In Memoriam: Lila Althea Fenwick, 1932-2020

Lila Fenwick at Harvard Law School, 1953

Lila Fenwick, the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, died from complications of the coronavirus on April 4 at her home in New York City. She was 87 years old.

Harvard Law School first accepted women in 1950. In the early days, professors at the law school held “Ladies Day” each month, where they made a point of calling on their female students in class.

A native of New York City, Fenwick was the daughter of immigrants from Trinidad. Her father was a landlord who owned properties in Harlem and the Bronx. She graduated from Barnard College in New York City in 1953 and earned a juris doctorate at Harvard three years later in 1956. Fenwick then studied at the London School of Economics. After finishing her education, she worked in the Division of Human Rights at the United Nations, where she specialized in gender, racial, and religious discrimination and the protection of indigenous populations.

“Lila Fenwick was an extraordinary leader who devoted her career at the United Nations to protecting the human rights of all people across the globe,” said John F. Manning, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “Her leadership, humanity, and wisdom will be sorely missed.”


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