. Her shyness did not help, but she tried to overcome it by hosting and attending professional parties. She also forced herself to do school presentations. She worked on adoption, eviction, and other civil law cases. When she received a case, she would have the following week off from work to prepare for it.

She was very nervous before oral arguments, especially her first one for a case in St. Louis. She practiced her case before the hotel cleaners. She eventually worked over her stage fright. When the administration changed, she became head of appeals. Her mentor, Bessie Margolin, retired in 1971 and CC took over her position as head of litigation.

CC had several mentors after law school, including Wendy Williams, the official biographer for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Badger Ginsburg. Justice William O. Douglas considered Bessy Margolin, another mentor of CC’s, one of the best five orators he heard on the bench. When she retired, it was CC’s duty or set up the going away party, which the entire U.S. Supreme Court would attend. CC had no idea how to begin; fortunately, a staff member volunteered to help. The entire Court did attend, including Chief Justice Earl Warren, who delivered an address at the party.

President Jimmy Carter appointed CC as the first female Solicitor General for the Department of Labor, as well as the first female general counsel. Margolin then recommended CC for a federal judgeship, which was held up in the Senate for political reasons. Margolin herself had been appointed for a similar position but had similar difficulty. CC notes that job competition has increased over the years, for women in particular and more generally. Richard Nixon asked CC to take an appointment but she turned it down. She was sent to Japan to implement the “Nixon shocks,” a series of federal economic measures, including soy beans, oil, and formal recognition of China as an economic player. Janet Norwood and CC, who were top grade civil servants, attended various corporate events in Japan to normalize relations. CC recalls that judges tended to remember women litigators very well because they were so rare.

Keywords: Bessie Margolin; Department of Labor; Earl Warren; Japan; Richard Nixon; Ruth Bader Ginsburg; U.S. Supreme Court; Washington, D.C.; Wendy Williams; federal bar association

01:09:33 - Intellectual work environment

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So what is your, uh, what are you favorite--c-couple of favorite memories?

Segment Synopsis: CC’s favorite intellectual challenges included appellate cases involving the commerce clause, labor rights, and equal pay issues. More generally, her four years working under Jimmy Carter had the greatest impact on her career. She helped women handle the obstacles they faced to get and keep jobs. She participated in a group called “Wider Opportunity for Women,” which wrote many amicus curiae briefs. They became revolutionaries persistently fighting for women’s labor rights. President John F. Kennedy appointed commissions for women throughout the states, directed by Catherine East, who happened to have an office on the same floor as CC’s in the old Labor Department building. This provided CC with many opportunities to meet women fighting on the political frontlines, including Kay Clarenbach, a founding member and first chair of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Betty Friedan, a leading public feminist who wrote The Feminine Mystique. This allowed CC to remain aware of all the major contemporary issues.

CC says that, unlike today, elected officials did not micromanage their employees’ communication when she worked for the labor department. She recalls going to Congress three years out of law school to provide advice on issues in which she was competent. Today, you cannot communicate with the press without explicit consent of your government employer. Career people cannot speak for their employers—the politicians—due to media paranoia. CC finds this unfortunate because you cannot expect good work from a dysfunctional government. The Labor Department always took advantage of its civil servants when CC worked there; that is no longer the case today.

Keywords: Jimmy Carter; John F. Kennedy; Mary Eastwood; Seneca Falls; U.S. Congress; U.S. Supreme Court

01:16:19 - Government priorities

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, um, comparing--you did a little bit of comparing.

Segment Synopsis: CC compares political agendas from her time as a student to those of today. She mentions that worker issues were terribly appointment: there were national steel, coal, and trucking strikes. She thought the Labor Department was the first civil rights department because minimum wage and workplace safety were issues concerning primarily people of minority backgrounds, since they tended to fill most low-wage jobs.

Labor is still an issue on the Supreme Court docket but not near the top of the agenda. Equal labor rights are not as important today as they were years prior. The labor department’s role in domestic policy has shrunk significantly; education policy has fallen down the agenda. Immigration and homeland security have moved up the priority list over the years. Trade issues used to be addressed by the labor department but are now handled separately by trade organizations. CC disagrees with this separation since it removes labor players from the table on trade issues.

The general focus of government has changed notably, as has the role of legal counsel. CC recalls that big law firms at her time in school comprised up to one hundred people; nowadays they may employ several thousand. Legal ethical standards have dropped considerably, resulting in terrible breaches over the years.

Keywords: Bernie Sanders; FCC; Hillary Clinton; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Stanley Sporkin; U.S. Supreme Court; Uruguay

01:23:09 - Joining academia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So when did you decide to, to move into, uh, academia?

