Attorney and feminist activist Clayton, or Clay, Latimer was instrumental in many of the reforms achieved by the modern women's rights movement in Louisiana.
Attorney and feminist activist Clayton, or Clay, Latimer was instrumental in many of the reforms achieved by the modern women’s rights movement in Louisiana. In the 1970s she worked with ERA Central, a New Orleans group, toward state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA); launched a campaign to eradicate the “head and master” provision of the community property system; and raised funds and awareness about the problem of domestic violence. She was coordinator of Louisiana’s chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and a delegate to the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston. In later years, she was a member of the mayor’s task force on lesbian and gay issues. Her many years of advocacy on behalf of social justice have earned her several civic awards and recognition.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, to Frances and James Clayton Latimer, Jr., Clay Latimer witnessed the racial tensions in her community and her family’s reactions to the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1954 and 1955. After the death of her parents when she was a teenager, she moved to New Orleans to live with her maternal uncle where, in the mid-sixties, she joined the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and became active in the peace movement and civil rights efforts. Along with a other New Orleans women, Latimer accepted a teaching position at a public high school in Plaquemines Parish to keep the parish president from closing the schools rather than integrating them—as ordered by the U.S. Justice Department.
Women’s Rights Activism
On August 26, 1972, Women’s Suffrage Day, Latimer joined the New Orleans chapter of NOW and attended her first day of law school orientation at the Loyola University School of Law. She eventually received her J.D. in 1976. As a representative and board member of the New Orleans chapter of NOW, Latimer joined a group of activists representing progressive women’s groups to lobby for an equal rights provision in the 1974 Louisiana constitution. Following that effort, she became the political action coordinator and cofounder of ERA Central, a coalition based in New Orleans with a membership of more than twenty organizations.
During that same period, Latimer secured funding for and directed a grant program, administered by the YWCA and funded by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, entitled “The Legal Status of Women in Louisiana.” With the assistance of Janet Mary Riley, a professor at Loyola Law School, and some other local attorneys she provided statewide educational presentations and videos focusing on the infamous “Head and Master” provision of Louisiana law, which gave the husband control of a couple’s community property. Latimer was one of several feminists outraged at the legislature’s failure to ratify the ERA who successfully lobbied to have the Head and Master provision repealed and replaced with an equal management system in 1980. In 1974 she wrote a pamphlet for the New Orleans NOW Legal and Legislative Committee entitled “How Marriage Can Change Your Life,” explaining the details and implications of the Head and Master provision of Louisiana law. She also directed a WGNO-TV presentation of “The Legal Status of Louisiana Women.” In 1975, she represented New Orleans NOW as a member of the attorney general’s Task Force for the Preparation of a Marriage Pamphlet, a project spearheaded by Pat Evans, director of the Bureau on the Status of Women.
Latimer served as state coordinator of Louisiana NOW in 1976 and 1977, and on the Louisiana Women’s Conference Coordinating Committee and its Women and Law Task Force in 1977. She was one of the delegates elected to represent Louisiana at the National Women’s Conference held in Houston in 1977, and was director of the statewide ERA United of Louisiana from 1977 to 1978. Within the New Orleans NOW chapter, Latimer was a member of the board of directors from 1972 to 1977 and again from 1985 to 1986. While on the board she served, at various times, as coordinator of the ERA Task Force, the Women in Media Task Force, and the Women in Politics Task Force. AT NOW’s national level, she represented Louisiana NOW on the NOW By-Laws Commission and served on the Task Force on Women in Politics and Task Force on Older Women. She was a delegate to the NOW National Convention in 1985.
Advocacy for Children and Battered Women
An attorney for the Louisiana Department of Social Services from 1983 until her retirement in 2011, Latimer represented the Child Protection Agency in child abuse and neglect cases. During her tenure with the department, she continued to address civil rights issues and women’s issues, though she sometimes had to subdue her political activities. She was a member of the board (and treasurer) of the Metropolitan Battered Women’s Program (1988–1990), cochair of the Domestic Violence Committee of the New Orleans Bar Association (1995–1996), and chair of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Committee of the New Orleans Bar Association (1995–1996). She was also a member of the Medical and Social Work Committee of the Mayor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence (1995–1997), as well as the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues (1990–1993).
Latimer also participated as a guest faculty member for several continuing legal education programs addressing juvenile justice issues and served as founding treasurer (and board member) of the Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children Program (CASA) in Orleans Parish from 1985 until 1997. She was a staff representative of the Department of Social Services to the Children’s Code Project—charged with rewriting the law related to juveniles—from 1987 until 1992. In 1994 she was presented with the Citizen of the Year Award by the New Orleans chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and awarded the Gillis Long Public Service Award by the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center of Loyola University. In 2006, the local Human Rights Campaign presented Latimer with the organization’s Equality Award.