June 11, 2009 09:35 Age: 5 yrs

Emory Law Mourns Pat Butler 31L

“When I started, women weren’t supposed to be lawyers,” said Patricia Collins Butler 31L during a campus visit in 2008. “My poor mother was kind of apologetic. My father pushed me into it. He would say, ‘Paddy? She’s a lawyer you know?’”

Butler died May 27 at her home in La Jolla, Calif. She was 101 and leaves behind a trailblazing legacy as a female attorney for the U.S. government in the 1930s.

A faithful friend to Emory Law, Butler also leaves a $1 million bequest for scholarships to the school.

“Pat’s generosity through her gift to Emory Law creates a lasting legacy for our students,” said Dean David F. Partlett. “Through her scholarship, she has helped make it possible for our students to pursue their goals, regardless of their chosen career paths.” 

A native Atlantan, Butler graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. in 1928 and enrolled at Emory Law—the only woman in a class of 30. She finished second in her class.

“Discussions were foreign to me. Then it just happened,” Butler said. “I made friends and it got better. My dad let me have a car, and I started giving the guys rides into Atlanta—then I started studying with them.”

After struggling to find a position with a local firm, Butler was hired to establish the antitrust library for the Department of Justice. She would go on to work for 16 attorneys general, including Robert Kennedy.

In 1949, she joined the ranks of the first female lawyers to argue a case, Johnson v. Shaughnessy, before the U.S. Supreme Court. Although she took over the case in an emergency, Butler won.

For years, Butler had few female colleagues at the Justice Department. Janet Reno, the only female U.S. attorney general, has called Butler a “pioneer among women” at the department.

During her time at the attorney general’s office, she became friends with Chief Justice Warren Burger. That friendship led to the founding of the Supreme Court Historical Society in 1974.

Butler also was the founding secretary of the American Bar Association’s section on administrative law and the founding editor of what is now the Federal Register.

“The legal community has lost a great treasure in Pat,” Dean Partlett said. “Through her determination and love for the law, she proved to the students who followed her that there are no barriers to success that cannot be overcome. She truly was a pioneer and a wonderful friend to Emory Law.”

She was named a Distinguished Alumna by Emory Law in 1997 and awarded the Emory Medal, the highest honor for an alumnus, in 2000.

Born Dec. 23, 1907, to Philip and Mary Collins in New York, Butler grew up in Atlanta. Married and widowed three times, Butler had no children.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, in La Jolla with a reception to follow.

Emory Law alumna Patricia Collins Butler recorded shortly after being named to Emory Law's Distinguished Alumni Hall of Honor.

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