Document Type


Publication Date

January 2016


This symposium article discusses an unexamined area of legal aid and legal history—the role that late nineteenth and early twentieth century Jewish women played in the delivery of legal aid as social workers, lawyers, and, importantly, as cultural and legal brokers. It presents two such women who represented different types and models of legal aid—Minnie Low of the Chicago Bureau of Personal Service, a Jewish social welfare organization, and Rosalie Loew of the Legal Aid Society of New York. I interrogate how these women negotiated their identities as Jewish professional women, what role being Jewish and female played in shaping their careers, understandings of law, and the delivery of legal aid, as well as the constrained professional possibilities, but at times, opportunities, both women confronted and embraced. By puzzling through these issues, we also see two very different understandings of the rule of law and the liberal secular state. Elaborating upon the ideas, concepts, and themes of the symposium conference, the article uncovers the voices of women and a story of the provision of legal aid which had been intentionally suppressed and written out of history. In doing so, it de-silos legal aid, demonstrating its close connections to social work. It also pays attention to class, race, religion, ethnicity, and gender, and the article’s methodology ranges freely between different disciplines. Another theme that arises is the difficult question of the relationship between the provision of civil legal services to the poor and the much larger question of what constitutes justice. In a strikingly disheartening manner we see how many of the same problems that poor people faced at the turn of the twentieth century have changed little in the past hundred and fifty years, despite the growth of the administrative state and federally funded welfare programs.