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Visual Biography

Explore Shirley S. Abrahamson’s life in pictures, or click here to read the full-text version.

Contents: Early Life | Legal Career | Judicial Career

Early Life

Shirley Schlanger as a child on a slide

Future President?

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 Schlanger as a child on the beach

Shirley at the Beach

Shirley grew up in New York and New Jersey. She frequently visited the beach with her family.

Shirley Schlanger as a child at the pool

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.

Shirley Schlanger, her sister and another girl

Future Teacher?

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.

Shirley Schlanger as a child holding a puppy

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.

Shirley Schlanger and her sister wearing cute outfits

Fashionable Clothes

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.

Shirley Schlanger and her sister as young children

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.

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Legal Career

Shirley Abrahamson in a suit

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 Abrahamson

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.

Shirley Abrahamson and the other editors of the Indiana Law Journal

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.

The murphy bed from Shirley and Seymour Abrahamson's apartment

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.

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Judicial Career

Justice Shirley Abrahamson at home in 1976. Photo: David Sandell, The Capital Times, via Daniel N. Abrahamson.

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.’”

Justice Shirley Abrahamson

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)!

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