By 1939, smart, ambitious, and attractive Bessie Margolin captured media attention as the Labor Department's first woman attorney who enforced the child labor and minimum wage protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Photo, New Orleans States, April 6, 1939.
Praise for Fair Labor Lawyer
"Before there was the Notorious RBG, there was the Audacious Bessie Margolin, who overcame poverty and sexism to become an unsung giant of labor law. Margolin argued a whopping 24 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning 21. Marlene Trestman tells her engaging story with flair. You'll be outraged you never heard of Margolin before, but thrilled to get to know her in this important book."
- Julie Cohen, Director of the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated documentary, RBG.
"Bessie Margolin was one of a handful of women in the 20th century whose appellate work before the Supreme Court changed the legal landscape. Trestman brings her to life in this meticulously researched and beautifully told biography: from her humble origins as an orphan in the Jewish Children's Home in New Orleans, to her work for the TVA, to her stellar career at the Department of Labor. In telling her extraordinary story, Trestman finally gives Margolin, an expert on the Fair Labor Standards Act and employment law, her rightful place in the pantheon of great government attorneys."
- Clare Cushman, Resident Historian, Supreme Court Historical Society
"Bessie Margolin was a true pioneer: a woman who operated at the highest levels of the law when the legal world was almost entirely male. With care, thoroughness, and sensitivity, Marlene Trestman has given us a memorable portrait of a fascinating figure."
- Evan Thomas, author of First: Sandra Day O'Connor
"From her extensive research into the public and private life of New Deal attorney Bessie Margolin, Marlene Trestman has crafted a compelling account of a young girl raised in a New Orleans Jewish orphanage who became a powerful litigator, prevailing in 21 of 24 cases she argued before the Supreme Court in defense of New Deal statutes. Margolin was well-known in her own time but not in ours. Yet Trestman's vivid retelling of Margolin's remarkable life story allows readers to appreciate not just the pubic accomplishment but rather the whole woman, including her avid mentoring, active social life, and romantic liaisons. An inspiring biography for those who are neither historians nor lawyers, but relish an engaging story."
- Jane Sherrod DeHart, author of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Life
"Born ten years before American women won the right to vote, raised in a New Orleans orphanage, Margolin used her skill, discipline, and charm to forge a spectacular career as a federal government lawyer and one of the first -- and most successful -- female Supreme Court advocates, blazing a trail for women to the highest bench, In Fair Labor Lawyer, Marlene Trestman offers a sparkling account of Margolin's life and work, frustrations and triumphs, set within the panorama of 20th century history. From her work defending FDR's New Deal policies in the 1930s to her role as a founding member of the National Organization for Women in the 1960s, Margolin offers an inspiring model of a passionate advocate for justice, and a woman well ahead of her times."
- Elaine Weiss, author of The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight for the Vote
"Washington D.C.'s many egos make it easy to miss the real stars. Lawyer Bessie Margolin, who came to our nation's capital in 1933, was one of the brightest in light and accomplishment. Marlene Trestman tells her readers why in a compelling, gracefully written biography of a woman about whom U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said, she put the 'flesh and sinews' around the 'bare bones' of the Fair Labor Standards Act."
- Jill Norgren, author of Rebels at the Bar and Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers
"Why has no one made a blockbuster biopic about legal pioneer Bessie Margolin yet? It's got all the plot lines for a humdinger of a tale...Without the dedication of Marlene Trestman, this amazing story might not have been told. Bessie Margolin was one hell of a trailblazer and she deserves her place in the firmament of legal greats."
"Trestman's well researched, meticulously documented, and engagingly written book should have wide appeal--to students of the New Deal era, the landmark Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Department of Labor, as well as early twentieth-century Jewish life and culture in Memphis and New Orleans. Most especially [Bessie Margolin's] life is important for anyone interested in gender and the legal profession."
- Donald Grier Stephenson,Journal of Supreme Court History, November 2017.
In "clear and often elegant" prose, "Trestman's story of Margolin reveals an amazing woman who not only overcame barriers, but used them as positive stepping stones."
- Cathy D. Knepper, American Historical Review, October 2017.
This reader very much appreciated the opportunity to get to 'know' and be grateful for a pioneer who made my path a little bit easier. In the aftermath of our recent Presidential election, this book is an excellent reminder of how far we have come, and an inspiring call to action to fight to continue the good fight to break glass ceilings everywhere. Bessie would be proud of you, Marlene. You too, Hillary.
"This is a very well-written and well-crafted biography."
- Bryant Etheridge, Journal of Southern History
"An important contribution to the history of Jews, gender and labor, Marlene Trestman’s book reminds us of how unexplored the history of Jewish women in the legal profession remains—and how much exciting research lies ahead of us."
- Geraldine Gudefin,American Jewish History
"Trestman's book, like Margolin's career, is truly remarkable."
- Britt P. Tevis,American Jewish Archives Journal.
"This is a fascinating and readable biography of Bessie Margolin, the most accomplished lawyer I never heard of. The author has done us a service by telling us effectively about this orphan-pioneer who became a respected lawyer against all odds."
