Judge Aleta Trauger Opened Doors for Women in Law

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Aleta A. Trauger earned a reputation as a tough prosecutor after convicting a former Tennessee governor during her stint at the U.S. attorney’s office. The 1981 case, which dealt with selling liquor licenses to political friends, gave her credibility in a male-dominated space.

“It really set me up as a woman who was tough and could do litigation,” said Judge Trauger, who serves in the Middle District of Tennessee.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, a new video profile explores Trauger’s unlikely journey from a literary scholar to a trailblazer for women’s advancement in the law.

“My mother was a legal secretary my whole life, but I never thought of being a lawyer,” Trauger said. “It just never occurred to me. And so, I became a teacher.”

After several years of teaching, Trauger enrolled at Vanderbilt University Law School in 1973, when women made up an increasing, yet small percentage of law school admissions.

“I entered law school really on a lark … I’d done better on the LSAT than I thought I would do, but I didn’t know that I could do it,” Trauger said.

She recounted how female students shared a single restroom at the law school building. In protest, Trauger and other female students commandeered one of the larger and more centrally located men’s restrooms until the administration yielded and designated it as an additional women’s restroom.

Passionate about opening doors for future generations of women, Trauger helped form the Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women as a tool to help connect women lawyers and equip them with the knowledge of how to become a judge.

“I’ve been on the district court bench 25 years, and I remember in the early days, I would just be so thrilled when, if by chance in a lawsuit, I had women on both sides of the case because it was kind of unusual,” Trauger said. “And now of course, it’s just commonplace and it’s very gratifying. And I think it’s important that we tell our stories, however, and not take it all for granted.”

Before becoming the first female district judge in the Middle District of Tennessee in 1998, Trauger served as a U.S. bankruptcy judge and an assistant U.S. attorney in the district.

Learn about women judges in the federal Judiciary and other Women’s History Month resources.

Related Topics: Judicial History

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