Clara Shortridge Foltz was the first female lawyer on the West Coast. She was the sister of U.S. Senator Samuel M. Shortridge. The Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles was renamed after her in 2002, and is now known as the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.
Not satisfied with becoming a hometown attorney, Foltz became a leader in the woman’s voting rights movement. During a career that spanned 56 years, Clara almost single-handedly pushed a great deal of progressive legislation for women’s rights in the voting and legal fields.
At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, during a "congress" of the Board of Lady Managers, Foltz introduced her idea of the public defender, with a speech entitled "Rights of Persons Accused of Crime--Abuses Now Existing." Foltz's then-radical concept of providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants is used today throughout the United States. She also created a similar model for the California Parole System.
Her many other trail-blazing accomplishments included becoming the first female clerk for the State Judiciary Committee; the first woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections; the first female licensed Notary Public; the first woman named director of a major bank; and, in 1930, the first woman to run for Governor of California, at the age of eighty-one.
In 1910, she was appointed to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, becoming the first female deputy district attorney in the United States. She was active in the suffrage movement, authoring the Women's Vote Amendment for California in 1911. Foltz also raised five children, mostly as a single mother, and encouraged women not to overlook their traditional domestic roles.
Foltz also founded and published the San Diego Daily Bee, and New American Woman Magazine, for which she wrote a monthly column until her death.
Looking back on her accomplished life, Foltz wrote: "Everything in retrospect seems weird, phantasmal, and unreal. I peer back across the misty years into that era of prejudice and limitation, when a woman lawyer was a joke ... but the story of my triumphs will eventually disclose that though the battle has been long and hard-fought it was worth while."