I first learned about Mabel Walker Willebrandt from the Prohibition series on Public Television. She served as the Assistant Attorney General under President Warren G Harding's administration, but before her stint in Washington, D.C., she was turning the courts on the California courts on their ear long.
After receiving her law degree from USC in 1916, she became the first public defender of women on record. Working without pay, she handled more than two-thousand cases of prostitution. Through her efforts, both men and women were allowed to testify in court, where she insisted the Johns be arrested and prosecuted for their crimes, as well as the prostitutes.
She is given credit for California's revised community property law. Before her move to the nation's capital to accept her appointment to the Assistant Attorney General's position she served as head of the Legal Advisiory Board for draft cases in Los Angeles during World War I.
Mabel was only the second woman to be appointed Assistant Attorney General, and the first to serve an extended term. She assumed that position in Washington in 1921 and was instrumental in getting the first Federal prison for women build in Alderson, West Virginia, a minimum security prison camp with no walls and no fences.
During prohibition her duty was to enforce the Volstead Act. A former tippler, she became a teetotaler the day the new law passed, and began reviewing prosecutions for violations of the unpopular and difficult to enforce Act. She argued more than forty cases before the Supreme Court during those turbulent times, a record few others in the legal profession hold.
In 1928, Al Smith, prohibition opponent running for president on the Democratic ticket, called her Prohibition Portia, but it was on her recommendation that J. Edgar Hoover became the head of the FBI.
In another first late in her life, she was the first woman to chair a committee of the American Bar Association, its committee on aeronautical law.
Information in this blog was gleaned from the PBS documentary Prohibition and from Wikipedia.