By many accounts Phyllis A. Kravitch was a trailblazer. She entered the practice of law in 1944 when female attorneys were few and far between. She built her reputation at her father’s law firm, becoming the first woman Savannah Bar Association president in the mid-1970s, the first woman elected as a Georgia Superior Court judge in 1976 and the third woman to serve our nation as a U.S. Circuit Court judge in 1979. Her service on the U.S. Courts of Appeals lasted almost four decades.
As a permanent tribute, more than 40 of her former judicial clerks created the Judge Phyllis A. Kravitch Scholarship Fund at the University of Georgia School of Law. She passed away on June 15, 2017, at the age of 96.
“This scholarship truly represents the heart of the law school community,” School of Law Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge said. “For so many of Judge Kravitch’s former clerks to want to memorialize this trailblazing Georgian in this manner is tremendous. Judge Kravitch may have entered the practice of law at a time when her talents were not overly appreciated or recognized, but she left the profession at the top with an impeccable 70-year-plus record of legal service, forging new paths for women and those of Jewish faith.”
A Savannian by birth, Kravitch became the third woman ever appointed as a U.S. Circuit Court judge – and the first woman in the Southeast – when she was nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Initially, she served on U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. When the circuit split in 1981, she moved to the 11th Circuit where she served approximately 35 years, taking senior status in 1996. Kravitch authored hundreds of opinions while serving on the 11th Circuit Court involving, among other issues, the rights of migrant workers, affirmative action, employment discrimination and the treatment of Haitian refugees and Cuban spies.
After earning her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated at the top of her class and served on the editorial board of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Kravitch found it difficult to find a job in the legal profession due to her gender and faith. She eventually joined her father’s law firm in Savannah and found success including as a pioneer and leader in the Savannah Bar Association and the Peach State’s judicial system.
Kravitch received many accolades over her legal career. Among them are: the American Bar Association’s First Annual Margaret Brent Award in 1991, the Council of Jewish Women Hannah G. Solomon Award in 1978 and the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s James Wilson Award in Appreciation of Service to the Legal Profession in 1992 as well as serving as the law school’s Commencement speaker in 1979 and 2001. She was also instrumental in establishing a shelter for battered women and a rape crisis center in Savannah, and was named as Savannah’s Most Influential Woman in 1978.
The School of Law plans to award the first Kravitch scholarship this coming fall.