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Birdie Amsterdam

(1901 - 1996)

AMSTERDAM, BIRDIE (1901–1996), U.S. lawyer and judge. Amsterdam was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City into a first generation Jewish American family. She was the second of six children, all of whom pursued professional careers. A graduate of Hunter College High School at age 17, she studied accounting and banking at the City College of New York while waiting to reach the age for admission to law school. Amsterdam worked days and studied in the evening at New York University Law School; she was awarded a LLB in 1922 and admitted to the bar the following year. Amsterdam practiced law independently before forming a partnership with her brother-in-law, Milton Sanders. The firm of Amsterdam and Sanders was dissolved when Amsterdam became a judge. Amsterdam was called the "First Lady of the Judiciary" because of her prominence and her record of "firsts" as a woman in the legal profession. She was the first woman to sit on the Municipal Court in New York County, where she served from 1940 to 1954. She became the first woman judge of the City Court to which she was appointed in 1954. In 1955 she won a full term. In 1958 Amsterdam was elected to the New York State Supreme Court, again a first for a woman. Amsterdam served two terms on the State Supreme Court before retiring in 1975. She was approached in the course of her career to accept an Appellate Court appointment. She declined, preferring to remain a trial judge. Amsterdam received many honors. In 1960 Who's Who of American Women named her "Outstanding Woman of the Year in the Legal Field." A leader in the Democratic Party, she was often endorsed in elections by other parties, civic groups, and labor organizations. Active in numerous legal, religious, political, and charitable causes, she also encouraged aspiring women lawyers. She credited her experiences as a lifelong resident on the immigrant and poor Lower East Side with sensitizing her to social needs. Amsterdam's special concerns included slum clearance, medical care, summer camps for poor children, tuition assistance, and housing for the aged and handicapped.


Current Biography Yearbook (1940; obituary, 1996); New York Times (obituary, July 10, 1996); D. Thomas, Women Lawyers of the United States (1957).

[Libby White (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.