- David I. Grunfeld,Philadelphia Lawyer
"Bessie Margolin had an amazingly interesting life....We should be grateful for what Trestman has achieved. It is an absorbing story told well."
- Melvin I. Urofsky, author of Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (2009), Southern Jewish History
"[Marlene Trestman's Fair Labor Lawyer] is an inspiring, instructive and compelling story. As one would expect from a top-flight lawyer, this consequential story is meticulously researched, well documented and skillfully told."
- Andree Blumstein,Tennessee Bar Journal
Through this "beautiful account of her mentor...Trestman does a wonderful job of interweaving the legal history of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Equal Pay Act...The book provides an insightful look into the life of an accomplished attorney and a woman excelling in a male-dominated profession while making choices that others struggle with today. I recommend this book for ibraries collecting legal biographies, gender-related legal issues, the legal profession, U.S. Supreme Court advocates, and those with leisure collections."
- Kelly Leong, Law Library Journal
“Fair Labor Lawyer, by Marlene Trestman, is a scholarly biography of an unusual woman. Trestman is herself an attorney, and her recounting of the litigation in which Margolin was involved is lucid and interesting, even for a non-lawyer. Bessie Margolin’s story, from her days as a child in New Orleans’s Jewish Orphans Home to her achievements as one of the Labor Department’s most successful attorneys, is compelling and inspiring. Fair Labor Lawyer is, above all, the biography of a woman whose determination to make the term “fair” a reality for children, low-wage workers, and underpaid women was an unqualified success."
- M. Feldman,Amazon "Vine Voice"
"In this very special story of an orphan child who became one of the best known women lawyers in the United States, Trestman brings a remarkable life back to us. Bessie Margolin walks through these pages as a whole person, her romantic liaisons, her devoted mentoring, and her brilliant legal initiatives all fully rendered. Fair Labor Lawyer is an inspiring read."
- Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History, Columbia University, author of numerous books on the history of American and women's labor, and biographer of Lillian Hellman
"[Fair Labor Lawyer] is quite readable, the research is amazing, and (most important) its subject is a person well deserving of a biography. [Margolin] was certainly an important (perhaps the most important) lawyer in shaping fair labor legislation and litigation, over several decades. Marlene covers every facet of her life extremely well, including Bessie's amorous relationships... As a combination lawyer/historian/political scientist myself, who has used all three approaches in writing about the Supreme Court and constitutional litigation, it's hard to think of anyone else who has done so as well as Marlene. [This book] will appeal to historians of labor, women's rights, the Court, and even Southern history."
- Peter H. Irons, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, and author of numerous books on the Supreme Court and constitutional litigation
"In this outstanding biography, the life and times of Bessie Margolin . . . come alive. Marlene Trestman has researched deeply into the personal and public life of an influential 20th century lawyer. The result is a convincing study that covers material from Margolin’s early life in a Jewish orphanage in New Orleans to her years in the Labor Department as an advocate for women’s equality in the work place. Fair Labor Lawyer . . . is a welcome addition to our understanding of 20th century women’s history and New Deal policy-making."
- Jean Harvey Baker, Professor of History, Goucher College, and biographer of Margaret Sanger and Mary Todd Lincoln
"In Fair Labor Lawyer, Marlene Trestman tells the fascinating and improbable story of Bessie Margolin. Raised in a Jewish orphanage in New Orleans, she became a powerful Washington lawyer during the New Deal and spent her life repairing the world. It’s a page-turner!"
- Laura Kalman, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, and biographer of Abe Fortas
"Among the hundreds of biographies and memoirs of important American attorneys, very few describe the careers of women. Bessie Margolin, who defended and enforced some of the New Deal’s central statutes, arguing repeatedly in the Supreme Court, is one of these forgotten feminist heroes now regained. Marlene Trestman, a modern lawyer with surprising ties and connections to Bessie, is her ideal biographer.
- Barbara Babcock, Crown Professor Emerita, Stanford Law School, and author of Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz
"Fair Labor Lawyer is an engaging and insightful narrative of the extraordinary life of Bessie Margolin -- the self-styled reluctant feminist who became the architect of the U.S. Labor Department's Equal Pay Act enforcement and a founder of the National Organization for Women. Thanks to Marlene Trestman's vivid retelling of the relationships and circumstances that shaped Bessie's life, readers will come away feeling they knew her well, cheering her successes and mourning her losses right along with her. This book is a welcome addition to the body of knowledge we have (which is still far too small) about all of the women who created the successes and advances of the second wave of the U.S. women's movement. Frances Perkin's note to Bessie Margolin sums it up: 'We have lived through great days together and can all take satisfaction in the contribution we made to civilization.'"
- Terry O'Neill, National President, NOW
"Bessie Margolin is the greatest legal pioneer you have never heard of. Raised in a Jewish orphanage in New Orleans, she attended Tulane and Yale. At a time when few women could pursue a career in the legal field, Margolin was part and parcel of the New Deal and won nearly 90% of the cases she argued before the Supreme Court and played a role in the Nuremberg Trials as well. Marlene Trestman captures Margolin's astonishing life in this wonderful book."
- Mark Plotkin, Ph.D., New Orleanian, ethnobotanist and author