Levin College of Law

Rebecca Bowles Hawkins

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Rebecca Bowles Hawkins 1910-2000

Class of 1935

Became first female Assistant Attorney General in Florida in 1948 and headed office’s opinions division (1969-1976); full-time Research Assistant for Florida Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts; served as President of Florida (1954-1955) and National Association of Women Lawyers (1960-1961); named 1997 UF Alumnae of Outstanding Achievement.

When Rebecca Bowles Hawkins began her 1L year at UF Law in 1932 the legal profession was, to put it mildly, dominated by men. During her criminal law course, Hawkins recalled being excused from class the day the professor lectured about the legal theory of rape. “It would have been embarrassing for me as well as embarrassing for the students,” she explained in a 1994 interview.

Hawkins was the only woman in the class, and the male students “just sort of accepted me,” she said. Figuring she had to set an example as one of the few women admitted to the law school – and 15 years before women were enrolled as University of Florida undergraduates – Hawkins studied hard.

“I was second in the class,” she said. “I felt as though it was incumbent upon me to make a very good showing since I was entering a field that was unusual for women.”

Hawkins continued to set an example as she launched a career blazing paths for women in Florida’s legal profession. Hawkins rose to become the first assistant attorney general of Florida. She argued criminal cases before the state Supreme Court and later served as the long-time chief of the Attorney General Office’s Opinions Division. As assistant to Justice B.K. Roberts (JD 28), she was also the first full-time researcher employed by the Florida Supreme Court.

Hawkins was born in Big Sandy, Tenn., and moved to Hastings, Fla., when she was 10. She described an idyllic childhood where her father owned a general store and loved to go to the beach and fish while her mother was a homemaker.

Hawkins struggled in a small Bradenton law firm right out of college where she made so little money that her parents continued to support her. She switched over to secretarial work for a salary boost. Hawkins moved to Washington, D.C., was married and then divorced after the war. Her son Jonathan Marks came back with her to Florida, and she soon moved to Tallahassee and went to work in the Florida Attorney General’s office. In 1948, Attorney General J. Tom Watson appointed her a full assistant attorney general.

Hawkins led other women in the legal profession as president of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, which was followed by a term as president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. She also served as a member of the National Bar Association House of Delegates.

In 1994, Hawkins endowed a $50,000 scholarship fund for women attending UF Law. The Ernest B. and Estelle Pierce Bowles Memorial Scholarship honors her parents, the people who believed “(I) could do anything I wanted to do.”

Published: June 27th, 2014

Category: Alumni

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