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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern woman describes going to law school

Morris describes what it was like to be the only woman in her class while attending law school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the mid-1950s. According to Morris, she was readily accepted by her classmates, despite the fact that she was a woman and was older than most of them. She describes how she worked hard to excel in her studies and became the associate editor for the law review. Morris was the first woman to serve in this capacity at UNC and she ultimately graduated fourth in her class. Despite having seemed to have successfully crossed several gender boundaries during these years, Morris does not emphasize herself as a pioneer, but instead insists that she was only there to study law.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAT DEVINE:
In other words, as the only woman and older than so many of them, you didn't feel left out or that they had nothing to do with you?
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Oh, no, they included me in everything they did, except they didn't let me play football. They put me up as playing left out when they put up a football squad. But they were very fine. I enjoyed it. Every one of them were just as nice as they could be.
PAT DEVINE:
The other question that comes to my mind: you did so well in law school; you graduated fourth in your class. Would you say, as you look back, that those courses and the study of law just came naturally to you, or was it a real struggle?
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
I worked hard. I had not had to work hard in my prior educational experiences, not very hard. I had in some instances. At college I was graduated summa cum laude, but in those days you were exempt from exams if you made a certain grade, so I had never taken a great many exams and didn't know too much about them. When I started in law school, they gave trial exams.
PAT DEVINE:
They still do.
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Which I think is very, very helpful, because you don't get but one grade, and that's what you get on the exam. The mid-semester trial exams were a revelation to me, because I got a C on Torts, and it was the first time I'd ever had a C in my life. So I decided I'd better go home, get back and buckle down and get to work. I did. I think probably I went to law school with the feeling that, having been in a law office for eight or nine years, I probably had a good background and wouldn't have to work too hard, but it was a different situation. Law school was teaching theory, and what I'd had was practice, so I had to get to work and did get to work and enjoyed it. I buckled down and studied harder than I'd ever studied in my life, but enjoyed it.
PAT DEVINE:
And at law school also, you had other activities besides your studies, because you had the Law Review?
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Mm-hm. At that time, you only wrote Law Review notes if you were asked to write them, and you were only asked to write them if your grade was a certain thing. I was asked to write a Law Review note at the end of my first year, and I came back early in the fall of my second year to work on that Law Review note, and then became an associate editor of the Law Review, so that took up a lot of time in the third year. There was always something going on other than law work. We had a good time. Worked hard, but had a good time.
PAT DEVINE:
The first woman associate editor of that Law Review.
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Probably so. I just don't know about that.
PAT DEVINE:
Then that, also, could not have been something that anyone made you feel odd about, or that you had to prove something.
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Oh, heavens, no. I didn't even know there hadn't been another woman, if there hadn't been.
PAT DEVINE:
The first woman associate editor is what you are.
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
I didn't know that, but it didn't matter. I wasn't out trying to prove anything.
PAT DEVINE:
And you didn't have to feel that you had to at the time.
JUDGE NAOMI ELIZABETH MORRIS:
Oh, heavens, no. No, indeed, which may be why the men accepted me. I don't know. I never thought about it. But I wasn't trying to prove anything. I didn't have any axe to grind, no banners that I was carrying and waving wildly. I was just studying law.