1890 - 1975

Born in Traverse City, Michigan, Pearl Hart soon moved to Chicago with her family as a child. As a young woman she attended John Marshall Law School, was admitted to the bar in 1914, and for the next 61 years became a civil rights champion dedicated to defending the oppressed - especially women, children, homosexuals, and immigrants. She was the first woman lawyer appointed as public defender in the Morals Court and one of the first female attorneys in Chicago to specialize in criminal law. A staunch defender of gay rights, Hart fought for anti-entrapment laws, the right to privacy, and appeared on behalf of many victims of entrapment and police harassment, often waiving or minimizing her fee. In the 1950s she helped found the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society and in 1964 helped reinvent a more militant form of the organization as Mattachine Midwest with Robert Basker. In addition to gay rights Hart was also a staunch defender of immigrant rights, taking a case of the constitutional rights of aliens to the U.S. Supreme Court where she declared, “...I defend the foreign born against the present deportation hysteria because of a consciousness that it was the foreign born and their children who built this nation of ours and who have been its most loyal partisans.” Hart met Chicago writer Valerie Taylor due to her Mattachine Society endeavors and they quickly became romantic partners. Taylor called Hart “the love of her life” and they were together for many years. Hart was a true mentor for women in her field. She provided study space and counsel to female law students. Hart was awarded an honorary doctorate from John Marshall Law School where she taught until shortly after her 80th birthday. She was a founding member and board member of the National Lawyers Guild, the Committee to Defend the Foreign-Born, and the Portes Cancer Prevention Clinic. She worked tirelessly until her death on March 22, 1975.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White Jewish

Faith Construct Judaic

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) First-wave Feminism (1848-1930) Homophile Movement (1945-1969)

Field(s) of Contribution




Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago Named After Gerber and Pearl Hart

Posthumous Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame Inductee (1992)



Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell