Honoring the Legacy of Frances Ryan
Honoring the Legacy of Frances Ryan

Born in 1920 as the oldest of seven children, Frances Ryan grew up on a series of family farms in northeastern Nebraska. Ryan was no stranger to hard work or personal discipline before she came to Creighton in 1973 as the School of Law’s first female professor. She had graduated first in her class from Briar Cliff College and Marquette Law School, taught high school mathematics, and received a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Michigan. 

These varied experiences are what led her to become a champion for diversity, former law professor and longtime Ryan friend and colleague Barbara Green mused in a reflection published in Creighton Law Review after Ryan died in 1998. On the farm, Ryan experienced that hard work and talent do not “inevitably lead to success,” Green wrote, and Ryan encountered discrimination firsthand after law school when she had difficulty finding employment and was mistaken for a secretary at meetings.

Affirmations of Welcome

In the mid-1970s, law schools across the country took a variety of approaches to address affirmative action, as a result of the Baake v. University of California decision, and increase diversity on campuses. Former School of Law Dean Lawrence Raful wrote in a 1999 edition of Creighton Law Review that “Frances Ryan understood, better than anyone I ever met, that affirmative action meant some sort of action by the school … that was more than simply a willingness to do business with all. … To Frances Ryan, affirmative action meant going out into the world and affirmatively proclaiming, ‘You are welcome here! Please come and join us!’”

Before retiring in the early 1990s, Ryan served as an advisor to the Black Law Students Association, coordinator of the Graduate and Professional Opportunities Program and chair of the Minority Affairs Committee, in addition to hosting picnics at her home for students and their families.

By following Ryan’s example of recruiting and mentoring minority students, the Creighton School of Law has continued to increase its diversity over the decades. In the entering class of 2017, 36 percent of students are women and 26 percent are minorities.

See the full story, including profiles of Ryan Scholarship recipients, in Creighton Lawyer Magazine.