Lila Fenwick ’56, the first black female graduate of Harvard Law, dies at 87

Lila Fenwick '56

Lila Fenwick, the first black woman to graduate from HLS, at the school’s Celebration of Black Alumni in 2000

Lila Fenwick admissions photo

Lila Fenwick’s Harvard Law School admission photo

Lila Fenwick ’56 was a student at Harvard Law School in 1954 when the Supreme Court decision in Brown v.  Board of Education came down. “I was delirious,” recalled Fenwick, one of only a handful of women students at HLS at the time and the only black woman among them. She went on to a career in the United Nations and in private practice. “I knew I was going to be a lawyer when I was a little girl,” she said. “It never occurred to me that there were going to be any obstacles.” With that determination, Fenwick, who died on April 4, helped tear down obstacles for generations of others.

“Lila Fenwick was an extraordinary leader who devoted her career at the United Nations to protecting the human rights of all people across the globe,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “Her leadership, humanity, and wisdom will be sorely missed.”

Read her obituary in The New York Times.