Miriam Balanoff, ’AB 61, JD ’63: 1926-2017

Miriam Balanoff

Balanoff, Miriam D. 1926-2017; Circuit Court Judge, Illinois State Legislator and Trail Blazer for Women Miriam Dweck was born on March 4, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York to a poor immigrant Jewish Syrian family. Due to the family's poverty, she grew up in foster care. This did not stop her from attending Hunter Junior College in Manhattan, where she graduated valedictorian, before taking a job at Penguin Publishing, which she loved because she had access to, "All the free books I could read!" In the early 1950's after a brief stint working as a union organizer at a light bulb factory in Ohio, she moved to Chicago where she met and married Clem Balanoff in 1952. Together they continued their fight for social justice. They had three children; Clem, Jr., Jane and Bob. While completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, the Dean of the Law School asked if she wanted to attend law school on a full scholarship as she was an outstanding student and there were no women in the upcoming class. She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1963 and went into private practice. She also taught a course on women and the law, at local colleges. Miriam was a fierce advocate for women's, human, civil, LGBTQ and workers' rights throughout her life. She broke down barriers for women in law and politics during a time when few women were afforded a seat at the table. In 1978 she was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives while fighting the Ed Vrdolyak Machine which she would characterize as the "Darth Vader of Illinois Politics". Miriam was the first legislator in the United States to offer legislation to help protect workers who were the victims of plant closings and sponsored legislation to remove the sales tax on foods and medicine because it was a regressive tax. She was among the first public officials to endorse Harold Washington for Mayor. In 1986 she was elected Judge to the Circuit Court of Cook County, with the backing of the late Mayor Harold Washington. She served fourteen years on the bench. Throughout her life, she remained active in politics and political campaigns including helping to elect her son Clem to the Illinois State Legislature and son Robert as a Circuit Court Judge.

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