$2 million gift from SMU alumna, emeritus professor to endow faculty chair in women and the law

Alumna and Professor Emeritus Ellen K. Solender is funding a chair in Women and the Law.

Ellen K. Solender

DALLAS (SMU) – Ellen K. Solender, SMU law alumna and emeritus faculty member, is giving $2 million to the Dedman School of Law to fund the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and the Law. 

Ellen K. Solender
Ellen K. Solender

The Solender Chair will support a Dedman Law faculty member, to encourage research, teaching and advocacy in legal education and the legal profession, aimed at advancing equality for all women. The gift provides $1.5 million for endowment and $500,000 for operational support until the endowment matures.

“Professor Solender’s decision to endow a chair in women and the law could not come at a better time,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “This faculty position underscores Dedman Law’s commitment to empowering women to assume positions of influence in their professions. Hers is a gift that will have continuing impact.”

“As only the second woman to receive tenure at the law school, Professor Solender has been a trailblazer in legal education, said Jennifer Collins, Dedman Law’s Judge James Noel Dean and professor of law. “She has dedicated her career to promoting equity and mentored countless women along the way.  This gift will allow the law school to continue Professor Solender’s important work on issues that will advance the rights of women, ensure gender equality, and train lawyers to pursue these goals.”

Solender points to a number of significant events over the last 100 years that raised hopes for gender equality, citing the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in 1920, the right of women to serve on Texas juries in 1954, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

“My mother worked for the passage of the 19th Amendment and thought she would see equality in her lifetime. I thought I would see it in mine,” Solender said. “Now I worry whether my granddaughter and my great-great nieces will see equality in their lifetimes. I now realize these were only milestones on a longer journey to equality. These issues are so important to me, it is my hope that this endowed chair could be a catalyst and hopefully speed up the journey to equality for women.”

“Professor Solender’s generous gift to her University home is meaningful on many levels,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and External Affairs.  “Because she has had the foresight to provide $500,000 in operating funds as part of her gift, the University will seek to fill the chair immediately rather than wait for the endowment to mature. We are grateful for both the good this gift will do for the community, as well as its thoughtful financial structure.”

Abpout Ellen Karelsen Solender

Solender entered what was then known as SMU School of Law in 1968 at the age of 44.  She had earned a bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College and worked for AT&T’s Bell Labs before working for the Wall Street Journal after she and her husband, the late Robert L. Solender, moved to Dallas.  Active with the League of Women Voters, Solender believed government officials were not taking her questions seriously, and she entered law school to improve her credentials.

Solender earned her J.D. in 1971 and joined the law school’s staff shortly after graduation. She joined the faculty in 1973 and in 1977 became the second woman in the history of the law school to receive tenure. Solender co-authored the Research Methods/Legal Writing Manual with now-deceased SMU Dedman Law Professor Alan R. Bromberg.  She retired in 1994 as Professor Emeritus of Law.

Solender has previously made gift designations to the Ellen K. Solender Institute in Free Speech and Mass Media Law Fund, and the law library book fund. She has been active on boards and commissions throughout the University and served as vice president and acting president of the Faculty Senate.

In 2011 Solender received the League of Women Voters’ Susan B. Anthony Award.  The emeritus professor also has been a supporter of the Dallas Museum of Art, Educational First Steps Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, the North Texas Food Bank, Oberlin College and Parkland Foundation and has been an adviser to the city of Dallas’ Domestic Violence Task Force since its inception in 1987.


SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

The School of Law at SMU was founded in 1925. It was named Dedman School of Law in 2001 in honor of Dallas benefactors Nancy and Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and their family. SMU Dedman Law enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction. It is among the most competitive law schools in the country for admission, as well as one of the most successful in the placement of its graduates.