Segment Synopsis: CC decided to head into academia partly because of a change in civil service law: you could not involve yourself in work related to your prior employer (under the Carter administration) for two years. CC had been involved in nearly everything related to civil rights and labor law so she would not be able to practice law in those areas; thus, she decided to take the inadvertent opportunity to teach. Eleanor Holmes Norton had decided likewise at the same time and both sought similar work. They applied for a teaching position at Georgetown University, which told them that they would have a decision in four months. CC could not wait that long, going four months unemployed, so she deferred to Eleanor and found work at UW-Madison.

Nowadays, CC believes, she would not receive a teaching position because she was a policy wonk and a political animal. Eleanor used her academic position to springboard into elected office—today she is the Congresswoman from Washington, D.C., currently serving her fourteenth term (May 2017). CC loves teaching and the freedom of academic work, but she was not cut out for research. She was active in women’s issues in higher education for the AAUP. She served on the ACLU women’s project begun by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She litigated for union democracy, especially at the intersection of race, age, and sex.

Keywords: ACLU; Claude Pepper; Eleanor Holmes Norton; Georgetown University; Jimmy Carter; Kathy Hemley; Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Thurgood Marshall

01:30:06 - Faculty politics

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I do want to ask, though, when you came in 1981, were you, um, were there many other women on the faculty here?

Segment Synopsis: There were few women on the UW Law faculty when CC joined. Margo Melli was the first female law faculty member; June Weisberger soon followed, as did Martha Fineman—both of them were classmates at the University of Chicago. Shirley Abrahamson also served briefly before her appointment to the Wisconsin Supreme Court; CC joined the faculty soon thereafter. CC recalls students mistaking her for Melli. Vicki Schultz and Alta Charo, CC believes, had a much harder time establishing themselves as faculty members than did June, Martha, and she. This was likely because the latter three had already worked in some legal or academic capacity; the former two were much younger and less experienced.

As a female faculty member at UW-Madison, CC noticed little difference in treatment of her from that of her male counterparts. There was a difference, however, in treatment of academics and practitioners. There was some divide between progressives in the Law and Society movement and more conservative scholars of business law.

CC recalls her first faculty meeting, assuming it would be collegial; instead, ideologically opposed faculty members attacked each other viciously. CC wondered how she got herself involved in such a contentious environment. She was advised not to reveal her political inclinations to her students. Shortly after CC began teaching, members of the Young Conservative Society asked to have lunch with her; they were glad finally to have another conservative faculty member. Not long thereafter, a liberal student organization asked to have lunch with CC, telling her they were glad to have a socialist no board. CC found this humorous and took it as a sign that she was doing well hiding her ideology.

About three years into CC’s tenure, many students could not discern her political leaning. She did not fully appreciate this because she thought she should teach from her explicit perspective; thus, she began disclosing her true political colors. She found herself a better teacher and politician after doing this.

Keywords: Alta Charo; Cornell University; Georgetown University; Herman Goldstein; June Weisberger; Law and Society; Louise Trubek; MIT; Margo Melli; Martha Fineman; NYU; Robert Bork; Shirley Abrahamson; Stuart Gullickson; Ted Kennedy; UW-Madison; University of Chicago; Vicki Schultz

01:42:28 - UW Law School's changing priorities

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So what has changed most, uh, over time, uh, as a law professor?

Segment Synopsis: CC has seen many changes at UW Law School over the years. She appreciates the increasing emphasis on clinical work. When she came to UW, she was asked to handle the moot court program; there were only two moot courts, which limited the school’s focus to only about a dozen students. This severely limited experiential opportunities for most of the law students, which concerned CC. The faculty formed a committee, which decided to create a new student-run court board. By the time CC retired, they were participating in twenty national competitions, winning many awards along the way. After retiring, CC continued to teach an employment class in the summer, believing it was very important to the students. She is happy to see many more clinical opportunities for law students.

CC is weary of the law school’s changing priorities for faculty selection: during her time as a young faculty member, emphasis fell on criminal law, family law, and labor and employment law; each concentration had at least three tenure-track faculty members. Nowadays, there is much more emphasis on constitutional law and jurisprudence, which CC supports but believes is impractical. Law and science has improved but other areas, including those aforementioned, have lost faculty support. This is a big mistake, CC believes, given the state’s demographics; the school needs to refocus on working- and middle class issues, where many of the school’s graduates practice law. CC believes the school needs to teach legal skills as well as the concepts behind them.

Keywords: Carnegie Foundation; UW Law School

01:47:45 - Starting teaching

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So li--you, like many of us who came into academics never actually, probably taught much before, formally.

