Helen Rembert Carloss, a lawyer for the US Department of Justice, was born on 18 April 1893 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and educated in the city’s public schools. She went on to attend the Industrial Institute and College (now Mississippi University for Women), where she was vice president of her senior class and graduated in 1913. After a few years as a teacher, a profession she disliked heartily, she decided that she wanted to become a lawyer. Few women worked as attorneys at the time, so Mississippi senator John Sharp Williams advised her to move to Washington, D.C., where she became a clerk in the Division of Internal Revenue in 1918. That experience likely shaped the direction she took after she enrolled in night classes and earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1923. She joined the Department of Justice’s legal staff on the recommendation of Mable Walker Willebrandt, a Tennessee native serving as a US assistant attorney general. Carloss became a specialist in estate and gift taxation and was one of the few lawyers who made up the department’s new Tax Division when it was organized in 1934.
The quiet and unassuming Carloss soon became known for her brilliance as a litigator. As a special assistant to the attorney general, she became the first woman to argue a case before the US Court of Appeals, ultimately appearing in all ten of the appeals courts. Judge Learned Hand termed her “one of the best men who appears before the court.” She also argued twenty-seven cases before the US Supreme Court, a record for any attorney in the Tax Division up to that time. The justices admired her arguments: according to Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, it was “an intellectual treat” whenever Carloss appeared before the Court. Justice Robert Jackson spoke of her knowledge, research, and “balance of judgment,” which “made you feel when she had finished that you had the whole story.”
Carloss retired in 1947 because of ill health and died of cancer in 1948 at her mother’s home in Yazoo City.
- Sam Olden, Yazoo Historical Society Journal (1983)
- John C. Stennis, Congressional Record (1949); Washington Post (28 March 1934); Yazoo Herald (30 December 1948)