The Philbrook Celebration began in 1986, as the successor event to the Rutgers Women’s Law Caucus’ networking dinner. The Rutgers Women’s Law Caucus was founded in the 1970s to advocate for equal treatment for women in the legal profession and in society, educate its members and the law school community about legal issues affecting women’s lives, and provide opportunities for women law students, faculty, attorneys and judges to network with each other. In 1986, at the suggestion of Professor Ann Freedman, its faculty advisor, the Women’s Law Caucus joined with other law school student organizations, interested faculty and alumni to re-invent the WLC’s annual gathering of students, faculty and alumni as the Mary Philbrook Public Interest Award Celebration. Professor Robert F. Williams suggested naming the award after Mary Philbrook because of her path-breaking achievements as New Jersey’s first woman lawyer, her role in obtaining the equal rights provision of the 1947 New Jersey state constitution, and her outstanding career as an advocate for social justice and equality. Val Myntti, ’87, the chairperson of the original Philbrook Celebration, and the Honorable Betty J. Lester, of the Superior Court, Essex County, New Jersey, the first Philbrook honoree, helped us start the enjoyable Philbrook tradition of combining a wonderful social occasion with inspiring reflections on a life and career shaped by dedication to the public interest. Linda J. Wharton, ’81 (also our 1992 Philbrook honoree), and Dean Angela V. Baker, ’85, are members of the first Philbrook organizing committee who continue to be involved today.
In 1998, when Professor Louis S. Rulli, ’74, was the Philbrook honoree, the law school’s Alumni Association became a co-sponsor of the event with the Women’s Law Caucus. The next year, at the suggestion of Professors Rulli and Freedman, the event sponsors inaugurated the Mary Philbrook Student Public Interest Awards, which have allowed the law school community to recognize dozens of outstanding students for their dedicated work on behalf of social justice and equality. In 2000, the Association for Public Interest Law joined the Women’s Law Caucus and the Alumni Association as a co-sponsor of the program, helping to take the event to another level. In 2005, the Camden County Bar Association became the event’s fourth official sponsor, and Professor Freedman was honored for her role in promoting the spirit of Mary Philbrook in the Rutgers Law School community and for her ongoing leadership in creating each year’s celebration.
From 1986 to the present, the Mary Philbrook Award Celebration has benefited from outstanding leadership on the part of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of the bench and bar. While their names are too numerous to list, we want to express our heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has helped create the distinctive tradition which has now continued for a quarter of a century.
Over the years, Lisa Alston, Diana Avella, Jay Cholera, Linda Comuso, Christen Conway, Kate Cranston, Susan Doughty, Rob Goodman, Theresa McCuen, Colleen McNally, Pam Mertsock-Wolfe, Teresa Moffett, Zaharati Morfesis, Donna Rabena, Jane W. Rhodes and Carol Shaner have provided staff support above and beyond the call of duty. The Campus Center staff, Dining, Events Office, Facilities, Rutgers Camden IT, and Media Relations Departments have provided expert and invaluable assistance. Associate Chancellor Mary Beth Daisey, the Honorable Jack Sabatino, Deans Victoria Chase and Angela V. Baker, and Professor John Beckerman have assumed critical leadership roles and helped mentor the students involved in creating the event. Former Assistant Dean Eve Biskin Klothen played an important role in embedding the Philbrook celebration in the law school’s culture, expanding the event’s support for student public interest work and strengthening ties with the legal community. Special thanks are due to the outstanding honorees who have graced us with their presence and inspired us by their work, as well as to Chancellor Phoebe Haddon, former Chancellor Wendell Pritchett and former Deans John Pittenger, Rick Singer, Paul Robinson, Roger Dennis (also our former Provost), Jay Feinman, Rayman Solomon (another former Provost) and our current Dean John Oberdiek, who have always provided generous support, financial and otherwise, to make this event possible.