When Two Stories Intertwine

EMBA graduate pens biography of Supreme Court advocate

By Rita Buettner

When Marlene Trestman first met Bessie Margolin, she didn’t fully understand how the Supreme Court advocate was breaking new ground for women in the legal field. Trestman was a student at Goucher College who had graduated from Margolin’s alma mater, the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans.


Bessie Margolin

Both women had both been orphaned as children. Margolin had been raised in the Jewish Orphans’ Home, while Trestman had been under the care of what the home evolved into, the Jewish Children’s Regional Service there.

As Trestman was preparing to begin at Goucher, her college counselor offered to write a letter of introduction to Margolin since she was living in D.C., not far from Goucher’s campus in Towson.

“I knew she was a real legend. I didn’t really know what she had done,” said Trestman, who earned her MBA through Loyola’s Executive Master’s of Business Administration program in 2009 and teaches at Loyola as an affiliate faculty of law and social responsibility. “Over the next seven years of college and law school, she would take me to lunch, and we would talk on the phone. ‘Mentor’ doesn’t quite do it. I really think it was a personal connection. I was still this little girl from New Orleans that she saw in herself.”

They stayed friends and mentors for years until they lost touch. When Trestman was about to be admitted to practice law at the Supreme Court, she tried to reconnect and learned Margolin was unwell and not able to attend. After Margolin’s death in 1996, Trestman became even more curious about Margolin’s contributions.

Her research led her to decide to write a book, Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin, published March 1, 2016.trestmanbook

In the book, Trestman tells the story of Margolin, a woman attorney who started her career in the 1930s, defended the constitutionality of the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority, drafted rules to establish the American military tribunals for Nazi war crimes in Nuremberg, was instrumental in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Equal Pay Act, and was a founding member of the National Organization for Women.

Trestman started working on the book even before she began Loyola’s EMBA program.

“I remember in one of our warm-up sessions, we had to tell people things they wouldn’t know about you. I don’t think I used the ‘b’ word because to say I was writing a book sounded so crazy,” she said. And while pursuing her EMBA, working on the book was on hold.

But Trestman, who had been working in the attorney general’s office since 1982 at the time, felt strongly that she should enhance her skills and take the time to earn her MBA. “I wanted to have a working knowledge of a balance statement. And then I thought that in a future career I might want to focus on nonprofit management. Loyola was quite welcoming. Everything about it suited what I needed. The Friday-Saturday schedule worked for me. It was a win-win.”

After Trestman received her degree and was invited to teach a course called The Legal and Regulatory Environment of Business in the law and social responsibility department, she included Margolin’s photo as her Blackboard image—“so every student that has ever had me has seen this picture on my Blackboard.”

When she finished teaching a course students would say, “Please let me know when your book is coming out,” Trestman said. “It kept me on task.”


Marlene Trestman

Now that her book has been published and she is giving interviews on PBS and  Susan Larson’s “A Reading Life” on National Public Radio, Trestman is realizing she is using her MBA more than ever to market her work.

“When you put a book proposal together, almost a quarter of it is how you’re going to market the book,” Trestman said. “I really feel Loyola played a big part in it.”

She has even received a grant from the American Jewish Archives toward her second book, a collective biography on the history of the Jewish Orphans’ Home. But her main focus right now is spreading the word about Fair Labor Lawyer.

“My goal,” she said, “is to have Bessie’s story known.”

To see where Marlene Trestman will be making appearances, speaking, and signing her books, visit her website.

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