J. Larson Tributes: Bowman, Burns, Crane, Erlanger

Cynthia Grant Bowman — Cornell Law School

Memories of Jane — When I first saw Jane Larson as a new law professor at Northwestern in 1990, I thought she was magical.  The way she walked and talked and belonged in her body attracted me at first….

I soon discovered the magical qualities of her intellect.  I never went into a discussion with Jane without emerging with key insights, ones that would never have occurred to me alone.  She looked at every issue from fresh and imaginative perspectives.  The first edition of the casebook on Feminist Jurisprudence I co-authored in 1994 had the immense benefit of her insights, as did everything I wrote during the period we were colleagues.  I was in awe of her article on the tort of seduction, which appeared at about the same time that I was advocating a feminist revival of common law marriage.  Then-dean Bob Bennett referred to us as his “rock stars” after a sketch of Jane appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  We laughed that both of us progressive feminists were advocating a return to common law traditions that had been abandoned in the name of equality.

I treasured Jane as a friend as well. I’ll always remember the furtive way in which we, as two refugees from large law firms who had not quite shaken that work ethic, sneaked away from the law school to attend Wednesday matinees of the play Angels in America two weeks in a row.  Her witty and gracious speech at the retirement party for Bob Bennett brought down the house.  We were always plotting one thing or another, such as the Op Ed we co-authored to advocate appointment of the women who were then magistrate judges in the Northern District of Illinois to the federal district court.  Before too long, a total of three of these women had been appointed to the bench, and we celebrated at each of their installations.  Not among the least of her accomplishments, her encouragement and assistance in writing a personal ad to be published in The Chicago Reader ultimately led to connecting with my wonderful long-term partner and now-husband.

I know from observing her classes on several occasions that Jane was a spectacular teacher.  She really cared about her students and about the subjects she taught.  Students, especially women students, responded by lining up outside her office door to talk, but she could never bring herself to flee so as to get some work done uninterrupted.  It was totally unsurprising that she won the Best Teacher award on more than one occasion.  She was magic for many more people than just me and contributed to so many lives.  I am only just beginning to accept that Jane is no more.  But I’ll always feel grateful – and changed – for having known her.


From Bob Burns — Northwestern University Law School

I have a strong recollection of Jane’s vitality and creativity.  During her time at Northwestern, she was at the center of the school’s intellectual life.  Faculty members of very diverse perspectives, including some of our most prominent traditionalists, admired her work and her concern for justice.  She was at the heart of many students’ experience of the school and was an award-winning teacher.  Her interests were broad and adventurous.  (I recall an animated and informed discussion at a Christmas party of a recent exhibition of Caravaggio’s paintings…)  It is hard to believe that someone who was so alive is now gone.


From Charlotte Crane — Northwestern University Law School

Jane had an extraordinary ability to pull people to her and to the things she cared about.  Some might describe her as “charming,” in all senses of the word.  But “charming” is simply too trite a word to use for her power to make a connection with and influence those around her.   She was nothing short of magnificent.  In the classroom, this magnificence meant students thronged to her classes not just to be instructed but to be educated.   In a scholarly debate, it meant that her position would be presented lucidly but passionately.  In daily interactions, it meant that one would easily be pulled into her concerns and suffer discomfort if unable to respond.   She and the energy she brought with her simply could not be ignored.


From Howie Erlanger — University of Wisconsin Law School

When I first read of the admiration Jane Larson’s Northwestern colleagues and students had for her, I knew that we at Wisconsin were in for something special when she joined our faculty. And I was not disappointed. At UW, she made enormous contributions to the program, teaching a course (Property) that students love to hate, helping them appreciate the important concepts involved in that area of law, and more important, the social and political context in which those concepts are embedded. Of her other courses, I know the one that meant the most to her was Women’s Legal History, where she could explore questions of social justice over time. She regularly got well-deserved, rave reviews from the students, and she was very interested in the teaching enterprise, regularly participating in the informal discussion group we have around problem-solving and innovations in teaching. But besides all this, she was a warm and concerned person, someone you were always glad to run into in the hall.  Wisconsin’s halls will seem empty without her.


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