Jane Lehmer Alexander ’51 is known for far more than her trademark hats
that match each stylish outfit. It’s remarkable that, at age 74, she maintains a full-time
private law practice in small-town Dillsburg, Pa. And that she’s never lost a case at
|Jane Alexander has kept the same office on Dillsburg’s main drag for nearly 50 years.
But what is even more impressive about Alexander are her pioneering achievements
for women during the latter half of the 20th century. In 1955, she became the first woman to
be elected to Dillsburg Borough Council and the first practicing female lawyer in York County.
In 1972, she was named the first woman deputy secretary of agriculture in the United States.
fate was determined even before she entered Dickinson in 1947. “When I was 5 years
old, my grandfather said, ‘Jane, you’re going to be a lawyer,’ ” Alexander
recalls. “It was decided on that day. He said, ‘We’re going to overlook the
fact that you’re female.’”
Until Alexander enrolled in Dickinson’s
three-three law program, which allows students to study for three years at the college and
three years at the Dickinson School of Law, her grandfather groomed her by having her observe
his practice as a district justice. At the college, she met her first husband, the late P.
Nelson Alexander ’51, and married him between
her junior and senior years. They had four children and shared a law practice in Dillsburg
for years. Alexander now mentors another aspiring Dillsburg native, Jessica Bowman ’04,
who interned at her firm and will start her second year at the law school this fall. Alexander
plans to bring Bowman into her practice when she graduates.
“I enjoyed my years at Dickinson,” Alexander
reminisces. She recalls the debate competition at the Pennsylvania State University that she
won as a junior. She earned the title “gavel
girl of Pennsylvania”—and a gavel made from coal. That same year, she was selected
as student representative to the United Nations.
“And there I met my heroine, Eleanor
Roosevelt,” Alexander says. In her characteristically
lively fashion, she describes a much-later experience in a beauty salon. The manicurists said
that they were honored to do her nails because she reminded them of the former first lady.
not an irrational comparison. For more than 50 years, Alexander has been intensely politically
active, citing what she calls “a certain consideration for people,” a
passion to improve the world. She’s led councils and committees, attended conferences
across the globe. She was a pal of the late U.S. senator and vice president Hubert H. Humphrey,
among other luminaries, and attended historic events such as the the 1968 Democratic National
Convention in Chicago. All the while, Alexander practiced small-town law. Raised on a farm,
she counted many farmers among her clients.
“I learned quite a bit about agriculture
and eventually became director of the Bureau of Foods and Chemistry for the Pennsylvania Department
of Agriculture,” she says. “As
a lawyer, I had a 100-percent win rate, and people were asking, ‘Whose attorney is whipping
us like this?’ So, on the basis of these things, I was invited to be deputy secretary
of agriculture of the United States.
“At my first meeting for deputy secretaries, a man
came up to me and said, ‘Hey,
girlie, this meeting is for secretaries only,’ ” she remembers, laughing. “I
looked him right in the eye and said ‘Yes, I know.’ ”
Nowadays she still
keeps her hands in her general law practice and progressive issues. She’s
also the owner and president of J&J Agri-Products & Services, an agricultural-consulting
agency and manufacturer of safe, organic agricultural products.
In April, she joined the advisory
board of the Center for Macro Projects and Diplomacy, which prides itself on debating “large-scale
project proposals that can contribute to human progress through the improvement of world habitat.” The
inaugural gathering in Bristol, R.I., centered on “New Land for Peace: Reclaimed Land
in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
“We’re focusing on the needs of the Middle
East and how to reduce tension,” Alexander
explains. “One of the proposals we’re discussing is whether or not to build a city
on the sea, off of the Gaza Strip. The question is how we would feed people on the sea.
idea we’re talking about is how to alleviate the pressure of the need
for water in the Mediterranean,” she continues. “One of the greatest problems we
have in the world is water management. It’s the same thing wherever you go in the world—water
Alexander’s proposal is to tap into the water of the Nile River, a goal
she says is “very,
very doable. It could really solve a big part of the problem.” She and others board members,
which include a college president and former undersecretary-general of the UN, have contacted
government officials in Ethiopia about the proposal.
“You know, you can build and build
all you want,” Alexander says. “But one
of the greatest things I’ve learned is, if you can’t talk to people, you will not
command the attention of a hungry man. The biggest thing is to listen to people; let them educate
you, then you can help them.”