Book Excerpts


The accomplishments of the women in The Counselors are a testament to the power and promise of the American Dream and are sure to resonate deeply with many young women who have the desire and ability to make their own unique contributions to this legacy of progress. Today, more young women than ever are pursuing careers in law, medicine, government, and business and, like their predecessors, they need guidance to advance and excel. Just as the women in this book were empowered by the efforts and example of those who came before them, a new generation will be inspired and encouraged by the spirit and achievements of this remarkable group. The Counselors is a tribute not only to those who have successfully navigated the challenges of the professional world, but also to the mentors who helped them along the journey.

I know from my own experience the difference a strong positive role model can make, beginning with my mother, who, like several of the women profiled in this book, got up early, worked late, and still managed to put her children first. In high school, my band director and principal were role models I had the privilege of knowing personally, while from afar I admired President John F. Kennedy. With his optimism, passion for civil rights, and unshakable belief in America’s promise, he gave me hope for the future and an insight into its possibilities… .

I am proud to introduce you to the extraordinary women in The Counselors: Conversations with 18 Courageous Women Who Have Changed the World. 


Graduating ranked first in the class from an Ivy League law school such as Columbia can be a stepping stone to a Supreme Court clerkship and job offers from prestigious law firms. In 1959, however, this stepping stone could only be tread upon by male students. One of Ruth’s professors at Harvard recommended her highly for a Supreme Court clerkship, but reported back to her that Justice Felix Frankfurter had said he “wasn’t ready to hire a woman.” No prestigious law firms came knocking.  She recounts: “Firms were just starting to turn around on hiring Jews. Here I was, a woman, a Jew, and a mother–it was a bit much for them!” After a lower court federal clerkship and authoring a book on Swedish civil procedure, Ruth began teaching at Rutgers Law School and volunteered to litigate cases with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She later held teaching positions at Columbia and Harvard law schools.

“Fortunately, in my marriage I didn’t get second-class treatment,” she smiles. “My marriage provided an environment of equality, in which I felt respected and cherished. It was a source of strength…. Whenever I needed to travel for work, Martin happily took over the primary caretaker role—something few men did at the time. When he tasted my tuna casserole, could not tell what it was, and asked whether I had cooked dinosaur, he decided he would simply take over cooking for the family. He had fun with it—he told me he thought of cooking as mixing things in a chemistry lab and became a really great cook.”


“I have taken voting for granted all my life, but it is something many people’s grandmothers never enjoyed,” Justice O’Connor reflects. “I have a special interest in the period of women’s suffrage and entry into the workplace–the two are intertwined. The amount and rate of progress is astounding… . Even in in my own time and in my own life, I have witnessed a revolution”… .

The potential for change brought about by the emancipation of former slaves after the Civil War brought the right to vote to the forefront of discussion in parlors and state houses around the country. Justice O’Connor relates, “The suffragettes were hopeful, reasoning, ‘If newly-freed black slaves are to be guaranteed the same civil rights as all other citizens, including suffrage, shouldn’t women be swept up in the expansion of the right to vote?’ Their hopes were dashed, however, when the draft of the Fourteenth Amendment introduced to Congress in 1866 incorporated an explicit gender restriction into the Constitution… .”

After years of persistence through setbacks and struggle, the suffragettes were eventually successful in their mission to secure the right to vote for American women… . “Luckily for us women today, our female predecessors had far more spunk and spirit than they were given credit for… I look up to them… Once you get a flavor of the struggle for women’s right to vote, think about this: What was it all for? The suffragettes were jailed, attacked, and divorced in their quest for the American Dream of full citizenship… What will you make of their ideals?”

MEET JANET RENO (Chapter 10):

Reno speaks of sometimes feeling embarrassed by her mother while growing up: “With her free-spirited ways, she was so different from other people’s mothers… As I matured, I learned to appreciate that she was simply who she was, and it was not for me to judge her or to change her. She wasn’t hurting anyone. She loved us so completely! That became more important than anything else about her, and I became comfortable with her just the way she was. I think acceptance of parents and family is a challenge a lot of young people can relate to….”

“In fact, in my mother’s old age, I truly enjoyed walking around Miami greeting people with her—she in her floppy sun hat, smiling without any teeth because she didn’t want to wear dentures!… Whenever I have asked myself what life was for, or what the meaning of life was, I needed only to look over at her, or call her if I was away from her, or in her last days, reach over and hold her old and gnarled hand to know the answer… . One of the things I am proudest of in my life is that I lived with my mother, and when she got sick I was able to take care of her. She was able to stay at home and not go to a nursing home. I tried to contribute to giving her a full, wonderful old age, taking her for rides up and down the river in our boat, despite the fact that she was terminally ill and increasingly frail.”