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Genevieve R. Cline

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Title: Genevieve R. Cline  
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Subject: Calvin Coolidge, Warren, Ohio, United States Court of International Trade, Florence Ellinwood Allen, William C. Adamson, List of federal judges appointed by Calvin Coolidge
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Genevieve R. Cline

Genevieve Rose Cline
Judge of the United States Customs Court
In office
May 26, 1928 – March 1, 1953
Appointed by Calvin Coolidge
Preceded by William C. Adamson
Succeeded by Mary Donlon Alger
Personal details
Born (1879-07-02)July 2, 1879
Warren, Ohio
Died October 25, 1959(1959-10-25) (aged 80)
Cleveland, Ohio
Alma mater Baldwin-Wallace College LL.B.
Profession Judge

Genevieve Rose Cline (b. in Warren, Ohio July 2, 1879, d. October 25, 1959)[1] was an American jurist. In 1928, she became the first woman named to the federal judiciary, serving as a Judge for the United States Customs Court.

Early years

On the 1880 Census, she was listed as "Jennie Rose" Cline, one of the four children of Edward and Mary Cline. Her mentor seems to have been her brother John, who became a lawyer and would let his sister Genevieve come to court in Cleveland to watch him. As a result, she became fascinated by the legal profession. ("Ohio Woman...," 1928) By 1913, she had begun to work as a clerk at her brother's law office, and that led her to decide to pursue a legal career of her own. (McLaughlin, 1940) Cline took courses at Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio, and graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio with her Bachelor of Laws degree in 1921. She was admitted to the Ohio bar that year. [2] (She studied during the years from 1899 through 1926 that Baldwin University's law department was known as Cleveland Law School, one of the predecessors of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.) [3]

Clubwoman and lawyer

Having spent a number of years as her brother John's law clerk (McLaughlin, 1940), Cline went into practice with him in Cleveland during the years 1921 and 1922.[1] But prior to making her decision to study the law, she had already become well known throughout Ohio as a club-woman. In those days, performing community service was a very common activity for women, and many joined voluntary organizations. Cline was no exception, becoming an active member of the Ohio Federation of Women's Clubs. By 1916, she was serving as chair of the federation's committee on Legislative and State Institutions. ("What Ohio Club Women," 1916). She was an advocate for such issues as consumer protection and more equitable treatment of women under the law. (Rood, 1917; "Ohio Federation," 1920) Cline was described in one article as a "brilliant and forceful speaker" who was passionate about issues that affected women and children. ("Women Leaders," 1920) At club meetings, she frequently gave reports about pending legislation that might affect women. ("Erie County Federation," 1921) And in the era before women got the right to vote, Cline was active in working for suffrage. (Goodhue, 1949) During the 1910s, Cline served as president of the Cleveland Federation of Women's Clubs for six years, and was chairman of the Ohio Federation of Women's Clubs for two years.[2]

Cline becomes a judge

She had not intended to get involved with customs law, but after attending a talk about tariffs by Ohio Senator Theodore Burton, she found herself wanting to learn more about the subject. And the more she studied, the more interested in it she became. She consulted a number of authorities, read everything she could find, and soon became somewhat of an expert, albeit a self-taught expert. (McLaughlin, 1940) When the U.S. Customs Service assigned Cline to be the appraiser of merchandise at the port of Cleveland, Ohio in 1922, she was the first woman to hold such a post.[2] Then, in 1928, after Judge William C. Adamson retired ("Woman Takes Oath," 1928), President Calvin Coolidge nominated Cline for an appointment as Judge of the United States Customs Court.[4] Although many members of the United States Senate objected to her appointment both because of her gender, and because they believed she was self-taught and had no judicial experience ("Genevieve Cline Opposed," 1928), her supporters advocated strongly for her, including the Katherine Pike, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers and a number of club-women. ("Coolidge Brave," 1928). Cline won U.S. Senate confirmation on May 25, 1928 as a judge of the United States Customs Court (now known as the Court of International Trade), received her commission on May 26, 1928, and took her oath of office in the Cleveland Federal Building on June 5, 1928,[5] becoming the first American woman ever appointed to the federal bench.[6] It was a life appointment, and it paid $10,000 a year when she started.

