Collection Spotlight: Janet Mary Riley Papers
Janet Mary Riley is pictured on the top row, at left.
This photograph, along with over 6,700 others, is part of the Loyola University Photographs Collection which is available to view online through the Louisiana Digital Library.
Janet Mary Riley was the first woman to hold a full-time law school faculty position in New Orleans and is credited with helping to change Louisiana law to make women equal partners in their marriages. Janet Mary Riley was born in New Orleans in 1915. She earned her B.A., cum laude, from Loyola University New Orleans in 1936. After a short time teaching in public schools, Riley earned her B.S. in Library Science from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She returned to New Orleans as an assistant in the circulation department of the New Orleans Public Library and later as an assistant librarian at Loyola University. In 1943, during World War II, Riley left Loyola to serve as Post Librarian at Camp Plauche and LaGarde General Hospital, both in New Orleans.
After the war, Riley returned to Loyola to work as a law librarian and, in an effort to become familiar with the language and literature of law, began taking courses at the law school. This led to her work as a substitute law instructor. In 1952, Riley graduated third in a class of 28 from Loyola Law School. In 1956, she was hired as the first full-time female law professor in New Orleans and the seventh in the United States. At the age of 43, in 1960, she earned an L.L.M. from the University of Virginia. In 1971, after teaching for 15 years, she achieved the rank of Professor of Law. Riley retired in 1986, but continued to teach seminars until 1997.
During her tenure as a law professor, Riley wrote the first casebook on Louisiana community property law, Louisiana Community Property – Cases and Materials on Louisiana Property Law and Marriage, which was published in 1972. The following year, the Louisiana State Law Institute appointed Riley to lead a committee to draft proposed revisions to the Louisiana Civil Code on matrimonial regimes, community property and all Louisiana legislation which unreasonably discriminated on the basis of sex. Until then, Louisiana’s community property laws made the husband “head and master of the community” and thus granted him total control of his wife’s assets. Riley’s proposed “equal management” approach to the community, which let either spouse manage the property of the marriage, was adopted by the Louisiana legislature in 1978 and formally incorporated into the Civil Code in 1980.
In addition to her efforts on behalf of women, Riley worked to eliminate racial discrimination. She was a member of the Commission on Human Rights of the Catholic Committee of the South, which assisted in the implementation of the New Orleans Archbishop’s 1953 order forbidding any further racial segregation in Catholic Churches. She was a member of the Community Relations Council, a bi-racial group in New Orleans, which worked toward the integration of playgrounds, restaurants and other public spaces.
Riley was an attorney of record and wrote the Petitioners’ Brief in Lombard v. Louisiana, a pivotal sit-in case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1960s. In that case, four students, three of whom were black and one of whom was white, were arrested and convicted of trespassing after refusing to leave a New Orleans lunch counter reserved for whites only. The state court upheld the convictions, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and held that the Louisiana decision enforced racial discrimination and therefore could not stand.
Riley was a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Way, a secular organization of employed unmarried women that followed the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, taking vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, and striving to find a balance between worship of God and life in the world.
In 2000, Riley received the Adjutor Hominum award, presented annually to an outstanding alumnus of Loyola whose life exemplifies moral character, service to humanity and unquestionable integrity. Two years later, the Janet Mary Riley Distinguished Professorship was established. In 2004, Riley received the St. Ives Award, presented annually to a Loyola Law School graduate who has volunteered services to the law school or the university, maintained the highest standards of the profession, and furthered the mission of the alumni association. In 2005, Loyola Law School gave Riley an honorary doctorate. She died in 2008 at the age of 92.
The arrangement of this collection is alphabetical and based on Janet Mary Riley’s own organization. The collection spans from 1934 until 1991, with the bulk spanning from 1965 until 1979.
The Papers primarily reflect Riley’s academic career, including documents on the courses she taught: Community Property, Canon Law, Constitutional Law, Donations, First Amendment, Insurance Law, Juvenile Law, Legal Bibliography, Obligations, Persons, Successions, and Trusts and Estates. Also included are papers reflecting Riley’s vast university service on the Curriculum Committee, Faculty Council, Faculty Handbook Negotiating Committee, Institutional Self-Study / Steering Committee, Loyola Law Review, Rank and Tenure Committee, Student Petitions Committee for Admissions and Readmissions, St. Thomas More Law Club and the University Senate.
Papers on academic conferences, association affiliations, articles authored by Riley, awards and honors received by her, general correspondence and faculty meeting minutes and memorandums can be found within the collection.
A significant portion is dedicated to her efforts with the Louisiana State Law Institute to revise antiquated community property laws contained in the Civil Code. The collection includes materials and drafts of her book, Louisiana Community Property – Cases and Materials on Louisiana Property Law and Marriage. A copy of this book can be found in Special Collections, Monroe Library, Loyola University (KFL 97 .R5 1972).
Riley’s work on outside cases, issues and organizations is represented but is a small minority of the collection. These include federal contempt proceedings, divorce law, the Equal Rights Amendment, Equal Credit Opportunity Law, family law, First Amendment rights, juvenile justice, the League of Women Voters, the Louisiana Library Association, and the Louisiana State Bar Association Admissions Advisory Committee.
To view an oral history video of Janet Mary Riley, visit the Louisiana Bar Foundation’s website.
Special Collections & Archives, located on the third floor of Monroe Library, is open for research and quiet study Monday-Friday, 9:00-4:30.
Found in the Archives is a recurring series of crazy cool stuff found in the Monroe Library’s Special Collections & Archives.