Best known for her work in women’s rights (particularly women’s naming rights), employment and discrimination law, Priscilla Ruth MacDougall initially made the choice between law and journalism. Her father, Curtis D. MacDougall, was a nationally eminent author and professor of journalism at Northwestern University, as well as a social activist, and her mother, Genevieve Rockwood MacDougall, who was initially a print journalist, was an award-winning middle school English teacher in Winnetka, Illinois, and founder of the middle school program at the Center for American Archaeology in Kampsville, Illinois. One of her brothers was a journalist and professor of journalism, and the other a lawyer. From her earliest years, Ms. MacDougall’s aim in life was to make the world a better place, consistent with her family’s progressive activism.
Ms. MacDougall worked as a copier, librarian and writer with the New York Herald Tribune, now the International Tribune, when she lived in Paris between 1965 and 1967; she chose the law. Inspired by Clarence Darrow, Thurgood Marshall and Abraham Lincoln, Ms. MacDougall knew that she could use the law for good things.
Ms. MacDougall’s first year out of law school from the University of Michigan in 1970, and being admitted to the Wisconsin and Illinois Bars, was spent working in environmental law as an Assistant Attorney General of Wisconsin. Her work included litigation respecting Native American treaties and eminent domain. Ms. MacDougall thought for a while that she might be into the Native Americans’ cause, but ultimately the women’s movement became her passion.
Ms. MacDougall remained with the Office of the Attorney General until 1974. In 1972, she taught Women and Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Additionally, in 1974 and 1975, she taught the course at the University of Wisconsin’s Green Bay and Oshkosh campus. In 1975, she became staff/legal counsel to the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a position she held until retiring in August 2014. Ms. MacDougall joined the adjunct faculty of Columbia College Chicago in 1988, teaching the courses Law and Society and Women and Law there until 2013.
Between 1972 and 1989, Ms. MacDougall litigated, wrote, and lectured about women’s and children’s names across the country. Her first article, “Married Women’s Common Law Right to Their Own Surname,” was published in the fall of 1972/73 issue of the Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey’s “Women’s Rights Law Reporter.” Ms. MacDougall’s last article, “The Right of Women to Name Their Children,” appeared in the 1985 issue of the University of Minnesota Journal “Law and Inequality.” Among numerous other publications, she was the co-author of the “Booklet for Women Who Wish to Determine Their Own Names After Marriage” in 1974 and a supplement thereto in 1975.
Prior to the start of her career, Ms. MacDougall pursued a formal education, after graduating from Evanston Township High School in Illinois in 1961, at the University of Wisconsin between 1961 and 1962, and at Barnard College in New York, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1965. She then attended the University of Paris, Sorbonne, where she received a postgraduate degree, with honors, in 1967 and the Alliance Francaise, from where she earned two degrees. After spending one year at Chicago-Kent College of Law in Chicago, Ms. MacDougall attended the University of Michigan Law School, from which she earned a JD in 1970. At Michigan, she was an editor on the Journal of Law Reform, then named Prospectus.
Ms. MacDougall co-founded and chaired the section on individual rights and responsibilities of the Wisconsin State Bar from 1973 to 1975 and from 1978 to 1979. She also co-founded the Legal Association for Women in Wisconsin in Madison. In light of her many accomplishments and contributions to women’s legal rights, Ms. MacDougall received the Medal of Honor from the Veteran Feminists of America in 2008. She was also selected for inclusion in several editions of Who’s Who in American Law, Who’s Who in the Midwest, Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in America.
Ms. MacDougall has had many highlights in her career. Notably, she was an accomplished musician, studying piano with Rudolph Ganz at the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University in Chicago, and with Joseph Bloch at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Ms. MacDougall received numerous awards for violin and piano while in high school, and played violin in the Beloit Janesville Wisconsin Symphony for 22 years between 1979 and 2001.
Another highlight of Ms. MacDougall’s career was her organizing the women at the University of Michigan Law School and bringing the first EEOC charge versus a law firm for employment recruitment discrimination. The recruiter had come to the university and said it would not hire women. It was a major event, and was recently written up by the current women at the law school. Indeed, the last thing Ms. MacDougall did before knee surgery in 2016 was to send off the piles of court filings, news articles and the like to the Michigan law graduate writing it all up.
Ms. MacDougall is widowed. Her late husband, Les Brownlee (full name Lester Harrison Pierce MacDougall Brownlee) wrote “Les Brownlee: the Autobiography of a Pioneering African American Journalist.” It tells the story of the police practices in Evanston in the 1920s and 1930s; World War II combat; his work as a TV and print reporter; his role as founder of and professor at the Department of Journalism at Columbia College Chicago; and his and Ms. MacDougall’s epic romance. In being asked the people who inspired her throughout her life, she mentions Rudolph Ganz, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Robert Sedler, June Miller Weisberger and her late husband Les Brownlee.