Foltz the Founder of Public Defense

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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I make the case for Foltz as the founder of public defense throughout Babcock, Inventing. See also Babcock, Women Defenders in the West, 1 NEV. L.J. 1, 12 (2001); Babcock, Clara Shortridge Foltz, Inventing the Public Defender, in NOBLE PURPOSES: NINE CHAMPIONS OF THE RULE OF LAW (Norman Gross ed., 2007).

The first published proposal for a Public Defender was the text of Clara Foltz’s speech at the Congress of Jurisprudence and Law Reform in 1893. Clara Foltz, Public Defenders, Address to the Congress on Jurisprudence and Law Reform during the Chicago World's Fair (1893), in 25 CHI. LEGAL NEWS 431 (1893), reprinted in 48 ALB. L.J. 248 (1893). The reprinting of Foltz’s speech in the Albany Law Journal appears to be the first article on the subject of public defenders in any American legal journal. A search of the Thomson Gale Database, The Making of Modern Law, (last visited Oct. 9, 2006), returned no others.

During her lifetime, Foltz was recognized as the founder of the public defender. Clara Shortridge Foltz, in HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF BENCH AND BAR IN CALIFORNIA, RECORDER, Mar. 1926, at 109 (Foltz “pioneered the movement for the establishment of the office of Public Defender,” authored bills introduced in the “legislature of thirty-two states,” and had public defender included in the Los Angeles charter and in state-wide legislation in 1921) [hereafter BENCH AND BAR]; REGINALD HEBER SMITH, JUSTICE AND THE POOR (1919) (crediting Foltz with the idea, but misspelling her name as “Fultz” and “Fultze”) [hereafter SMITH, JUSTICE]; A. Mabel Barrow, Public Defender: A Bibliography, 14 J. AM. INST. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 556 (1924) (asserting that the public defender had its inception at the World’s Fair where “a woman lawyer of San Francisco first advanced the idea”); Editorial, Public Defenders, 10 HARV. L. REV. 514 (1896-97), reprinted in, Editorial, Public Defenders, 3 VA. L. REG. 230 (1897-1898) (discussing “Mrs. Foltz’s idea”); Editor’s Note, 55 Alb. L.J. 66, 66-69 (1897) (noting the “new and original” idea); John Henry Wigmore, Shall The Legal Profession Be Reorganized?, 4 J.AM. INST. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 641, 642 (1913-14) (“[A] measure first proposed by Clara Foltz, of the San Francisco bar, now thirty years ago, in the American Law Review”).

For acknowledgement of Foltz’s role in modern times see LEE SILVERSTEIN, DEFENSE OF THE POOR IN CRIMINAL CASES IN AMERICAN STATE COURTS: A FIELD STUDY AND REPORT 40 (1965) (“The first reported speech urging a public defender was made at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 by Clara S. Foltz of San Francisco. Her speech, like other pioneer writings on the subject, has a muckraking quality that appeals to one’s sense of injustice.”). In 1984, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association passed a Resolution Commemorating Founding of Public Defender Movement by Clara Shortridge Foltz and established an annual award to be conferred in her name. For a description of the award and past recipients see the NLADA Awards, available at

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