Retired Judge Phyllis Beck never asked for anyone's opinion when she decided, in the mid-1960s, to attend Temple law school while raising four children.
Nonetheless, plenty of people, including total strangers, told her just what they thought — and it wasn't exactly positive.
"They said my children would grow up to be in the gutter because I wasn't home making chicken soup," said Beck during an interview at her Center City office at the nonprofit Independence Foundation, which she now chairs. "People would just come up to me at parties and blast me."
Beck recalled being just one of four women out of more than 100 in her 1967 graduating class at Temple law. But the Bronx, N.Y. native — who moved to the area with her husband, Dr. Aaron T. Beck, the renowned founder of Cognitive Therapy and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania — persevered, juggling her dual roles as mother and law student. Later, as a commercial litigator, Beck recalled that she was often the only female lawyer in the room.
In 1981 — after Beck spent several years in the administration at Penn's law school — she was the first woman appointed to serve as a judge on Pennsylvania's Superior Court. In 1983, voters elected Beck to serve a full-term at the appellate level court, and she remained on the bench until 2006.
And, for the record, she's also a very proud mother.
In fact, her youngest daughter — the only of her four children to become an attorney — 49-year-old Alice Beck Dubow, has followed her mother's footsteps to the bench.
In August, after winning both the Democratic and Republican primaries, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell appointed Beck Dubow to fill a vacancy at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, a trial-level court. In November, voters selected Beck Dubow — and three other new judges — to serve a 10-year term on the Philadelphia-based court.
'Do Something Different'
Now, mother and daughter can both be addressed as "your honor." While that appears to be a rarity in this state, it is a phenomenon that has become more common nationwide, according to Drucilla Stender Ramey, executive director of the National Association of Women Judges.
"It might not be as common as a father-son kind of thing, but it's happening more and more as we are coming into a new generation of judges," said Ramey. She added that it was impossible to quantify the number of mother-daughter duos, but said examples exist in many major cities.
Beck Dubow said that, while she never pressured her to go into law or seek the gavel, her mother's influence as a role model cannot be overstated.
"What I got from her was the ability to go out and do something different, and not conform to what people are telling you," said Beck Dubow, a 1983 graduate of Penn law. Before running for judge, she had worked as an attorney for Drexel University.
"She showed me how to be a strong woman in a male-dominated profession. I've seen it by example," said the mother of a 19-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. She's married to Rob Dubow, Philadelphia's new finance director.
Beck Dubow, a member of Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill, serves at the Family Court on Vine Street, where she hears cases related to children of neglectful or abusive parents.
"To me, being a judge is sort of the ultimate job in being able to do public service and really being able to help people who need help," she said.
In addition to other activities, the elder Beck is an attorney for the Barnes Foundation, which is involved in a legal battle over whether its plans to relocate from Merion Station to Center City violates the will of its founder, Albert C. Barnes. (She said to expect the move to be complete by 2010.)
Beck actually ran her daughter's campaign, something she couldn't have done without stepping down from the bench.
Oddly enough, for the past 20 years, Beck has advocated for replacing judicial elections with merit selection. A concern is that candidates inevitably solicit donations from lawyers and firms that might one day argue a case before them.
"In terms of the public perception, poll after poll indicates that people really think that justice can be bought," said Beck.
Beck Dubow, who noted that the current method has its flaws, added that in a system in which judges are appointed, her name might never have come up.
She said that the laborious process of running a public campaign demands a great deal of commitment: "You end up getting people on the bench who really want to be judges because you really have to work hard."