Best-selling author, renowned pro-union labor lawyer, Brandeis University professor, feminist and LGBTQ ally Linda Hirshman died Oct. 31 in Burlington, Vermont of cancer. She was 79.
Hirshman was born April 26, 1944, in Cleveland where she spent her childhood and teen years. She received her bachelor's degree in political science and government from Cornell University and then a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. Years later, Hirshman got a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois Chicago, writing her dissertation on Thomas Hobbes.
Over a 15 year period after she got her J.D., Hirshman focused on the union side of labor law, which included arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on three cases (most notably the landmark 1985 case Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority) as well as all 12 of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.
Hirshman eventually moved on to academia, where she taught law, philosophy and women's studies, first at Chicago-Kent College of Law and then at Brandeis University. She retired in 2002, having earned the title distinguished professor of philosophy and women's studies.
An article Hirshman wrote in 2005 for the progressive policy journal American Prospect called "Homeward Bound" sparked controversy. Hirshman criticized the lack of highly educated women in the workplace because they suspended their careers to stay home and take care of their children. She called that a socially harmful choice, further maintaining that feminism had "failed" among the educated elite. Though women's enrollment at colleges had increased, she noted, women were disproportionately represented in elite positions.
"Why did this happen?" Hirshman wrote. "The answer I discoveredan answer neither feminist leaders nor women themselves want to faceis that while the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home."
This article sparked backlash from social conservatives and libertarian feminists who are focused on individualism, personal autonomy, freedom from state-sanctioned discrimination against women and gender equality. During an appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl called Hirshman "judgmental," and after she was a guest on ABC's Good Morning America, upset viewers who sent angry emails crashed their server.
Hirshman wrote a number of books including The Color of Abolition: How a Printer, a Prophet, and a Contessa Moved a Nation in 2022; Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment in 2019; the New York Times and Washington Post bestseller and NPR pick of the year Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World in 2015 (which was also turned into a play); Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution in 2012 (the 2017 LGBTQ-focused ABC miniseries When We Rise used portions of her book as source material); and Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World in 2006. At the time of her death, she was co-writing a book with Margaret Sullivan focusing on right-wing media and how that impacts democracies.
Additionally, Hirshman was a contributing writer for the New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, Salon, Newsweek, Politico and the Daily Beast as well as a guest on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report in 2006. She recently appeared on the Slate podcast Slow Burn to revisit the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal from a feminist viewpoint.
Hirshman is survived by her children Sarah (Hirshman) Shapiro, Margot (Forkosh) Ettlinger and Elyse (Forkosh) Cutler, their spouses, seven grandchildren and first husband Harold Hirshman. She was preceded in death by husband David Forkosh and sister Judy Collen.
Graveside funeral services have already taken place Nov. 3 at Shalom Memorial Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois. A New York City-based celebration of life will happen at a later date. Details to be announced.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers or other remembrances, people should honor her lifelong love of the opera and make a donation to New York City's Metropolitan Opera www.metopera.org/support/make-a-gift/commemorative-gifts/ or by mail c/o Kendall Hubert, The Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center, New York, NY 10023.