People

Notable People

Ann Aldrich - U.S. Judge

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Ann Aldrich
Ann Aldrich

Ann Aldrich often said, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may actually be alive.”

Ann Aldrich watched her mother die in a hurricane, volunteered to rebuild rail lines in Yugoslavia after World War II, made environmental and demographic breakthroughs, and became the first woman federal district judge in Ohio.

Aldrich paved the way for women lawyers. She handled many notable cases in thirty years on the bench. She tried local Catholic officials, an accused Nazi, a conscientious objector, the United Church of Christ v. F.C.C., a landmark civil rights case out of Jackson, Mississippi, and more. She always explained sentences and urged wrongdoers to find their potential for better things.

Anna Louise “Ann” Aldridge was born on June 28, 1927, in Providence, Rhode Island. The family had a summer home in Quonset, Rhode Island. When she was eleven years old, a hurricane destroyed the summer home and crushed her mother. Ann and her sister survived. Their father was away.

Her education began in Providence. Following her mother’s death, her father set her to Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine, and Barnard College. She went on to attend Columbia University, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1948. She next attended the New York University School of Law as the only full-time female student and graduated second in her class with an LL.B degree in 1950. The following year was spent at the Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Aldrich served as an attorney on the General Counsel’s Staff for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Federal Communications Commission, in Washington, D.C., from 1951 to 1952. She served as a research assistant for Professor Edmond Cahn of the New York University School of Law and for Arthur Vanderbilt of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1952 to 1953.

Aldrich was a civilian attorney at the Subic Bay Naval Station, Philippines, and tried cases for the U.S. Marines in Okinawa from 1954 to 1956. From there, she was general counsel’s staff for the Federal Communications Commission from 1953 to 1960.

Practicing privately in Darien, Connecticut, representing the United Church of Christ, she forced the FCC to make it easier for minorities to own radio stations in the South. The case broadened citizens’ power to sue federal agencies.

She went to Mississippi and persuaded civil rights leader Charles Evers to testify in his brother Medgar’s slaying.

Aldrich returned to New York University to earn an LL.M degree in 1964 and a Doctor of Juridical Science in 1967. She wrote a thesis about the law in outer space.

In 1968, Aldrich came to Cleveland to join the Cleveland-Marshall School of Law at Cleveland State University, taught one of the nation’s first environmental law classes, and became the first female professor to receive tenure at law school. With a colleague and student assistants, she won a lawsuit forcing local steel mills to use “scrubbers” to reduce pollution.

Surprised by an absence of minorities at the law school, she started a recruitment program for professors and students. She found promising people throughout the South. Aldrich mentored several future judges at Cleveland Marshall.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Aldrich to the United States District Court of the Northern District of Ohio and confirmed by the United States Senate on May 21, 1980. She was the first woman to serve on the federal district court in Ohio.

She retired on May 12, 1995, but continued to hear cases as a senior judge, despite years of heart, kidney, and other problems, until her death, making a total of thirty years as a judge. Her son, Martin, said that his mother disposed of 42 cases in her final three months, mainly at the Cleveland Clinic.

Judge Aldridge died on May 2, 2010, and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery. Four sons survived her. Ann lived abroad with her first husband, a CIA agent. They traveled around the world and raised two sons. Her next husband was a second cousin who shared her maiden surname, Aldrich. She kept that name during a third marriage that ended with her husband’s death.