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"Sweet revenge" brings former professor, student together


April 28, 2021
ALTON — Alton resident and retired attorney Ruth Larson spoke to members of the Alton Centennial Rotary Club via Zoom as the club's Guest Speaker last Thursday.

She talked about why and how she became a lawyer, and her life-long dedication to the rights of women and minorities. It all began when she was a student at Antioch College, a private liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Antioch, in her description was "a very liberal college" with a work study program, under which students took semesters off to work on jobs throughout the country, and no grades, just a pass-fail system. Ruth spent her junior year abroad, in Kenya in East Africa.

Not long afterwards, with graduation approaching, Larson decided to go to law school and become a lawyer. Look out, Perry Mason! But that was easier said than done, as getting into law school was quite a challenge. The lack of grades at Antioch meant that she had no standard college transcript to use to evaluate her. She finally got on a waiting list for Rutgers Law School, and then every few weeks had to keep reaffirming her interest in attending despite the school's warning that her chances were slim and maybe she should make other career plans.

While still hoping for the unlikely dream, Larson continued at her job as a paralegal at the Public Defenders' Office. Sure enough, days before classes were to start, the phone call came in. "You have been accepted." Her excitement quickly turned to doubt, thinking maybe she heard it wrong, so she called back for confirmation. She was in.

According to Larson, her unconventional college background combined with her difficulty in getting into law school to make her worry that maybe she was not up to the challenge of law school. That concern made her work extra hard, which paid off in good grades and admission to law review. In the end, she only received one bad grade in law school, in a course entitled "Creditors' Rights."

As Larson said, "Anyone familiar with my politics would know I would have been much better suited to a course on Debtors' Rights."

In spite of the lousy grade, given to her by a Professor Taylor, she graduated with high honors, third in her class, and went on to pass the bar exam and practice law.

Larson described law school as a period of solidarity for the women students, and that camaraderie persisted into the practice of law, where women were still a small minority having to fight for their rights and deal with the sexist attitudes of male lawyers and judges. Ruth's career was spent doing civil litigation, mainly on the defense side, meaning, in her words "representing bad drivers and people whose dogs bit someone." As time went on, more and more women entered the legal profession, and things started changing. Twenty years later, she remembers the first time she had a jury trial in which her adversary was a woman, and the judge was also a woman, a sea change from what went before.

About 30 years after receiving the bad grade, Larson crossed paths with Professor Taylor again. No longer Professor Taylor, now Hunter Taylor. Here was Larson's chance for revenge, sweet revenge, which she got … by marrying him. They are now happily retired and living in Alton, where Hunter is an active member of the Rotary Centennial Rotary Club.

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