1917: Attorney Anna Moscowitz

From a 1917 issue of The American Magazine:

American1917496b

A Woman Lawyer Who Has Made Good

The winter sun was creeping over the housetops as the steamer bearing a group of emigrants from Europe passed slowly through New York Harbor. One family in particular, the Moscowitz group, stared with frightened and bewildered eyes at this new and strange land they were about to enter. Cakes of ice beat against the side of the steamer, grinding and crashing and making fearful noises. The sight of those buildings so near to them, the large mass of roofs, was terrifying. In Russia, one could see for miles around. Here everything was shut off.

Suddenly, Anna Moscowitz, a baby of two years, opened her eyes, and looking at the new country from her mother’s arms crowed delightedly and stretched out her arms as if to gather it in. And she has fulfilled the unconscious prediction she made that winter day.

Anna Moscowitz showed early in which direction her ambitions lay. If any of her friends in the common schools had an argument or dispute, she was called in to settle it. They named her “the Little Judge.”

Every member of the family toiled hard and long to make both ends meet. After school, Anna came home and sewed on dresses, or made buttons, or helped in other ways. Even at the age of six, she was picking up a few pennies here and there; by the time she was twelve she was supporting herself.

A very small percentage of girls in New York finish high school, and a still smaller percentage enter college. Anna did both, finally graduating from the city training school for teachers. One of the happiest days in her life came when she opened the door of her home and showed her mother her degree.

A friend suggested the study of law. She joined a class and won a four-years scholarship to New York University Law School. She says that when she entered the class for the first time she chose a seat near the door, so she would not have to pass through the rows of men, who stared at her as if she were some strange being.

“Listening to lectures was like paradise,” Miss Moscowitz says. “At night and in the afternoon, I taught school to pay my expenses. But teaching is quite different from sewing buttons or keeping books. There were times in my girlhood when my back broke and my eyes ached and burned. It seemed as if I could not continue, as though I would break down. I am not very strong physically, and I believe it was only the driving power within me that kept me on. I was in a strange land, a foreigner, and I had to make good. I had to show Americans that Russian Jews have stuff in them worth developing.

“I referred to my girlhood a moment ago. That was a joke — I had no girlhood. Every moment was spent in making money, in keeping a roof over our heads. I threw my clothes on, and went to my day’s work. I took them off and dropped in my bed. That was my life and my pleasure.”

But Miss Moscowitz thinks it was the best training she could have had. It taught her to fight adversity, and gave her confidence and ability. She had worked and mingled with men all her life, so it was not a strange thing for her to be in the law profession with them.

However, men do not share that opinion. Miss Moscowitz has had many amusing experiences with her opponents. They are invariably over-polite, calling her “my fair adversary” and “our feminine opponent.” At first they held her cheaply; but when Miss Moscowitz began to win case after case New York lawyers began to take more time in preparing their briefs.

One distinguished lawyer walked up to her and said she had defeated him because he had thought so little of a woman lawyer that he had been a little careless with his case. She met him in court a few weeks later, and he came over, shook hands, smiled, and said, “I’m ready this time.”

Witnesses, judges, attendants, in fact everyone connected with courts, looked at Miss Moscowitz with great curiosity at first. Witnesses would not talk to her, and one day a man walked up to her in court and said: “Do men really give you cases to try?”

“Sometimes,” the little lady answered, smiling at the question.

“Do they pay you?”

“Sometimes,’ was again her rejoinder.

“Then they must be fools.” And he walked away.

“I love to match my wits against men,” she naively admits. “It is great fun, and I just love to beat them. You ought to see how foolish men feel when I win a case.” One group of her opponents felt so foolish when they were defeated that they hired her. It was a labor union that she defeated in a case that had been pending for five years. Miss Moscowitz took it, and established her claim to recognition by winning for the first time in the United States a verdict against a labor union. Whereupon, the union promptly hired her.

Miss Moscowitz is also chairman of the Woman’s Night Court Committee. In the early days of her practice, she would go to the night court and defend the unfortunates free of charge. She feels that great injustice has been done, and she is fighting for reform in the methods of the court. She has already introduced legislation at Albany tending in this direction.

The office of this little woman lawyer is within a few blocks of that selfsame harbor through which twenty-five years ago she was brought to this country. Handicapped by the lack of means to obtain an education, facing obstacle after obstacle, and overcoming all of them, Miss Moscowitz to-day has an income of more than fifteen thousand dollars a year.

Anna Moscowitz, the little emigrant from Russia, has made good!

— ALFRED GRUNBERG

Additional:

Jewish Women’s Archive: Anna Moscowitz-Kross

Original page image (composite of two partial pages), click to enlarge:

Moscowitz1917

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