With the start of a new Supreme Court term, I can’t help but think about all of the remarkable manuscript collections of Supreme Court justices held by the Harvard Law School Library. Among the collection are the papers of: Louis D. Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. These collections are rich with information – some of which can turn out to be rather surprising.
Here is an example of some unexpected information about Felix Frankfurter that I stumbled upon in the Philip Elman Papers.
Elman was an assistant to the Attorney General from 1944-1961. Frankfurter was on the Court during this time and during two cases he sent Elman several unusual notes. One note reads, “Who is responsible for Miss R ——g’s vastly improving hair-do?!” In another note Frankfurter asks, “Do you suppose that you could whisper to Rosenberg to persist in the beautifying hair-do she had some time ago. I HAVE TO LOOK AT HER.” Another female lawyer, Bessie Margolin, also attracted the attention of Justice Frankfurter. One note contains this exchange between Frankfurter and Elman:
Frankfurter: “She is a very good girl & a good advocate but not a lawyer of unsettling brilliance apart from the deft use of her feminine charms.”
Elman: “Don’t you think that female charms are terribly important!!!”
Even though these are short notes they reveal a surprising amount of insight into Frankfurter, the status of women lawyers in the late 1950s and, to a point, how the Supreme Court operated during a specific time in history.
The woman with the hair-do was Beatrice Rosenberg, who was a lawyer for the federal government. During her career she argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court.
Bessie Margolin was also an attorney working for the federal government.
Post contributed by Edwin Moloy, Curator of Modern Manuscripts and Archives