Marygold Melli, Voss Bascom Professor of Law Emerita at the University of Wisconsin Law School, adds two recent honors to a trove of professional accolades: the American Bar Association has named Melli a recipient of its annual Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, and the Law School organized a workshop held last April to celebrate her life’s work.
Melli received the Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award at the annual ABA meeting last August. Named for the first female attorney in the United States, the annual award recognizes five women who excel in the legal field and have paved the way to success for other women
lawyers. Previous winners range from small-firm practitioners to U.S. Supreme Court associate justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Nine years after earning her law degree at UW Law School in 1950, Melli became the first woman appointed to a tenure-track position at the Law School, and only the fourteenth tenure-track female law professor in the nation.
Melli pursued her interest in family law early on, in spite of being warned “there was no law in it,” and went on to shape both pedagogy and policy, particularly in the areas of child support and shared child custody. She laid the groundwork for the Law School’s family-law concentration, adding a wide range of courses to the original two-credit “domestic relations” offering.
Her scholarship led to innovations in the law and practice of child custody and shared-parenting cases. When the federal government mandated that states adopt child-support guidelines, for example, Melli’s work on child-support reform in Wisconsin served as a national model.
Throughout her career, lawyers and academics have called Melli their mentor. In 1994, the Legal Association for Women established an annual award in Melli’s name to celebrate her leadership in the profession and to honor her scholarship, service, and teaching.
Last April, the Law School and the Institute for Legal Studies jointly sponsored a workshop in Melli’s honor, Making and Teaching “Real” Family Law: A Celebration of the Scholarship and Service of Professor Margo Melli. The workshop featured presentations by family-law scholars from around the country.
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of these honors,” says UW Law School Dean Margaret Raymond. “Professor Melli led the way for so many women in the legal profession, myself among them.”
— Tammy Kempfert