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Edith Fisch

March 3, 1923–August 3, 2006

by Dorothy Thomas

In Brief

Confined to a wheelchair by a childhood bout of polio, Fisch hit a literal roadblock in her ambitions to become a chemist: all the available graduate schools had stairs. Instead, Fisch switched to law, earning every degree Columbia University Law School offered (the first person ever to do so), including an LLB, an LLM, and a JSD, and passed the bar in 1948. She wrote extensively on charities and estate law, but is most well-known for Fisch on New York Evidence, published in 1959, which became regularly cited by judges and used in law schools throughout New York. In 1962 she became the first female professor of law in New York, teaching evidence and legal writing at New York Law School for the rest of her career.

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.

Early Life & Education

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.

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 were estates and charities.

Legal Career

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 were 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 wrote 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 was a frequent lecturer before bar associations. Fisch maintained membership and held office in educational, political, and alumni associations. She was a member of the National Panel of the American Arbitration Association starting in 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 starting in 1972; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, serving on committees starting in 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 starting in 1972; and the Lawyers Group of Brooklyn College Alumni Association starting in 1957, chairing several committees. In 1964, she was a founder of the Foundation for Continuing Legal Education.

Personal Life

Ardently proud of being a Jew, Fisch was a member of Temple Emanu-El, where on December 14, 1963, she married Steven Ludwig Werner. He died on April 16, 1972, following an exploratory procedure for a cardiac condition.

Edith Lond Fisch continued to write and practice law. Lawyers and judges who knew only her writings and then would meet this lively wheelchair-bound woman for the first time were stunned. Invariably, they would shake their heads and say, “Remarkable woman!”

Edith Fisch passed away on August 3, 2006, in New York City.

Selected Works by Edith Lond Fisch

Charities and Charitable Foundations, with Doris Jones Freed and Esther R. Schachter. Pomona, N.Y.: Lond Publications, 1974.

The Cy Pres Doctrine in the U.S. New York: Matthew Bender, 1951.

Fisch on New York Evidence. Pomona, N.Y.: Lond Publications, 1959, 1977.

New York City Charter and Administrative Code, editor. Albany: Willams Press, 1965–1983.

Bibliography

Fisch, Edith Lond. Interview with author, June 1996.

NYTimes, February 25, 1951, 55:1.

Thomas, Dorothy. Women Lawyers in the U.S. New York: Scarecrow Press, 1957.

Obituary. NYTimes, August 6, 2006.

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How to cite this page

Thomas, Dorothy. "Edith Fisch." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 7, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/fisch-edith>.