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Loyola remembers Janet Mary Riley, pioneer of women’s rights

July 11, 2008

Janet Mary Riley, A'36, L'52, holds the Adjutor Hominum Award presented to her at the annual Alumni Luncheon during reunion weekend in 2000.

Janet Mary Riley, Loyola University College of Law Professor Emerita, the first full-time female law professor in New Orleans and seventh in the nation, died Saturday of pancreatic cancer at Chateau de Notre Dame nursing home. She was 92.

Riley received her undergraduate degree in 1936 from Ursuline College, then an affiliate of Loyola University. In 1941, she began work as a librarian at Loyola. She left Loyola in 1943 to serve as a librarian at area military posts. Two years later, she returned to Loyola as a law librarian and began taking law courses part-time to familiarize herself with the language and literature of law. She earned her Juris Doctorate in 1952 and a Master of Law in 1960 from the University of Virginia.

During her tenure as a law professor, she wrote the first casebook on Louisiana Community Property Law and served as a Louisiana Law Institute reporter where she revised Louisiana community property laws that deemed the husband “head and master of the community.” Riley was instrumental in convincing the legislature to adopt the concept of equal management.

In 2005, Loyola’s College of Law gave Riley an honorary doctorate, and in 2004, she was the recipient of the St. Ives Award, named after the patron saint of lawyers. This award is presented annually to a Loyola College of Law 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 2000, Riley also received the Adjutor Hominum award, presented annually to an outstanding alumnus of the university whose life exemplifies those characteristics which Loyola seeks to form in graduates, namely moral character, service to humanity and unquestionable integrity.

College of Law professor, Kathyrn Lorio, a close friend and student of Riley’s says, “In her quiet, humble and unassuming way, this lady managed to promote the interests of women significantly, both as a role model, and as a proponent of legislation providing equal protection.”

The Janet Mary Riley Distinguished Professorship was established in 2002 when Riley and other law faculty members donated funds to establish the professorship. Riley retired from the university in 1986, but still taught seminars and courses as an adjunct professor until 1997.

Survivors include nieces and nephews. Burial will be private. A memorial mass will be held at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church, located at 3368 Esplanade Avenue, on Friday, August 22. The time has not yet been announced. Following the memorial mass, there will be a memorial service at the College of Law in room 405. Professor Lorio will give the eulogy.

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