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Crime & Justice

Who is Clara Foltz and why is there a criminal justice building named after her?

The Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, formerly known as the Criminal Courts Building.
The Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, formerly known as the Criminal Courts Building.
Jim Winstead/Flickr Creative Commons

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If you've ever been summoned for jury duty in Los Angeles, you likely stepped into the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. But who was Clara Foltz? Why does she get a building named after her?

Clara Foltz paved the way for women to get into the justice system. She was the first woman to be admitted into the California Bar. She helped conceive the idea of a public defender's office. That's a good place to start, right?

Foltz married young, had five kids and was later abandoned by her husband. To provide for her family, she took up law, fighting her way into admittance at UC Hastings College of the Law. Against the odds, she then became a lawyer, enacted many reforms and fought for the women’s right to vote. She died in 1934, but the criminal justice building wasn't named after her until 2002.

For Kelly Wallace, a librarian at downtown's Central Library, it was better late than never.

“She did this even though women were not allowed to be attorneys at that time," Wallace said. "There was nothing in place for that. I think that she’s a remarkable candidate to have the building named after her.”

Wallace wrote about Foltz in a post for the L.A. Public Library website, calling her "a woman of renown in her time, famed as a lawyer, lecturer, suffragette, and reformer. "

She says it's important for Angelenos to become aware of where they are stepping into in downtown L.A. Want to find out about it? Read up, says Wallace.

“We have a couple of resources here at the library, we have a California biography file which you can access through our website, a California index that leads to citations to journal articles, newspaper articles, books, and I hope people take advantage of that," Wallace said.