Clara S. Foltz (July 16, 1849 September 2, 1934) was the first female lawyer on the U.S. West Coast. She is credited as the first person to propose creating a public defender’s office (in 1893, quite a while after the Sixth Amendment was ratified).
In 1880, Foltz moved to San Francisco. Not satisfied with being a San Francisco attorney, Foltz became a leader in the woman’s voting rights movement. During a career that spanned 56 years, Foltz almost single-handedly pushed a great deal of progressive legislation for women’s rights in the voting and legal fields. She spoke for the Republicans during the campaigns of 1880, 1882, and 1884. In 1886 she became a Democrat, and in the winter of that year lectured in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.
At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, during a “congress” of the Board of Lady Managers, Foltz introduced her idea of the public defender, with a speech entitled “Rights of Persons Accused of Crime — Abuses Now Existing.” Foltz’s then-radical concept of providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants is used today throughout the United States. She also created a similar model for the California Parole System.
Her many other trail-blazing accomplishments included becoming the first female clerk for the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee (1880); the first woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections; the first female licensed Notary Public; the first woman named director of a major bank; and, in 1930, the first woman to run for Governor of California, at the age of 81.
"Public Defenders — Rights of Persons Accused of Crime — Abuses Now Existing,” Clara S. Foltz, Albany Law Journal, August 1893.
"Clara Shortridge Foltz: Pioneer in the Law," Mortimer D. Schwartz, Susan L. Brandt, and Patience Milrod, Hastings Law Journal, January 1976.
"Women Defenders in the West" (PDF file), Barbara Allen Babcock, Nevada Law Journal, Spring 2001.