For decades, Sybil Shainwald ’76 has earned well-deserved recognition for her career as a global women’s health advocate. Now, the NYLS Trustee and distinguished alumna can add another feather to her cap: an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from William & Mary.
Shainwald earned her bachelor’s degree from William & Mary in 1948, graduating at the top of her class. She would go on to become a fierce litigator and a champion for women’s reproductive rights globally, representing thousands of women and children harmed by defective drugs and medical devices.
Her extraordinary career of more than four decades was featured in a William & Mary video tribute. In it, Davison Douglas, William & Mary’s dean, reflected, “When the history of women’s health in the second half of the 20th Century is written, Sybil Shainwald will be right in the middle of that history.”
Shainwald was also part of the video feature. “It’s about what you can do for equality and social justice and to make the world a better place,” she said, “so I hope I’ve helped some people along the way.”
Watch the Video
View William & Mary’s tribute to Sybil Shainwald ’76:
A Legacy of Advancing Women’s Rights
Shainwald attended NYLS as an evening student in her 40s, deftly balancing her legal studies with parenthood and leadership of a consumer advocacy center. After graduating in 1976, she launched her career as a zealous and effective legal advocate for women and children.
She achieved the nation’s first victory on behalf of women whose mothers had taken the drug DES during pregnancy and filed a class action that resulted in the establishment of an emergency fund for “DES daughters.” She also brought the initial cases for the lactation suppressant Parlodel and the pregnancy screening test Chorionic Villus Sampling; represented 2,000 women against the maker of a harmful intrauterine contraceptive device; and established a $25-million fund for women injured by faulty breast implants.
In addition, Shainwald was instrumental in expanding the statute of limitations for latent injuries in New York. Her efforts enabled compensation for thousands of women and their children whose injuries had previously been ignored. She has held many leadership roles related to health advocacy, testified before Congress, and produced influential writing on crucial women’s health issues.
Shainwald has received numerous honors during her accomplished career, including from NYLS. In 2000, the School awarded her an honorary LL.D. degree at Commencement. In 2007, Shainwald received the President’s Medal, given to NYLS’s most outstanding and accomplished alumni. In 2017, NYLS honored Shainwald at its gala, themed “Groundbreaking Women in the Law,” for her lifetime of championing women’s reproductive rights.