Before Martha Davis became North­eastern Law’s pre­mier on human rights law, she was a cor­po­rate lawyer on Wall Street.

While working for Cleary, Got­tlieb, Steen & Hamilton, she dis­cov­ered her calling to legal ser­vice for poor, under­served women unable to nav­i­gate the legal system.

The firm had a com­mu­nity legal ser­vices office in Hell’s Kitchen, and it was while working for them that I dis­cov­ered the real turning point in my career,” she said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to work with poverty law cases.”

She turned that interest into a career path that led her to the National Orga­ni­za­tion for Women, as vice pres­i­dent and legal director, and to North­eastern Uni­ver­sity five years ago. She has taught on a wide range of sub­jects, from women and the law to immi­gra­tion and employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion, and prior to arriving here, has lit­i­gated cases before the US Supreme Court.

Asked to con­sider what knits her work and expe­ri­ences together, just as her latest three-​​volume book “Bringing Human Rights Home” picks up a major award from the Myers Center, Davis reflects on the words of FDR and the cre­ation of The New Deal.

FDR artic­u­lated con­cepts, and the one that really res­onates with me is ‘freedom from want.’ I would say that this con­cept, and the idea that we all deserve social and eco­nomic rights, to things like health care, and paid family leave, are ideals that moti­vate me.”

It is only in recent years that attor­neys like Davis began framing issues related to poverty and civil rights around the con­cept of human rights, a def­i­n­i­tion that has aided pro­po­nents of human rights gain legal ground, she said.

In “Bringing Human Rights Home,” Davis and coed­i­tors Cyn­thia Soohoo and Catherine Albisa, examine the polit­ical forces and his­toric events in the United States’ “failure to embrace human rights prin­ci­ples at home while actively (albeit selec­tively) cham­pi­oning and pro­moting human rights abroad,” according to a press release.

Davis’ volume focuses on the his­tory of human rights in the United States, from the 1920s through the 1970s. The book recently won an Out­standing Book Award from the Gus­tavus Myers Center for the Study of Big­otry and Human Rights in North America.

Our goal in devel­oping this work was to demon­strate that the con­cept of human rights is not ‘for­eign,’ but is an impor­tant part of our nation’s her­itage that demands atten­tion, Davis said.