Cline was immediately confronted with a challenging case in October 1928. Ganna Walska was a Polish-born soprano who was married to Harold McCormick of Chicago. The case involved whether a married woman could claim a separate home or whether, because she was married, the law regarded her residence as wherever her husband lived. The legal issue involved some valuable items that she had recently brought with her from Paris, where she had her own residence. The customs authorities wanted her to pay duty on the items, whereas Madam Walska felt she should not have to do so, since she was bringing them back to Europe with her. ("Women Federal Judge", 1928) The case was heard beginning in January 1929, and during testimony, Walska reiterated that although she and her husband had a cordial relationship, she maintained a home in Paris and kept the majority of her belongings there. She asked the court to rule that a woman could choose her domicile and not arbitrarily have it chosen for her. In a unanimous decision in January 1930, the court ruled that since women's status had changed, and so many women were holding down jobs, it made no sense to assume only the man decided where the couple would live. But while Madame Walska won her case, Judge Cline's legal opinion included commentary that the decision did not go far enough in establishing that men and women were equal under the law. ("Mme. Walska Wins," 1930) Defending women's legal equality was something Judge Cline would continue to do throughout her career.

Later years

By all accounts, Judge Cline was totally devoted to her work. She never married, took little time off, and when not deciding cases, she gave talks to civic and educational groups. During one lecture, she explained that going into legal work was not for everyone, and it would be especially difficult for a woman. "The law is a jealous mistress, " she said. "...It needs one's whole allegiance." She went on to say that a woman who wanted to be a successful attorney would have to choose between her career and marriage, but that she could not successfully do both. ("Legal Profession," 1933) Occasionally, her work on the circuit court would take her to San Francisco California, where her brother Thomas lived, and she would visit him. And once in a while, she would travel to someplace not connected with work. A New York Times article from late1940 noted that she was taking a cruise to the West Indies, ("Ocean Travelers," 1940) but this seemed to be the exception to her normal routine. Her work seemed to come first (McLaughlin, 1940), and she had a long career: she served as a federal judge on the Customs Court for 25 years. And even in her later years, she was still passionate about equal rights for women, commenting to one reporter that "There is no gender in the law. No one ever says 'man lawyer' so why say 'woman lawyer'?" (Goodhue, 1949) Cline also never asked for special treatment, and she often advised women attorneys to act in a way that was dignified and natural for them, rather than trying to emulate men. She credited her brother John with having encouraged her to be self-reliant, and she continued to believe that this was a good quality for women to possess. (Goodhue, 1949) Cline finally retired on March 1, 1953,[2] and died on October 25, 1959 at the age of 80, in Cleveland. She was succeeded by Judge Mary Donlon Alger.

A painting of her is included in a group mural at the Student Services area of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.[7]

Works cited

  • "Erie County Federation." Sandusky (OH) Star-Journal, June 22, 1921, p. 4.
  • "Genevieve Cline Opposed for Customs Judge." Portsmouth (OH) Daily Times, May 16, 1928, p. 5.
  • Norma H. Goodhue. "No Gender in Law, Says Woman Judge." Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1949, p. C1.
  • "Legal Profession." San Antonio (TX) Light, March 12, 1933, p. 27.
  • Kathleen McLaughlin. "Senior Woman Federal Judge Authority on Customs Cases." New York Times, January 28, 1940, p. D6.
  • "Mme. Walska Wins Fight for Rights of Wives." New York Times, January 17, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Ocean Travelers." New York Times, December 20, 1940, p. 31.
  • "Ohio Federation of Women's Clubs." Sandusky (OH) Star-Journal, May 8, 1920, p. 8.
  • Patricia Rood. "Important Legislation." Sandusky (OH) Star-Journal, March 3, 1917, p. 5.
  • Patricia Rood. "The Northeast District Meetings." Sandusky (OH) Star-Journal, February 24, 1917, p. 8.
  • "What Ohio Club Women Are Doing." Newark (OH) Daily Advocate, December 9, 1916, p. 5.
  • "Woman Federal Judge to Hear Walska Women's Rights Case." New York Times, October 31, 1928, p. 7.
  • "Woman Takes Oath as Customs Judge." New York Times, June 7, 1928, p. 28.
  • "Women Leaders Will Speak Here." Sandusky (OH) Star-Journal, April 12, 1920, p. 8.


  • Federal Judicial Center.
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