Born and raised in Oklahoma, Elizabeth Herring spent most of her early life performing all the good-girl Stations of the Cross. She won the Betty Crocker competitions, married for the first time at 19, had two children before she was 30, and was once a registered Republican. She was the youngest of four children and the only daughter. Her father worked as a janitor, and her mother brought in extra money working in the catalogue-order department at Sears. Warren would recall her mother hesitating to take her to the doctor because money was so tight. A brilliant and competitive student, Warren was named Oklahoma’s top high-school debater at 16, the same year she graduated with a full debating scholarship to George Washington University. She left G.W. after two years to marry her high-school boyfriend and moved to Houston, where she finished her degree in speech pathology. The first member of her immediate family to graduate from college, Warren then worked as a teacher, followed her husband to New Jersey, and had her first child in 1971. She got her law degree in 1976 from Rutgers University. In the next years, as she divorced and remarried—her current husband, Bruce Mann, is a Harvard law professor—she moved around the country, teaching at the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania, before finally settling at Harvard in 1995.
It was in 1979 that Warren had her Damascene conversion—the experience that would lead her to become the nation’s top authority on the economic pressures facing the American middle class, and trigger her passionate advocacy. In 1978, Congress had passed a law that made it easier for companies and individuals to declare bankruptcy. Warren decided to investigate the reasons why Americans were ending up in bankruptcy court. “I set out to prove they were all a bunch of cheaters,” she said in a 2007 interview. “I was going to expose these people who were taking advantage of the rest of us.” What she found, after conducting with two colleagues one of the most rigorous bankruptcy studies ever, shook her deeply. The vast majority of those in bankruptcy courts, she discovered, were from hardworking middle-class families, people who lost jobs or had “family breakups” or illnesses that wiped out their savings. “It changed my vision,” she said.
As much as I appreciate having a moderate Republican Senator in Scott Brown, I’m pretty sure I’ve already made up my mind that I’m voting for Warren in November.