Explore Shirley S. Abrahamson’s life in pictures, or click here to read the full-text version.
Contents: Early Life | Legal Career | Judicial Career
Shirley’s Parents, Leo Schlanger and Ceil Sauerteig
Shirley’s parents, Leo Schlanger and Ceil Sauerteig, were Jewish immigrants from Poland. They ran a grocery store in New York and, for a time, in New Jersey.
Shirley was born Dec. 17, 1933, just after her mother arrived in the U.S. They joked that the timing meant she could become President.
Shirley and Baby Sister Rosalind
When Shirley was 22 months old, her sister Rosalind (referred to as Roz) was born.
Shirley at the Beach
Shirley grew up in New York and New Jersey. She frequently visited the beach with her family.
Homework in Kindergarten
Shirley’s sister Roz was an athlete. She played basketball and liked riding her bike around the city. Shirley, on the other hand, loved going to school and enjoyed reading in her spare time. Her mom said she was the only child who claimed to have homework in kindergarten.
As a young child, Shirley wanted to be a teacher. She lined up her sister Roz and her dolls and tried to teach them. Roz wouldn’t sit still, and Shirley gave up on teaching.
The Future Lawyer
When Shirley was 4, she wanted to be President. At age 6, she changed her career plans. She decided to be a lawyer. Her parents never discouraged her.
While living in Poland, Shirley’s mother was a talented seamstress. In the U.S., she worked in the family store, but she continued to make clothes for her girls.
An Influential Teacher
Shirley’s favorite grade school teacher was Miss Hauptman. In her civics class, Hauptman stressed constitutional rights, even for minorities. Her class made a big impression on Shirley.
Shirley Begins Law School
Immediately after her wedding, Shirley started law school at Indiana University where her husband Seymour was working on his Ph. D. There were only a few other women at the law school.
Seymour Studies Genetics
Seymour wanted to go to medical school, but he could not afford it. Instead, he went to graduate school at Indiana University to study with H.J. Muller, a Nobel Prize winner in radiation and genetics.
The Law Journal Editor
During law school, Shirley was chosen to serve as articles and book review editor of the Indiana Law Journal. All of the other editors were men.
Late Night Studying
During law school, Shirley and Seymour lived in a small, one-room apartment with a Murphy bed that pulled out of the wall. Late at night Shirley and a classmate studied in the living area next to the Murphy bed where Seymour was sleeping.
First Woman Justice on Wisconsin’s High Court
In 1976 Gov. Patrick Lucey appointed Shirley Abrahamson, at age 42, the first woman justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
A Career-oriented Woman in a Home Environment
A woman complained about a newspaper's decision to photograph Abrahamson at home rather than work. Abrahamson responded: “When I was growing up, women were warned that if we wanted a career we would have to give up a normal home life of marriage and children. This threat deterred many women from pursuing a career. I therefore have always thought it important that young women see ‘career-oriented women’ in a ‘home environment.’”
Just Call Me Ms. Justice
Historically, lawyers would address the all-male supreme court as “gentlemen.” After Abrahamson joined the court, they weren’t sure how to address her or the court. She told people, tongue in cheek, to call her Ms. Justice (pronounced MisJustice)!