Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life of Gladys Towles Root

Gladys the Upredictable

The views of Gladys Towles Root on sex crimes certainly do not sit well with most feminists. Indeed, her beliefs about rape leave her open to charges of outright misogyny. However, she was an independent thinker and her opinions cannot be easily slotted into any particular politically partisan camp.

When abortion was outlawed in most states, Root spoke out in favor of legalizing it. It comes under the heading of progress and cant be stopped, she said firmly. The burgeoning population will raise a stentorian hue and cry to hold down the explosion, and abortion will take up the slack wherever birth control fails to do so. When the time is propitious, religious and other barriers will be hurdled and abortion will raise a lawful head. Then, not only will unemployment be held in check, but many a young woman could be saved whose life now may be ruined by a few minutes of reckless passion.

She also believed that prostitution should cease to be a cause for arrest. Prostitution is going to be with us forever and a day, she proclaimed. The highest officials in the world have tried in vain to eliminate the oldest profession. It couldnt be done. Prostitutes swarm over every country thick as a cloud of locusts. . . . It is fatuous to believe anything can be done about it. It is a time-honored evil. . . . I am in favor of legalizing prostitution under stringent laws that include inspection and medical supervision. The periodic police roundup of prostitutes is a sham that wastes valuable police manpower and deludes the public into thinking that vice is really being curbed.

Root believed that many parents were failing their children, either because they were too permissive or because they set bad examples. Nine times out of ten you will find that so-called juvenile delinquents are what they are because they had to turn from their parents for understanding, she maintained. Life provides many channels leading from the original source. And, unless the better course is charted, youths bark is liable to sail into some fetid backwater. Root also said, As the adage goes: The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. If this is true, then that same hand should inflict punishment upon offspring when necessary. Furthermore, she states, The virtue of dependability develops through exercise. Children are taught not only by words but by example, that dependability is a thoroughly desirable habit and one that pays dividends. It will become a compelling force for good. When one is dependable, one considers others. One considers that which is beyond oneself. And so robbery, theft, and all other overt acts that constitute delinquency are automatically labeled unworthy. . . . To insure the future of your children, your word must become your bond.

When asked about women in her own profession, she responded in contradictory ways. Sometimes she seemed to suggest that the number of females in law ought to remain, as it was during most of the time she practiced, small. In examining her views on this issue, it should be remembered that she became a lawyer during a period in which females with high-powered careers were much more likely to remain celibate than they are today. Moreover, like any other minority group, celibates are often unfairly stereotyped, dismissed as a humorless and sour bunch, as Root seems to do in the following remarks.

She once commented, There are few women criminal lawyers who have the physical endurance to cope with the daily requirements, this constant treadmill with a briefcase under each arm. Its a grind year in and year out that takes its toll on a woman much faster than on a man. Theres a climax every hour on the hour and always a series of daily crises. Women marry, bear children, are absorbed by domestic life and social demands. It becomes increasingly difficult for them to concentrate solely on their profession. Should they not marry, and so grow into old maids, there is a danger of a warped, bitter outlook which might pervade their thinking. Not so with most men. They can become mono-minded, shutting outside influences from their lives.

Root also seemed to stick up for women attorneys but with a caveat concerning their special need for rest. The chief critics of women lawyers are of the old school, Root said. Old-timers. You can almost read their thoughts of What the hell is the legal profession coming to? If one of these gentlemen of archaic ideas entered the arena of the courtroom to tangle with a lady lawyer, hed soon discover that the distaff side is rightfully entitled to its diplomas. Many a male lawyer, when defeated by a woman, will blame it on that mystical factor they call female intuition. This is his excuse. In plain language, he has faced too much perception and intelligence, and logical thinking processes. Yes, I believe that on any single case, if well rested beforehand, a woman lawyer can hold her own with a man.

It is unclear whether she believed few women were unsuited to the legal grind because of their greater domestic responsibilities interfering with the commitment required or because women as a group tended to constitutionally have less stamina than men.

Stamina was something Gladys Towles Root possessed in abundance. She regularly put in sixteen-hour days. According to Daniellson, Root built her practice up such that she averaged seventy-five courtroom appearances per month throughout her fifty-two year career; she maintained this rate even throughout two pregnancies. At one point her office was handling 1,600 cases a year; this is more criminal cases than any other private American law firm.



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