Clara Backus Floyd Gehan
In 1933 Clara Backus Floyd Gehan was the first woman to graduate from the University of Florida College of Law. She continued her accomplishment by practicing law, dedicating her life to public service and serving as a dedicated member to her lifelong Gainesville community.
After earning her bachelor’s degree from Brenau College, Gehan returned home to teach Latin at Gainesville High School. However, she had her sights set on continuing her education. At the time, women were not allowed to attend the University of Florida if the same courses were offered at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee. Women were also discouraged from attending UF College of Law, even though they were legally allowed. But after a chance encounter with a law professor and permission from a dean, Gehan decided to pursue a law degree at UF.
Gehan’s first day as a law student was a school-wide event. Two lines of male students formed in front of the building where Gehan was to enter for class. Despite the attention and discrimination, Gehan graduated with honors and was given the Harrison Award for the highest overall average.
The first legal position Gehan accepted in Jacksonville was initially unpaid. After a short time she returned to Gainesville to work at Baxter & Clayton for 10 years. In 1943, Gehan married Frederick Gehan, a UF graduate, and the two moved to Utah, where he was stationed during the war. During this time, Gehan gave birth to her only child, Julia, who also graduated from UF.
Gehan returned to Gainesville to practice law with two different firms before she set up her own practice in 1963, becoming the first woman lawyer locally. Her practice focused on real property and probate law, but her real mission was to assist the poor. Gehan’s commitment to community service was strongly influenced by her father, Dr. George Floyd of Hawthorne, the only doctor in his region in the early part of the 20th century who was dedicated to helping others.
According to Gehan, the most challenging and interesting work she ever pursued was with the Gainesville Advisory Bi-Racial Committee, which helped to desegregate local Gainesville businesses.
She was actively involved in the establishment of the Storefront Legal Aid Service, the predecessor to the Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc., a Gainesville legal clinic providing service for low-income residents. She was also instrumental in founding the Legal Aid and Defender Clinic at the College of Law in 1968.
In addition to holding the title as president and director of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, Gehan was involved in many community organizations and boards including the Junior League of Gainesville, Gainesville Women’s Club, League of Women’s Voters, Phi Mu Sorority, Phi Alpha Delta Legal Fraternity and Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Fraternity.
Gehan was received numerous awards, including the Gainesville Outstanding Woman Award, the Headline Award from the Women in Communication, Distinguished Alumna Award from Brenau College, Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Florida, The Florida Bar Pro Bono Award by the Supreme Court of Florida, and the Florida Supreme Court Pro Bono Publico Award.
In one final act of service, Gehan bequeathed the Floyd-Gehan Scholarship Fund for deserving Alachua County residents to attend the University of Florida College of Law. She is survived by many nieces and nephews.