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A History of Diversity at USC Gould: Profiles of Notable Alumni

Mabel Walker Willebrandt '16 '17

Mabel Walker Willebrandt (1889-1963) served as U.S. Assistant Attorney General from 1921 to 1929. She was only the second woman to hold that position and was the highest-ranking woman in both the Harding and Coolidge presidential administrations.¹

Originally from Woodsdale, Kansas, Willebrandt moved to Los Angeles in 1912 and taught elementary school while studying law at USC during the evenings.¹ Willebrandt initially took up pro bono work for police courts as the city's first female public defender during her last semester of study and after graduation started a practice with a former classmate in downtown Los Angeles.⁴ 

As a strong proponent of women's rights, including within her profession, Willebrandt and other USC Law School alumnae founded the Women Lawyers' Club of Los Angeles County in 1918 to assist women who were just starting their legal careers.²

In 1921, Willebrandt was recommended by USC law professor Frank Doherty, Senator Hiram Johnson, and various regional judges to be the Assistant Attorney General in the Harding administration. In this position, Willebrandt became one of the most famous lawyers in the country as she was responsible for enforcing the Volstead Act (prohibition) and prosecuting large-scale bootlegging operations. She also instituted reforms in the federal prison system and helped establish the first prison for women in 1927.¹  

After serving as U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Willebrandt returned to private practice and specialized in the fields of tax law and aviation law.  She also represented Hollywood celebrities, including Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Louis B. Mayer.¹

Sources: ¹National Archives and Records Administration²USC Law Magazine (Spring, 1996, p. 6-8), ³USC Law Magazine (Spring 1997, p. 12)⁴Wikipedia 
Profile Photo: Wikipedia

Mabel Walker Willebrandt Gallery

Photo Credit: Time Magazine

Photo Credit: The Mob Museum

Photo Credit: Homestead Museum 

Photo Credit: Homestead Museum 

Photo Credit: Homestead Museum 

Photo Credit: Homestead Museum 

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