Marlene Trestman

Unless otherwise noted, photos are from the personal papers of Bessie Margolin. Audio recording: "Bessie Margolin Farewell Dinner," Jan. 28, 1972, Laurence H. Silberman Papers, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University.

(above) Margolin's May 1946 Nuremberg Trials ID card.


(right) As Assistant Labor Solicitor

in the 1950s.

Margolin returns to New Orleans in 1939 as a wage & hour lawyer.

Margolin's 1925 Newman senior photo.

New Orleans Jewish Orphans Home

on St. Charles Ave.

Margolin, left, with father and siblings in 1913.

Trestman, far left, as the Labor Department's 2013 Donald S. Shire Lecturer, joins Associate Solicitor Robert Shapiro, Solicitor M. Patricia Smith, and former Associate Solicitor Shire, who holds the Department's Women's History Month poster commemorating

Bessie Margolin. DOL Photo.

President Kennedy hosts Federal Woman's Award Winners in 1963. Margolin is second from left. JFK Library.

Chief Justice Earl Warren at Margolin's 1972 retirement gala. Listen to an excerpt of his remarks, below.

  • Honoring Margolin1:38

Bessie Margolin Timeline

1909    Bessie Margolin was born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, to recent Russian immigrant parents.

1913     After her mother's death, Margolin enters New Orleans Jewish Orphans Home with siblings, as "half-orphans."

1925     Margolin graduates from Isidore  Newman School in New Orleans and wins scholarship to Newcomb College.

1930     After transferring to Tulane, Margolin receives undergraduate and law degrees; following graduation, she is hired as a research assistant to Prof. Ernest Lorenzen at Yale Law School.

1932     Margolin receives Yale's Sterling Fellowship, the first time awarded to a woman, and pursues doctorate in law (JSD) under the direction of Professor William O. Douglas.

1933     As its first woman lawyer, Margolin joins New Deal's fledgling Tennessee Valley Authority and helps defend the constitutionality of its power program.

1939     Seeking new challenges, Margolin transfers to Labor Department's Wage & Hour Administration to implement new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

1942     After presenting evidence to Labor Secretary Frances Perkins of what Margolin termed "unconscious discrimination" preventing her advancement, Margolin receives promotion to Assistant Solicitor of Labor.

1945     Margolin, presents the first of 24 arguments at United States Supreme Court; she is the 25th woman to argue at the Supreme Court and one of only three women to argue there two dozen or more times during the twentieth century.

1946    While on loan to the Army for 6 months in Nuremberg, Margolin drafts rules establishing American Military Tribunals to adjudicate Nazi war crimes in the Subsequent Proceedings.

1947     After returning to Labor Department to resume court enforcement of FLSA, Margolin is investigated by FBI under the federal loyalty program; her loyalty will be questioned again during the 1950s.

1953     The Labor Department presents Margolin its Distinguished Service Award for "significant contribution to the authoritative construction of Federal labor laws" in presenting appeals with "consummate skill and clarity."

1962     Margolin uses the year-long sabbatical she wins from the Labor Department's Career Service Award to attend Harvard's School of Public Administration and then to research labor issues (including equal pay for women) throughout Europe.

1963    Following her sabbatical, Margolin is promoted to Associate Labor Solicitor and Receives Federal Woman's Award; she assumes responsibility for Labor Department's trial and appellate litigation to enforce the Equal Pay Act.

1966    A self-styled reluctant feminist, Margolin Joins the National Organization for Women (NOW) as a founding member.

1969   Margolin argues the first Equal Pay Act appeal, Shultz v. Wheaton Glass Co., and convinces the U.S Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that the Act requires that jobs be "substantially equal," not identical, a landmark ruling the Supreme Court declines to review.      

1972    Margolin retires from the Labor Department, earning Chief Justice Earl Warren's praise for developing "the flesh and sinews" around the "bare bones" of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

1974    During retirement, Margolin teaches labor law at George Washington University and arbitrates labor disputes; she also meets and inspires future biographer Marlene Trestman  

1975    Margolin receives Newcomb College's Outstanding Alumna Award.


1982    Margolin named first recipient of Tulane Law School's Distinguished  Graduate Award.

1996    Following years of declining health, Margolin dies at age 87.

2013    March: Margolin is inducted posthumously into the inaugural class of Tulane Law School's Hall of Fame;

              March: U.S. Department of Labor celebrates Women's History Month by unveilinga poster featuring former Associate Solicitor Bessie Margolin.

              June: U.S. Department of Labor celebrates its 100th anniversary, and marks the 75th and 50th anniversaries of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Equal Pay Act by selecting Marlene Trestman to give multi-media presentation on Bessie Margolin for the 2013 Donald Shire Lecture.