National Affairs: A Dozen Who Made a Difference

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Susie Marshall Sharp, 68, the only woman chief justice of a state supreme court, has been a trail blazer since Bella Abzug was a little girl. "Women lawyers aren't a curiosity any more, but I was a curiosity in my little town," says the woman from Rocky Mount, N.C. In 1926 she was the only woman in her class at the University of North Carolina Law School. In 1949 she was appointed the first woman special judge on the state's superior court, where her reputation as both a compassionate jurist and an incisive legal scholar endeared her to voters. In 1962 they elected her the first woman associate justice on the state supreme court and in 1974 they promoted her to chief justice. She has voted against reinstating a mandatory death penalty, upheld the state's right to use funds for busing school children in urban areas, and ruled against the use of state bonds for private industrial development.

"One of the finest compliments I ever got," says Sharp, "was when a lawyer was asked how it felt to appear before a woman judge, and he replied, 'I have not been conscious of appearing before a woman judge.' " Sharp, who has remained single, is wary of trying to balance marriage and a career. "The trouble comes when a woman tries to be too many things at one time: a wife, a mother, a career woman, a femme fatale. That's when the psychiatrist is called in at umpteen dollars an hour. A woman has got to draw up a blueprint. She has got to budget her life."

JILL CONWAY: From Outback to Ivy

Even while she spent her childhood herding sheep on the family ranch in Australia's Outback, Jill Ker Conway "took deep pleasure in ideas and wanted learning more than anything else." Now Conway, 41, brings that zeal to her job as the first woman president of Smith College, the alma mater of such feminists as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.

After graduating first in her class from the University of Sydney, Conway applied for a job in the Australian Foreign Service but was turned down for looking "too feminine." She considered a career in modeling, thought better and headed to the U.S.—and Harvard, "where I was at last taken seriously as a scholar." After writing a doctoral dissertation on "Women Reformers and American Culture, 1870 to 1930," she became an assistant to fellow Historian John Conway, whom she married and followed to Toronto. There he taught at York University and she at the University of Toronto. In 1973 Conway was made vice president for internal affairs at Toronto. Reversing the earlier pattern, John last July followed Jill to Northampton, Mass., where he is writing a book on the influence of British culture. Jill Conway, who intends to retain her Australian citizenship, plans, among other things, to expand Smith's program for educating older women and hopes to set up a postgraduate institute for women's studies.


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