Ms. Kay wrote articles on the history of women in the legal profession and seminal books of case law, including “Sex-Based Discrimination,” which she wrote in the 1970s with Kenneth Davidson and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a friend who was later named a Supreme Court justice.
Ms. Kay took over from Jesse Choper as dean of Berkeley Law after years of student protests aimed at diversifying the school’s faculty and student body. She dealt with budgetary constraints and the departure of key faculty members early on, but the greatest challenge she faced was a 1996 California referendum banning affirmative action at public institutions.
Minority enrollment dropped immediately, from 98 students in 1996 to 62 in 1997, only one of whom was African-American. Ms. Kay, who favored affirmative action, complied with the law but tried to make up the difference by expanding Berkeley Law’s outreach.
In 1998 81 minority students enrolled in a class of 269, an increase which did not disappear; in 2016 there were 115 out of a class of 301.
“We did it by getting everybody to convey the same message: ‘We want you here. We are not turning our backs on people of different backgrounds and color,’” Ms. Kay told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1999.
In 1999, Ms. Kay announced that she would return to teaching, and in 2000, John P. Dwyer, a professor and environmental law expert, became dean.
Ms. Kay continued teaching until 2016. During her nearly six decades at Berkeley Law, women grew to more than 50 percent of the student body and the number of women on the faculty expanded considerably.
“Her persistent effort for well over a half century has been to make what was once momentous no longer out of the ordinary — law faculties and student generations that reflect the full capacity, diversity and talent of all of our nation’s peoples,” Justice Ginsburg said in a video message when Ms. Kay received a lifetime achievement award from the Association of American Law Schools in 2015.
Herma Lee Hill was born in Orangeburg, S.C., on Aug. 18, 1934. She was the only child of Charles Hill, a Methodist minister, and Herma Crawford, a schoolteacher. Her father moved the family frequently as he traveled on the Southern preaching circuit.
Ms. Kay earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1956 and a law degree from the University of Chicago three years later. She clerked for Justice Roger…