The Daily Northwestern

Political ‘trailblazer,’ prof emerita Netsch dies at 86

Former Northwestern University Law School Prof. Dawn Clark Netsch, who broke several glass ceilings for women in politics, died Wednesday at the age of 86.

Courtesy of University Relations

Former Northwestern University Law School Prof. Dawn Clark Netsch, who broke several glass ceilings for women in politics, died Wednesday at the age of 86.

Jillian Sandler, Campus Editor

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Northwestern School of Law professor emerita and prominent Illinois politician Dawn Clark Netsch died Wednesday morning at the age of 86.

Netsch is known for a number of firsts in the political community. She was the first woman elected to a state constitutional executive office in Illinois and became the highest ranking woman in Illinois government when she earned the title of state comptroller in 1990, according to a University news release published Wednesday.

Additionally, in 1994, Netsch became the first woman to run for governor of Illinois as a member of a major political party, although she lost to Republican Jim Edgar in the general election.

NU Law Prof. Robert Bennett, who served as dean of NU School of Law from 1985 to 1995, said Netsch was very transparent as a politician.

“She was so honest and so forthright,” he said. “She called them like she saw and gave you straight answers, and not all politicians do that.”

In the 1960s, Netsch served as a legal adviser to Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, the first woman to hold the position. She also served as a state senator for 18 years. Prior to assuming her post in 1970, Netsch was a member of the constitutional convention that revised the Illinois constitution, according to her colleague, NU Law Prof. David Ruder.

“She was very much a beloved teacher and colleague. She was a very approachable and cooperative colleague,” said Ruder, who served as dean of the School of Law from 1977 to 1985. “She was smart, she had good judgment and she was interested in practically everything, so it was a pleasure to be with her.”

Netsch received her bachelor’s degree from NU in 1948. She went on to attend NU School of Law, graduating in 1952. According to Bennett, she was the only woman in her law school class.

“She was a path-breaking figure in all sorts of ways,” Bennett said.

In the University news release, current Law Dean Daniel Rodriguez referred to Netsch as a “trailblazer” for her political legacy.

“Over the course of a long and outstanding career, she was an influential public servant, an esteemed teacher, a beloved colleague and a friend and mentor to generations of students,” Rodriguez said in the release.

Rodriguez said in the release that Netsch’s contribution to the School of Law came in the form of her extensive experience with government at the local and state levels.

Netsch became the first female faculty member in the School of Law in 1965. She was married to the architect Walter Netsch, who passed away in 2008.


About the Writer
Jillian Sandler, Development and Recruitment Editor

Jillian Sandler was a Development and Recruitment editor of The Daily. Her other past positions include Opinion editor, Campus editor and copy chief. She...