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Levine out Dreams

1/15/2016:

As with many professions, the legal field had historically been the province of men only. In North Dakota, one of the early women to enter the field was Beryl Levine. Born on November 9th, 1935, Levine attended St. John’s High School in Winnipeg. She began going to University of Manitoba while still living with her parents. At the age of 20 she met her first and only husband. Unfortunately, marriage – as it did for many women in the 50s -- forced her to set aside her education.

Her husband wished to attend medical school, which required them to move to Grand Forks and later Fargo. However, Levine was determined. She attended independent study classes while her husband pursued his career. But to finish her bachelor’s degree she needed key classes from the University of Manitoba. In 1963, two events happened that spurred Levine forward. First, she moved to Winnipeg with a friend and her children so she could finish her degree. She passed her two required classes and by the beginning of 1964, had a major in Philosophy and a minor in Political Science. The other event was reading The Feminine Mystique, the groundbreaking book by Betty Friedan. Before that, Levine had never considered a career in law, she only knew she wanted to make a change in the world. But now she realized that by becoming a lawyer she could live a full life and make a difference in the lives of women. In 1970, she began living out that goal by attending law school in Grand Forks, commuting daily from Fargo. Her determination paid off, and she graduated first in her class in 1974.

Ten years later, Levine’s hard work led her to her greatest opportunity: being appointed to the state supreme court. In 1984, a North Dakota justice retired, and another died a sudden death, leaving two seats open. This unique situation happened at the same time George Sinner was elected governor, a man committed to advancing women’s rights. Levine applied for the position, knowing that her ten years of legal experience had prepared her for the job. Sinner recognized Levine as a competent candidate and also believed she would provide a voice to an underrepresented portion of the population. Sinner finalized his decision on January 16th, 1985, calling the Levine household to inform her. Her son answered the phone and quickly handed it off to his mother after realizing it was the governor. What followed was a short conversation that ended with Levine stating, “I thank you, Governor, and I plan to spend the rest of my career proving that you made the right decision.”

Beryl Levine, the state’s first female justice on the state supreme court, served until her retirement in 1996.

Today’s Dakota Datebook was written by Lucid Thomas, drawn from the book “Important Voices” by Susan Wefald.