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Bessie Margolin papers

Identifier: LaRC-1094

Scope and Contents

The collection contains correspondence, appellate legal briefs, speeches, photographs, and personal papers and items of Bessie Margolin, government attorney, Supreme Court advocate, and champion of labor rights, including equal pay for women. Margolin was Associate Solicitor of the United States Department of Labor until her retirement in January 1972, after which she taught law and served as a labor arbitrator for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The papers are arranged into topical series. These include correspondence, personal items (including travel journals, and passports), academic affiliation materials, Tennessee Valley Authority papers, Nuremberg papers, Department of Labor papers, speeches, campaign for judgeship, awards, retirement dinner, post-retirement papers, arbitration cases, appellate briefs, photographs, and oversize newspaper clippings.

Margolin’s correspondence includes letters from prominent judicial, legal and government figures including Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, Justice William O. Douglas, Justice Robert H. Jackson, Justice Felix Frankfurter, Congressman Hale Boggs, Lindy Boggs, Solicitor General (and later federal circuit judge) Charles Fahy, Yale Law School Dean (and later federal circuit judge Charles E. Clark), Solicitor General (and later federal circuit judge) Simon Sobeloff, federal circuit judge John Brown, and Tulane Law School Dean (and later Tulane University President) Rufus C. Harris. Margolin’s collection of approximately 250 appellate legal briefs, including those for cases she personally briefed and argued, bear her notes and marginalia.


  • Creation: 1929-1996


Conditions Governing Access

Access is unrestricted. Some fragile or notable materials have been moved to protective storage and replaced with copies. Researchers are encouraged to handle the copies before requesting the originals.

Conditions Governing Use

Physical rights are retained by the Louisiana Research Collection. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical / Historical

Bessie Margolin was born on February 24, 1909 in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Following the death of her mother, Margolin and her siblings were admitted to the Jewish Orphan’s Home in New Orleans, which entitled her to an education at the nearby Isidore Newman Manual Training School. After two years at Newcomb College, Margolin transferred to Tulane University, receiving both her B.A. degree in history and her law degree in 1930. She graduated from Tulane Law School with the second highest academic average and the only woman in her class, was Civil Law Editor of Tulane’s Law Review and was awarded Tulane’s Order of the Coif. She spent the next three years at Yale Law School, the first two as a research assistant to law professor Ernest Lorenzen and the last as a Sterling Fellow which culminated in her award of J.S.D. (doctor of juridical science). Following a summer job with noted former suffragist Doris Stevens, Margolin joined the legal department of the newly created Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1939, she transferred to the United States Labor Department, working to enforce the newly enacted Fair Labor Standards Act. She steadily rose in the ranks at the Labor Department, earning promotions to Assistant Solicitor in 1942, and to Associate Solicitor in 1963, apposition she held until her retirement in 1972. Following World War II, she spent six months in Nuremberg, Germany, on loan to the Army, where she drafted the rules that established the American Military Tribunals for Nazi war crimes.

Margolin’s skill in writing appellate briefs and arguing in the appellate courts enabled her to earn increasing responsibility for the Labor Department’s trial and appellate litigation arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act, including arguing cases at the United States Supreme Court. Margolin, who in 1945 became the 25th woman ever to argue at the Supreme Court, would go on to present a total of 24 arguments, and prevail in 21 of them. When Congress enacted the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the first federal legislation granting rights to women workers, the Labor Department’s court enforcement of the law was assigned to Margolin who argued and won the first circuit court appeals under the law. Although she earlier rejected the title “feminist,” she became an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, giving speeches across the country, and was a founding member of the National Organization for Women. For her service and contributions to the welfare of America’s working men and women, Margolin received every award the Labor Department offered. Margolin died in Arlington, Virginia in 1996


13 Linear Feet (22 boxes and 2 oversize folders. ) : Text and graphic materials.

Language of Materials



Arranged by series, item type, and alphabetically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Malcolm Trifon in 2016.

Existence and Location of Originals

Some original material has been moved to protective storage and replaced with copies. Please see a LaRC employee with any questions about access.

Processing Information

Arranged and described by Marlene Trestman.

Bessie Margolin papers finding aid
Authored by Marlene Trestman. Edited for ArchivesSpace by Andrew Mullins, III. Abstracted for OCLC by Susanna Powers.
2016 May 6
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Tulane University Special Collections Repository

Jones Hall Room 202
6801 Freret Street
New Orleans 70118 US