Fair Labor Lawyer

“Before there was the Notorious RBG, there was the Audacious Bessie Margolin.”

Julie Cohen, Director of the Emmy-winning film




Instilled with a powerful success ethic from her childhood in New Orleans’s Jewish orphanage, Bessie Margolin used her brains, beauty, and Southern charm to champion the wage and hour rights of millions of workers — while proving women’s equality in a man’s world of law. She contributed to some of the most significant legal events in modern American history: she defended the constitutionality of the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority; drafted rules establishing American tribunals for Nazi war crimes in Nuremberg; and, on behalf of the U.S. Labor Department, shepherded the child labor, minimum wage, and overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 through the nation’s highest courts. Bessie Margolin greatly enhanced the lives of American working people, said Chief Justice Earl Warren, by developing “the flesh and sinews . . . around the bare bones” of the nation’s wage and hour laws.

Praise for Fair Labor Lawyer

Trestman and Fair Labor Lawyer received praise from the Notorious RBG, June 8, 2016. 


“An unsung giant of labor law, Margolin argued a whopping 24 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning 21. Marlene Trestman tells her engaging story with flair. You’ll be outraged you never heard of Margolin before, but thrilled to get to know her in this important book.”

 ​Julie Cohen, Director of RBG.


With care, thoroughness, and sensitivity, Marlene Trestman has given us a memorable portrait of a fascinating figure.”

– Evan Thomas, author of First: Sandra Day O’Connor


“Trestman brings a remarkable life back to us. Bessie Margolin walks through these pages as a whole person, her romantic liaisons, her devoted mentoring, and her brilliant legal initiatives all fully rendered.  Fair Labor Lawyer is an inspiring read.”

– Alice Kessler-Harris, historian and biographer of Lillian Hellman


“In this outstanding biography, the life and times of Bessie Margolin . . . come alive. Marlene Trestman has researched deeply into the personal and public life of an influential 20th century lawyer.”
– Jean Harvey Baker,
 historian and biographer of Margaret Sanger and Mary Todd Lincoln

 “Trestman offers a sparkling account of Margolin’s life and work, frustrations and triumphs, set within the panorama of 20th century history. Margolin offers an inspiring model of a passionate advocate for justice, and a woman well ahead of her times.”

– Elaine Weiss, author of The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight for the Vote


“Bessie Margolin had an amazingly interesting life….We should be grateful for what Trestman has achieved. It is an absorbing story told well.”

– Melvin I. Urofsky, biographer of Louis D. Brandeis, in Southern Jewish History


“Why has no one made a blockbuster biopic about legal pioneer Bessie Margolin yet? It’s got all the plot lines for a humdinger of a tale… Bessie Margolin was one hell of a trailblazer and she deserves her place in the firmament of legal greats.”

– Washington Lawyer


“In Fair Labor Lawyer, Marlene Trestman tells the fascinating and improbable story of Bessie Margolin. Raised in a Jewish orphanage in New Orleans, she became a powerful Washington lawyer during the New Deal and spent her life repairing the world. It’s a page-turner!
– Laura Kalman, historian and biographer of Abe Fortas

Additional praise for Fair Labor Lawyer