Dawn Clark Netsch

Dawn Clark Netsch

A trailblazer whose legacy includes many “firsts.”

Patricia Dawn Clark was born September 16, 1926, in Cincinnati, Ohio. An exceptional student from an early age, she came to Northwestern University in 1944, where she majored in Political Science and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. Dawn went on to Northwestern Law School, where she was the first woman to earn the Scholar’s Cup for having the highest grade-point average in the first-year class. She was the only woman in her June of 1952 graduating class, and she ranked first of 63 students.

In the years immediately following law school, Dawn worked on Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign, as a clerk for federal judge Julius Hoffman, and in private practice at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. In 1960, she left private practice and returned to Illinois to join Governor Otto Kerner’s staff as a chief research assistant. One of her assignments was to serve on the Constitution Study Commission which laid the groundwork for a constitutional convention.

In 1963 Dawn wed internationally acclaimed architect Walter Netsch, best known for his design of the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. They shared a mutual love of opera and the Chicago White Sox. They were happily married until his death in 2008.

As the first woman faculty member hired by a law school in 1965, Dawn taught courses ranging from antitrust to Constitutional law and of course, state and local government.

She coauthored, with Daniel Mandelker, State and Local Government in a Federal System, a book that has been through multiple editions and is still in use today.

Her political career began when she was elected as a delegate to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. From there, she took on the party regulars and won a seat to the Illinois State Senate. She served her district with distinction for the next eighteen years. She served on the Appropriations II Committee and Chaired the Senate Revenue Committee which gained her a reputation as a state finance and tax policy expert.

In 1990 Dawn ran for Comptroller, and became the first woman to serve in a statewide executive office in Illinois. She used her position to educate the citizens of Illinois about the state budget and the budget deficit, and to urge lawmakers to “put our state’s fiscal house in order.”

In 1993 she ran for Governor. Her priorities were “balanced budgets, strong schools, and fair taxes. She became known as a “straight shooter” both for proposing an increase for the state income tax to fund education while lowering property taxes as well as a campaign commercial showing her playing pool. She won an upset victory in the Democratic primary, making her the first woman in Illinois to be nominated by a major party to run for Governor. Illinois State Senator Penny Stevens won her primary for Lieutenant Governor which added to the historic nature of the campaign—it was, and remains, the only time two women have headed the Illinois gubernatorial ticket. That race was lost to the incumbent governor.

After the election she returned to the Law School and resumed teaching her course in state and local government. She took on important administrative duties as well, including co-chairing a strategic planning process for the Law School.

She remained active in political and social causes until the end of her life. She was a distinguished lifetime director and past Board Chair of the American Judicature Society, and a recipient of the prestigious 2011 Order of Lincoln award. She remained active on many non-profit boards and continued to champion the issues that were important to her.

Dawn died in Chicago on Tuesday, March 5, 2013, at the age of 86, from complications related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.