Harriet Anna (Bouslog) Sawyer


Harriet Anna (Bouslog) Sawyer



Harriet Bouslog was born Harriet Anna Williams in Maxville, Florida, on October 21, 1912. At the age of 4, her family moved to Indiana, where she grew up. In 1930 she entered Indiana University, earning both her bachelor’s degree, and in 1936 her LL.B. from the School of Law. She then moved to Massachusetts with her husband Charles Bouslog who was pursuing a graduate degree in English. She was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar and began her legal career. In 1939, Charles accepted a faculty position at the University of Hawaii, and they moved to Honolulu. Harriet had to wait to establish residency in Hawaii in order to take the bar examination, and on December 23, 1941, she became just the eighth woman admitted to the Hawaii Bar.

With the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific, martial law was declared in the Territory of Hawaii, which closed the courts in the territory. To find legal work, Harriet Bouslog moved to Washington D.C. and began working at the National War Labor Board. Through her work she met a number of labor union leaders, including Harry Bridges with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). She began working for the ILWU and the Committee for Maritime Unity as a lobbyist. In 1946, with the lifting of martial law in Hawaii, the ILWU began to organize sugar and pineapple workers, and Bouslog was asked to return to Hawaii to defend 150 union sugar strikers charged with criminal offenses. This began her legendary career as a labor lawyer in Hawaii, challenging the status quo and defending workers and their rights guarantee by the Bill of Rights and federal labor laws. She also fought against the disproportional imposition of capital punishment against native Hawaiians.

Harriet Bouslog and Charles Bouslog were divorced in 1950. That same year she married Stephen Sawyer. In 1951, she began serving as co-counsel to “Hawaii Seven” defendants charged with conspiracy to violate the Alien Registration Act (popularly known as the Smith Act). One of the seven was her friend and colleague Jack Hall, the International Regional Director of the ILWU. During the trial, Bouslog spoke at an ILWU meeting on the island of Hawaii about the trial. Her speech was reported to the judge for the trial, who then found her in contempt of court and he ordered the Hawaiian Bar Association to investigate. The Territorial Supreme Court suspended her license to practice law for one year. This decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, which upheld the decision of the Hawaii Territorial Supreme Court. This was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and on June 29, 1959, the Supreme Court in the case In Re Sawyer reversed the decisions by the Ninth Circuit and the Territorial Supreme Court. The case is still cited as a definitive statement on the free speech rights of attorneys.

Harriet Bouslog once said that her “efforts as an attorney contributed to the great achievements [that] the ILWU accomplished in organizing the workers of Hawaii on the vast sugar and pineapple plantations as well as the longshoremen. The conflict of forces led strikes to improve working and living conditions, and to put pressure on both law and custom effecting the social, civic, and political participation of the great non-white masses in the community life of the islands.” Her colleague and mentor Harry Bridges said when Hawaii was granted statehood that “The bringing of economic democracy to Hawaii through the ILWU and its contributions toward racial equality, as well as toward destroying the old feudal grip on the Islands, was without doubt, an important factor in the achievement of Statehood.”

In 1977, the ILWU Local 142 conferred on Harriet Bouslog the title of Lifetime Honorary Member. In 1989, she and her husband Stephen Sawyer established the Harriet Bouslog Labor Scholarship Fund to benefit the children and grandchildren of the ILWU Local 142 members and retirees. She received the Allan F. Saunders Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union. The Hawaii State Legislature and the Honolulu City Council passed resolutions honoring her work. In 1989, Harriet Bouslog was inducted into the Indiana University Law School's Academy of Law Alumni Fellows.

She continued to practice law until her retirement in December 1978. Harriet Bouslog died on April 18, 1998 in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Labor Lawyer, Smith Act, ILWU, Hawaii, Maurer Alumni, Academy of Law Alumni Fellows


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminal Law | Labor and Employment Law | Law



Learn more about Harriet Bouslog at this site:

Also see,

"Harriet Bouslog" by Mari J. Matsuda, in Called from Within: Early Women Lawyers of Hawaii, pp. 148-171, edited by Mari J. Matsuda. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992. Available in the Jerome Hall Law Library, KF 354 .H3 C35 1992

Harriet Bouslog [videorecording]. Honolulu: PBS Hawaii and the Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawaii-Manoa, 2004. Available in the Jerome Hall Law Library, KF 373 .B68 H37 2004.

Harriet Anna (Bouslog) Sawyer