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Clara Shortridge Foltz

Clara Shortridge Foltz, known as the Portia of the Pacific, was born in Henry County, Indiana, and is a lineal descendant of Daniel Boone, that eminent pioneer, who was ever in the advance, progressive in his ideas yet at all times seeking privacy rather than prominence; such are the characteristics inherited by the subject of this sketch, who though very prominent in public life is never so happy and contented as when in the privacy of her home, surrounded by those she loves most dearly. Her remote ancestors lived in Scotland, some four generations back; the family was established in Kentucky, where it produced several great lawyers and preachers. It divided there early in the present century, one branch going north and the other south. Mrs. Foltz's father, Elias V. Shortridge, was born in Indiana. He prepared himself for the bar in company with Oliver P. Morton, but, without entering upon his profession, turned to the pulpit and became a clergy man of the "Campbellite " or "Christian" denomination, in which President Garfield was prominent. The branch that went south adorned the history of Alabama with distinguished names. They were a family of strong mentality and great learning. Mrs. Foltz moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, with her parents and was educated in Howe's Seminary of that city. She was regarded by her teachers as possessing an extraordinary mind, having at the early age of twelve years finished the first two books of Latin, and stood at head of her classes in philosophy, history and rhetoric. After leaving school she taught two terms, near Keithsburg, Mercer County, Illinois, the last one closing on the day she was fifteen years of age. Within a few weeks thereafter and without parental advice or authority she was married to Z. D. Foltz, and moved to the Pacific coast in 1872. She began reading law in the office of the Hon. C. C. Stephens in San Jose, California, in 1876, and on the fourth day of September, 1878, she was admitted to the bar. She was the author of the bill which amended the law of California so that women could be admitted to practice, and was the first admitted under its provisions. Afterward, having been denied admission to Hastings' College of the Law, she sued out a writ of mandamus, argued her own case and won it. The directors appealed from the judgment. Mrs. Foltz was prevented attending the law college, but by the aid of a coal-oil lamp, amid the cries of her populous nursery, she prepared herself for admission to the Supreme Court and was admitted, December 6, 1879. A few weeks following the Supreme Court affirmed the college case, and ever since that time women have been free to enter and graduate upon equal terms with men. (See Clara Foltz vs. J. P. Hoge et al., 54 Cal. p. 28.)

From the day of her admission to the bar Mrs. Foltz bad all the business she could attend to. Patient and kind, she served all who applied for her services, charging for them only when the party applying was able to pay.

Mrs. Foltz practiced law for many years in San Francisco, and among a thousand lawyers she was the one woman who with keen sight and natural ability broke down the barriers of conservatism which had been raised against her sex and won the highest respect and consideration, as well as attaining high honors in the profession as a public speaker. Mrs. Foltz is possessed with great oratorical ability, and takes up the hard and knotty problems of political economy with keen insight and great ability, carrying force and conviction with her utterance, as has justly been written of her:

"Thy voice has argued in debate,
In scathing satire sharply fell,
In forum and in hall of State,
Held listening thousands with its spell;
Then dropped its tones to softest keep,
And, crooning, sang a babe to sleep.

Then hail! thee priestess of the law,
Our fair-browed Portia of the West!
Write on thy shield: 'I came, I saw,
I conquered!' Thou hast earned the crest.
Nay more; it seemed the gods to thee,
Had given the Sakhard's mystery.

And thou hast proved that woman can
Who has the nerve, and strength and will
Work in the wider field of man,
And be a woman still."

In 1880 she was clerk of the judiciary committee of the Assembly, the first woman to hold that important position, and during the same season prepared a brief on the constitutionality of a bill she had introduced, "To enable women to vote at elections for school officers and in all matters pertaining to public schools," which is considered as the ablest presentation of the suffragists yet offered in support of the proposition that in States where not prohibited by the constitution the Legislature may grant suffrage to women. The bill was defeated, however, though not for want of constitutional authority.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California; pub. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1890.

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