Anne X. Alpern had planned to be a teacher but she took her father’s advice and studied law at the University of Pittsburgh.
In her 40-year legal career, she sought justice, demonstrated a flair for courtroom drama and had a knack for simplifying issues in complex cases.
The pinnacle of her career came in 1961 when Governor David Lawrence appointed her a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, making her the first woman to serve on the state’s highest court.
Even as a lawyer, Anne X. Alpern attracted attention. While a city solicitor, she gained statewide recognition in rate battles with the Public Utility Commission. She called it “the Public Futility Commission” and labeled its rate increases “the Overcharge of the Light Brigade.”
After 12 years as an assistant in the city solicitor’s office, she was named city solicitor in 1942, becoming the first woman to hold that position in a major U.S. city.
In his 1946 profile of her for Collier’s Magazine, Victor Rubin wrote: “Where other women with a fraction of her physical charms employ their wiles to win orchids, slender, serious Anne X uses her high legal and forensic skill to win decent housing, fair taxes, lower gas rates and other social objectives for the people of Pittsburgh.”
Mr. Rubin was clearly enamored of his subject: “Her dark eyes shining, her black hair combed in an extremely becoming page-boy bob, her contralto voice ringing out, she might have been another Tallulah Bankhead.”
Judge Alpern was born in Russia but moved with her family to Scenery Hill in Washington County when she was still a child.
Two of her famous cases involved mass transit and art. She presided over the “Stop Skybus” lawsuit and issued a court order that stopped the Port Authority from moving ahead with its plans to build the controversial mass transit system. She was elected to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1954.
In 1959, Governor Lawrence appointed her state attorney general, making her the first woman to hold that job in Pennsylvania.
In 1960, Attorney General Anne Alpern was instrumental in opening to the public the $500 million art collection at the Barnes Museum in suburban Philadelphia. The priceless art collection had been closed to public view for 38 years.
After her appointment to the state Supreme Court, she ran for election but lost to Henry X. O’Brien.
Gov. Lawrence appointed her to the Allegheny County Common Pleas bench and she served there until 1974, when she returned to private practice. She died in 1981.