Segment Synopsis: CC had done little teaching before she began at UW Law School. She pitied her students because her only experience with teaching was twenty years old. She initially taught much in the way one would teach a continuing education class, which overestimated how much the students knew. CC thus went to back to basics and consequently improved her pedagogy. She has always been more of a policy wonk but has become more interested in the implementation of law and its transformation of society. This informed her administrative work, which CC initially believed had no transformative role. She began taking into further account the factual background of case law for her classes. CC and a colleague of hers took turns giving graduation speeches. She recalls a particular speech her colleague gave stating that the new graduates are representatives of the U.S. Constitution; that it is their jobs as lawyers to represent the law in their work.

Keywords: Howard Erlanger

01:52:49 - Teaching experience

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So what is the funniest thing, do you have, um, uh what is a funny, the funniest thing that has happened to you?

Segment Synopsis: CC recalls that students always had difficulty identifying her political leaning. Students and colleagues thought she was very bright but humorless. She was told jokingly she should attend a class taught by Howard Erlanger or Chuck Irish, both of whom had ways of interjecting their lectures with humor. Erlanger played the guitar and sang songs; Iris told jokes. CC became more comfortable being herself in class, telling stories about cases she experienced. CC did a lot of pro bono work and advocacy while she taught. She led a failed effort on reforming the speech code to address hate speech. People from around the country attended a series of speeches on the matter, including one that CC gave. Ultimately, the faculty voted down hate speech prohibitions.

CC believes that the first priority of a law school should be the comfort of its students. Many of her colleagues were dissuaded from pursuing more ambitious roles in their fields, including law and medicine, being told they should not take away a “man’s place” in society. CC recounts several teach-ins—spontaneous, informal seminars addressing contemporary issues—including one on Bush v. Gore, the controversial 2000 presidential election; one on gay rights and related issues such as the right to marry; and another on Act 10, the controversial Wisconsin state budget legislation that removed most collective bargaining rights of public employees.

CC recalls several teach-ins done on different aspects of Act 10. Bush v. Gore was a one-day event done in a classroom; people from across the country discussed gay rights were over the course of a weekend; and the Act 10 teach-in involved over two thousand people. A recent teach-in discussed social security issues. CC has been writing essays on current events, including the 2016 presidential campaigns. CC insists on staying intellectually engaged and keeping up with public policy.

Keywords: Act 10; Bush v. Gore; Chuck Irish; Columbia University; Howard Erlanger; Scott Walker

02:03:38 - Hindsight

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So what is, um, looking back on your entire career

Segment Synopsis: The most rewarding aspect of teaching for CC is seeing student career development. The moot court program was essential to this development, giving students invaluable opportunities to practice their newly acquired skills. CC recalls seeing that three former pupils of hers worked on labor law cases before the Supreme Court. Her pro bono work, especially against fetal protection laws, was especially important. Under President Barack Obama, CC served on the Joyce Foundation to reform welfare law; she enjoyed helping people transition from welfare to employment.

The most frustrating aspect of work for CC has been contemporary legal education, especially its cost and consequentially poor access to students. In hindsight, CC would take a leaf from her more scholarly colleagues and focus her classes on more writing; she, herself, would allocate more of her time to writing as well. She believes Louise Trubek has demonstrated an excellent way to take advantage of retirement, writing on clinical law and its importance for future faculty and students. CC would not change her agenda, however, only the way she allocated her time on them.

Today, a pressing issue for women is the loss of community essential to producing social activism. The “right to work” legislation demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of labor law: unions function not as private clubs, mooching off non-members, but as a public good for the community as a whole. Income inequality is another immediate issue for today’s generation, CC believes. She commends Elizabeth Warren for her work as a U.S. Senator.

Keywords: Elizabeth Warren; Joyce Foundation

02:14:08 - Advice for students / Interview conclusion

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, um, there was something you had said that I wanted to pick up on.

Segment Synopsis: CC has been busy between her work and personal lives. With no children, she has been fortunate to allocate more time to herself. She commends her colleagues who balance between parenthood and work. She continued the trend of her female colleagues, tending to enter teaching later in life than many students today.

CC would advise today’s female law graduates to stay in touch with old colleagues and to pick and stick to their area of law. Students who depart from law for family should not be discouraged from reentering the field. They should also check how firms as potential employers treat their female employees, especially on matters such as maternal leave. Government and academia tend to accommodate such needs adequately; law firms are not always so flexible.

Today there is less of a need to have a continuous career with lots of social engagements; consequently, it is easier for graduates to change their legal careers. Though such a change may result in a two-tier income for couples, CC believes it does not concern students today. Though CC has never been sure she was intended to teach law—she seemed happiest arguing in court—she loves being in the classroom and working with students, who have kept her young and informed.

Keywords: June Weisberger; Ruth Bader Ginsburg