Marjorie Mazen Smith
Marjorie Mazen Smith called herself a "Jack of all Trades" at WRP, given her willingness to work on any case in which she was needed. After all, she had a varied background prior to joining the Project, having worked at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, the Council on Economic Priorities, and New York City's Legal Aid Society. Smith joined WRP in late 1976, and she stayed for what she calls a "concentrated, good experience" for sixteen months before leaving in 1978.
Smith's two major cases challenged gender restrictions in the U.S. Navy. In 1977, in Beeman v. Middendorf, WRP successfully challenged a rule barring women in the customs service from working aboard navy ships. One year later, in Owens
v. Brown, Smith challenged a similar ban that excluded all women from working on navy vessels in any capacity. Ruth Bader Ginsburg oversaw her work as general counsel, and Smith recalls the experience of working with the Project's founder: "You knew you were working with someone who was a cut above everyone else," she says fondly. The two received a summary judgment in their favor from District Court Judge Sirica in Owens.
Smith describes Ginsburg as a fine intellect, who was always very professional, if not entirely gregarious. It's not that she was ever rude or insensitive, Smith hastens to say, but Ginsburg always seemed a bit shy, a bit reserved in her presence. Yet when Smith wrote to congratulate the newly appointed Supreme Court justice in 1993, Ginsburg thanked her in writing and included the line, "Recent press reports about the Navy recalled for me the great job you did before Judge Sirica." Smith was surprised and flattered to hear the praise of her work recalled so many years later. She had the letter framed and keeps it to this day.
Though Smith was very disheartened when New York voted down the Equal Rights Amendment, she felt that "things were going in a positive direction at WRP." She describes only successes from her time at WRP and speaks highly of her coworkers, Susan Deller Ross, Jill Goodman, and Isabelle Pinzler, for their hard work and dedication. In particular, she expresses admiration of Ross's deep commitment to women's rights.
Smith, on the other hand, was offered a position as Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in 1978. It seemed like a good opportunity at the time, and so she left WRP for her new role. In retrospect, Smith reflects that "I'm not sure if I would do that over again," as she found her work at WRP to be more satisfying.
Today, Smith is an assistant professor at Brooklyn Law School and Assistant Director of the Second Look Program Clinic in charge of prisoner assistance. She describes herself as "a general citizen in the area" of women's rights. Smith warns women not to sink back into a dependent role in society. In her view, "everyone should be a full participant."