Jennie Loitman Barron (1891-1969)
The first woman to serve as full-time judge in the Massachusetts municipal court, Jennie Barron also later became the first woman associate justice appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court.
Jennie Loitman was one of four daughters born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents in the West End of Boston. The beginning of her remarkable career can be traced to her graduation day from Boston’s Girls High School where at the age of 15, she stood as valedictorian of her class. She later taught classes to help immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. and also taught in Temple Israel’s Sunday school. This enabled her to put herself through Boston University (BU) and BU Law School.
While attending BU Jennie spoke out for women’s suffrage on street corners and also organized a Women’s Equal Suffrage League at the university. Her activism continued after she became a professional lawyer—speaking up for women’s rights in the workplace, equal pay for women teachers and for women to sit on juries. After passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, women were able to serve on juries in 21 other states, but not Massachusetts. In 1924, Jennie wrote a pamphlet “Jury Service for Women” published by the National League of Women Voters in Washington, D.C. She quipped, “How would a man like to be judged by a jury of all women? Is it fair to the woman victim who has suffered at the hands of some man to have her case tried by a jury composed only of men? Shall we say that a woman shall have … a right to do business, a right to speak in public, a right to go to college, a right to hold office, a right to vote, a right to practice law in the courts, a right to testify in court, a right to sue and be sued, and yet not have a right to sit on the jury box?” In 1950 women were finally permitted to sit on juries in Massachusetts.
In 1918 Jennie married her high school sweetheart, Samuel Barron who was also a lawyer. Together the couple opened a practice while raising their three daughters. “Put a mother on the school committee” was Jennie’s 1924 successful campaign slogan that helped her to become elected as the first mother serving on the Boston School Committee. Other groundbreaking firsts included becoming the first woman appointed assistant attorney general in Massachusetts (in 1934), the first woman to try a case in front of the Massachusetts Grand Jury, and the first woman to prosecute major criminal cases.
During her career in Massachusetts, Jennie was known as the “judge with a heart” because she took the time to understand the people involved in each case. Her special interests included domestic relationships and juvenile delinquency. Sentencing for many of her cases contained community service hours and counseling along with probation instead of imprisonment. In 1959, appointed by Governor Furcolo, she served as the first woman associate justice on the Massachusetts Superior Court, a position which she held until her death in 1969.
In her private life, Jennie was active in many organizations such as League of Women Voters, Hadassah, National Conference on Christians and Jews, American Jewish Congress, Beth Israel Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, and the Women’s Trade Union League. She was given many awards during her lifetime. However, she said that she was most proud for her award as Mother of the Year, presented in 1959–three years after she had lost her daughter Deborah.
On Independence Day in 1960, by invitation of Governor Collins, Jennie became the third woman in 184 years to address the public at Boston’s annual event in Faneuil Hall. Speaking about what the day meant to her as the first generation of her family born in the United States, her words are still relevant to us today more than 50 years later: “Do you understand then why, today, commemorating the birthday of freedom, I am deeply touched? We learned that in America it made no difference where your cradle or your mother’s cradle was rocked, in Russia, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, or on the Mayflower. … In order to safeguard the heritage of freedom … we must always remember that our government is a government of laws, and not men.”
– Helaine Davis
- American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Notable American Women: the Modern Period: a Biographical Dictionary , Vol.4. Sicherman, Barbara, Carol Hurd Green, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1980.
- American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, Mass.: Personal papers.
- Boston Public Library, Rare Book Dept. Boston, Mass.: Personal papers.
- Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: Personal papers.
- Jewish Women’s Archive