With great courage and dogged determination, Edith Lond Fisch became a lawyer, legal writer, and law professor despite severe physical limitations, educational prejudices, and sexual discrimination.
Born on March 3, 1923, in New York City, Edith Lond Fisch was the younger of two daughters born to attorney Hyman Fisch and Clara (Lond) Fisch. She grew up in the substantial, intercultural Flatbush (now Midwood) area of Brooklyn. Highly intelligent, sharp-witted, and verbal, Fisch was encouraged from childhood to speak her mind. On June 26, 1935, at age twelve, she was stricken with poliomyelitis. Three years of treatment failed to restore her ability to walk. Confined to a wheelchair, she proceeded to live her life almost as if the illness never occurred.
For the next twenty-five years, with the support of her family, Fisch breached walls of prejudice and discrimination. She was the first physically disabled person in New York City to obtain a high school “academic” diploma (required for college) while on home instruction. Brooklyn College, built on level ground, was the only college to accept her. Although Fisch was awarded a B.S. in chemistry in 1945, the stairs in available graduate schools proved an insurmountable obstacle to a graduate degree. This defeat led Fisch to her life’s work. She was accepted to Columbia University Law School and graduated with an LL.B. (1948), an LL.M. (1949), and a J.S.D. (1949), the first person to earn all the school’s degrees and the first woman to earn its J.S.D. When Fisch was admitted to practice law in 1948, it became national news. Her father sponsored her for admission to the New York bar and, in 1957, to the United States Supreme Court. Her areas of expertise are estates and charities.
Fisch’s goal was to be a professor of law. In 1962, she became the first female professor of law in New York, teaching evidence, legal writing, and agency in New York Law School.
Fisch’s most important books are The Cy Pres Doctrine in the U.S. (1951), Charities and Charitable Foundations (1974), which she coauthored, and Fisch on New York Evidence (1959). New York Evidence is one of the few treatises on a basic aspect of law written by a woman. It is routinely cited by the bench and is used by the bar and as a law school text. Fisch has written special studies for judicial conferences and almost forty law review articles. She was editor of the New York City Charter and Administrative Code from 1965 to 1983 and is a frequent lecturer before bar associations. Fisch maintains membership and has held office in educational, political, and alumni associations. She has been a member of the National Panel of the American Arbitration Association since 1964; the New York Women’s Bar Association, serving as president from 1970 to 1971, as director from 1971 to 1973, and as an advisory board member since 1972; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, serving on committees since 1975 and chairing the Library Committee from 1991 to 1994; the National Association of Women Lawyers; the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York; the American Association of University Women; the Alumni Association of Columbia University and its Committee on Seminars since 1972; and the Lawyers Group of Brooklyn College Alumni Association since 1957, chairing several committees. In 1964, she was a founder of the Foundation for Continuing Legal Education.
Ardently proud of being a Jew, Fisch is a member of Temple Emanu-El, where on December 14, 1963, she had married Steven Ludwig Werner. He died on April 16, 1972, following an exploratory procedure for a cardiac condition.
Edith Lond Fisch continues to write and practice law. Lawyers and judges who know only her writings and then meet this lively wheelchair-bound woman for the first time are stunned. Invariably, they shake their heads and say, “Remarkable woman!”
Charities and Charitable Foundations, with Doris Jones Freed and Esther R. Schachter (1974); The Cy Pres Doctrine in the U.S. (1951); Fisch on New York Evidence (1959, 1977); New York City Charter and Administrative Code, editor (1965–1983).
Fisch, Edith Lond. Interview with author, June 1996; NYTimes, February 25, 1951, 55:1; Thomas, Dorothy. Women Lawyers in the U.S. (1957).