Linda Hirshman: A woman of words, music and more


Linda Hirshman has been there – done that – and is still doing it!

Check out her resume: labor attorney, cultural historian, best-selling author, Ph.D., educator, activist … and pianist.

Her accomplishments to date are prodigious – and she continues to fill her days with new challenges – incorporated into a disciplined daily routine.

Linda splits her time almost equally between the Valley and New York City, with roots in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. That is where, in her early teens, she wrote a published letter to the editor of Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer about affairs of state in colonial Africa. “I was political at an early age,” she says, “always taking the side of the less powerful.”

Not surprising then, following graduation from Cornell, that she attended law school at the University of Chicago, only the second woman at that time to be invited to join a topnotch Chicago “white shoe” law firm. Although the work was interesting, she says, it wasn’t totally satisfying – “because what I was doing was getting the powerful to be more powerful.”

Linda segued to a law firm that focused on helping the disempowered and the unions. “I spent many happy years there,” she recalls. “The work was much more challenging. But when Reagan choked the unions and we were losing our battles, I was heartbroken … and changed course.”

She went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois and then moved with her husband and daughters to Waltham, MA, joining the faculty at Brandeis University as a member of the women’s studies department.

She stayed at Brandeis “until I got bored,” she says. At that point, when she was 59 years old, the family moved to Manhattan to an apartment near Lincoln Center. “It turns out,” she shares with a smile, “I wasn’t ready to retire – and again, I was bored!” For a time, she freelanced for The New York Times “and went to the theater.”

She already had written A Woman’s Guide to Law School, and her next project was Hard Bargains, dealing with marriage in the post-feminist era. This challenged women “to get a life before it’s too late.”

Linda at the piano.

“Having lived in an academic world, I was surprised by ‘the little woman syndrome,’ the phenomenon of white women making alliances with prominent men. Their men’s successes,” Linda says, “were their job, and it was understood that the crumbs from that table were richer than what a woman could make for herself. This situation still is not untypical.” Her premise proved to be wildly controversial, and she says she has gotten hate mail.

Widowed at age 67, Linda says that as time has passed, she is a different person, “always independent but with new strengths and pleasures.”  She finds comfort in the knowledge that “my husband would be very proud of me,” she says, adding, “Imagining him always is a cheerful thought.”

With a second home in the Valley since 1983, Linda is spending more time in Phoenix, “seeking out fellow Democrats through museum memberships, a great book club – contributing to a liberal intellectual community.”

Highly organized, she starts her day at the computer, drinking coffee, checking e-mails, reading, editing drafts of a current project “and eating an unlimited amount of junk food.”

To fulfill a longtime desire to play the piano, Linda has been taking lessons for some 20 years, starting out on a little used upright. “I didn’t want to wind up with an expensive coatrack,” she explains, but she since has invested in a baby grand – and practices an hour or two daily, making time as well to swim, go out with friends and entertain. “I’m a good cook,” she adds.

Reckoning is the title of her new book, and it addresses sexual abuse and harassment. “Most people think that the #MeToo movement started not long ago,” she says, “but in fact, feminism has been on the rise for years. This is not a sudden eruption, but a predictable outcome of the gathering of social forces.”

This renaissance woman defines herself as “a writer/story-teller,” focused on and mastering the art of telling stories of social changes in America. Reckoning surely fits that definition.

Linda smilingly refers to herself as “something of a Cassandra,” referring to the woman in Greek mythology who was cursed to utter prophesies that were true but that no one believed. “Seeing the future,” she says, “led to writing my books.”

Here is a partial list of Linda’s literary output:

A Woman’s Guide to Law School: Everything You Need to Know to Survive and Succeed in Law School – from Finding the Right School to Finding the Right Job

Hard Bargains: The Politics of Sex

Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World

Sisters-in-Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World (A play based on the book recently had a successful run at The Phoenix Theatre.)

Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution

Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment (Release date June 11, 2019)

 

 

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