Curriculum  |   Advocacy  |   Externships  |   Public Awareness  |   Related Activities
Women & International Law  |   LL.M. Specialization in Gender & the Law

Experience in and of the law is often different for men and women. Gender issues cut across many of the traditional boundaries that separate legal disciplines. In light of this, the Washington College of Law (WCL) offers a multiplicity of opportunities in women's legal studies.

From our earliest days, our commitment to ensuring equality and full participation in the community for both men and women has resulted in the recognition of WCL as a leading center for feminist legal scholarship. In 1896, two women founded the Washington College of Law for the express purpose of making legal education available to women. The first class included ten women and one man. Our founders, Emma Gillett and Ellen Spencer Mussey, played important roles both locally and nationally in the early struggle to open the legal profession to women and to end women's inferior legal status.

As the only law school started by women, WCL has a long-standing tradition of respect for the contributions of women to the law and legal education. Some facts about our institution demonstrate that commitment: in 1996, women were 61 percent of the first-year students, 35 percent of the full-time faculty, and over 55 percent of the administration. For over a decade, half the students at WCL have been women.

In 1984, the Women & the Law Program was established to renew our commitment to our founding principles. The program's long-term goals are broad and ambitious:

  • to contribute to research and advocacy concerning women and the law
  • to further awareness of the way that the law affects women's lives and women's positions within the institutions of the legal system
  • to address the experiences of women within the WCL community
  • to change legal education to incorporate fully the experiences of women into all aspects of the curriculum and teaching

So how do you as a law student, regardless of gender, experience and benefit from this tradition?


Courses which address issues involving women and the law are an integral part of our present curriculum. In some courses you focus explicitly on legal issues related to women: Sex-based Discrimination; Women's Legal History; the Women and the Law Clinic; Feminist Jurisprudence; Work and Parenting; Critical Race Theory; The Human Body as Legal Metaphhor; Feminism in Theory and Practice; Gender and the Law; and Gender, Cultural Differences, and International Human Rights.

In many of the general course offerings you examine issues concerning the relationship of the law to women's lives. In first-year courses, such as Contracts, Property, and Torts to electives, such as Jurisprudence Family Law, American Legal History, and Modern Legal Theory, serious attention is given to ways that the structure and operation of the law can affect men and women differently.

You will benefit from this dual approach whether you have a particular interest in the area of women's legal studies or simply want exposure to issues of general importance in understanding how the law operates in contemporary society. For those interested in interclisciplinary studies, American University's Women and Gender Studies program offers courses which may be credited towards your law degree requirements.


Two of our clinical programs, the Women & the Law Clinic and the Domestic Violence Clinic advocate on behalf of women. In the Women & the Law Clinic you represent indigent women in the District of Columbia courts in three types of cases--child support, domestic violence, and child neglect--and in the many related legal matters affecting a women's ability to bring about change in her life. Through this clinical program, you develop your lawyering skills as you examine the effects of the legal system on women as they confront problems in their economic security, personal safety, and relationships with their children.

In addition to working on your cases, you participate in a weekly seminar that examines both the practice and theory of advocacy and learning through simulation and provides individual critique and group discussion.

The Domestic Violence Clinic examines the interrelationship of civil and criminal approaches to domestic violence. This clinic actively joins advocacy groups and the courts in Washington, D.C., to address, systematically, legal issues important to women, such as domestic violence, child welfare, and biases within the court system.


Washington, D.C., provides a multitude of field placements in which you can examine how the law affects women's lives. Through its extensive externship program, WCL offers students the opportunity to obtain credit for work at a field placement, while also critically reflecting upon that experience in a structured classroom setting. In recent years, students have obtained placements at women's advocacy organizations such as the Women's Legal Defense Fund, the National Women's Law Center, the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Students have also externed at policy and service organizations in various areas of legal practice whose work affects women. Both specialized externship seminars, such as Feminism in Theory and Practice, as well as general externship seminars, such as Law and Narration and Lawyering in the Public Interest and Government, enable students to evaluate advocacy for women and explore how gender relates to different areas of legal practice.

Public Awareness

The Women & the Law Program seeks to increase the public's understanding through a number of avenues. The program sponsors an annual national conference on women's rights and the law school curriculum for law teachers. At WCL, presentations by guest speakers create opportunities for debate and dialogue about issues affecting women. The program's founder and director of the WCL Clinical Programs, Professor Ann Shalleck, is a noted authority and frequently speaks and writes on gender and the law.

Related Activities

In addition to curricular offerings and the projects of the Women & the Law Program, there are other opportunities for you to examine women's legal issues. Many of our faculty are noted for their scholarship in women's legal studies, and each full-time faculty member has at least one upper-level student research assistant through the Dean's Fellows program. If selected as a dean's fellow, you may work with faculty whose research interests and publications cover family law, women's legal history, or feminist jurisprudence. In addition, each year students are selected as dean's fellows for the Women & the Law Clinic and the Domestic Violence Clinic.

American University Journal of Gender and the Law, one of four student-edited law journals at the Washington College of Law, was founded to explore gender-related issues and how they relate to the law. It focuses specifically on the law's impact on women s lives and more generally on how gender bias in the law and in legal studies affects all of us. The journal contributes to the development of feminist legal scholarship and provides an opportunity for academic discussion overlooked by more traditional legal journals. Law students have a unique perspective that deserves a voice in the academic community.

The Women's Law Association deals with legal, social, cultural, educational, and political issues concerning all persons, particularly women. Programs include speaker forums, film festivals, and the annual Founder's Day celebration. WCL also raises funds for its three scholarships-- the two Mussey-Gillett Scholarships and the Marie Bottineau Baldwin Scholarship--in honor of WCL s founding mothers and the first woman of color to graduate from the law school.

For more information, contact:
Professor Ann Shalleck
Director, Women & the Law Program
American University
Washington College of Law
4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016-8186
Office of Admissions: 202-274-4101

An equal opportunity/affirmative action university
UP 97-260