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Nadine Strossen is the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law at New York Law School. From 1991 through 2008, she served as President of the American Civil Liberties Union,[…]

Volunteering for a full-time job.

Nadine Strossen: My name is Nadine Strossen. I am the President of the American Civil Liberties Union. Although that is a full time, more than full time job, it is a volunteer position. So, I also work as a professor of law at New York Law School, that is New York Law School, not New York University Law School. Oh, I was born in New Jersey at the Margaret Hague Hospital and I say that because it was named after Mayor Frank Hague, who was real civil liberties tyrant and led to one of the ACLU's earliest cases interestingly enough, but I am getting ahead of myself. My father was transferred to Minnesota when I was eight years old, so I grew up in Minnesota and depending on with whom I am speaking I will emphasize different roots or as they say in Minnesota, "ruts[Inaudible]", so, I used to be very good friends with Justice Brandon[Phonetic] before he died and I would always emphasize the New Jersey origin, which we had in common, but with Justice it was the Minnesota origin and I think certainly growing up in Minnesota which is such a progressive community, I think it was even more so than it is now, very open politics, very much to the Left. You may or may not know that communists and socialists were elected in Minnesota in their first half of the 20th century, which is what led to the formation of Minnesota's peculiar branch of the democratic party known as the Democratic Farmer Labor Party and even the Republicans wanted to take an independent stance for the National Republican party, so in Minnesota, the party is called the Independent Republican party and it is…I found it just a wonderful community to nourish my yearnings as a protofeminist in the '60s growing up there. The anti-Vietnam war movement was really taking off when I was a high school student. At the University of Minnesota during my senior year in high school, I traipsed off to Wisconsin among other places to canvas in support of [Inaudible] campaigning for the nomination for the democratic president, the democratic ticket for President. So, it really influenced my politics and my activism because Minnesota was and is very much a community where newcomers are welcome, young people are welcome to play a leading role in the community and early on you develop a sense that you can do something. You have a responsibility to do something to affect the world around you.I can remember very precisely what that was. I was a high school and for that matter junior high school debater and one year, the national high school debate topic was a legal topic. So, I used to go over to the…take the bus over to the University of Minnesota law library, do research and this is embarrassing in hindsight, but I always tell it to my students to let them realize how things change and how they should never take it for granted what the status quo is. Back then, there were almost no women lawyers at all. You can look at the statistics. I think it was something like 3%. I didn’t know a single woman professional of any type at all. I didn’t know a single lawyer of any type at all. It was a very different world and I got very fascinated by law but it never occurred to me that I could be a lawyer. So, whenever I read about women who were pioneers back in the 19th century, who have this idea that they can be lawyers, I so admire them, because I was definitely not thinking outside the box. I didn’t know any women lawyers. I hadn’t heard of any, so, I said to all to of my male debate partners… I was the only woman on the debate team, I guess in those days I would said I was the girl on the debate team… I said you really ought to go to law school. This is really a fascinating field and it just never entered my realm of consciousness that I could. Then, my mother who had been sadly exiled from New York when my father was transferred to Minnesota, always subscribed to the New Yorker and the New York Times and I always had half a foot back. So, that part of my origin was also very important to me, but I remember reading in the New York Times that she subscribed to about Harvard law school founding what was then the first student legal aid bureau. This would have been sometime in the '60s and I thought that is so great because you can provide legal services to poor people. You can develop your skills as a lawyer while in school. So, I said to all of my male debate partners, not only should you go to law school, you should go to Harvard Law School and you should work for the legal aid bureau there and again, it never entered my mind that I could do that well. I went off to Harvard and during my first year as an undergraduate there became very involved in…particularly in the women's movement, the reproductive freedom movement, this was before Roe versus Wade and I for the first time met lawyers and women lawyers and it really was like a light bulb going off in my head. Oh, I can go to Harvard Law School and work at the legal aid bureau and guess what, I did.


Recorded On: 2/14/08