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The Online Version
of the Magazine
of Cornell Law School

 

Fall 2015

 

Volume 41, No 2

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Mary Kennedy Brown (1864-1932)

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The Kennedy family home in Vermont 2015, taken by Dr. James Barton, Mary's great-grandnephew.

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St. Johnsbury Academy, circa 1872


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Boardman Hall

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The Rookery Building


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Table of Contents  Featured Article 

Mary Kennedy Brown: Our First Woman Lawyer's Dramatic Life

by KEVIN M. CLERMONT, ZIFF PROFESSOR OF LAW and LYNDSEY Y. CLARK,  ASSISTANT REGISTRAR
Cornell Law School can be proud of its many contributions to the chronicles of pioneering diversity.1 The story of Mary Kennedy Brown (1864-1932), who in 1893 became the Law School's first woman graduate, belongs among those accounts. We at Cornell lost track of the rest of her life. Yet, a little investigation reveals that it was colorful, to put it mildly.

This Vermonter started work at a young age, teaching high school in Colorado. Eventually, as a mature and rich widow, she arrived at Cornell Law School. She later married an English aristocrat, who went down with his ship in 1901. Then she married a German count, becoming the Countess Dumolin. In the meantime, she had practiced law in Chicago and Boston and championed progressive views. Cornell Law School has reason to be proud of, and, as things turned out, maybe a little sad for, its graduate Mary Kennedy Brown.


Mary E. Kennedy was born on July 19, 1864, outside tiny Troy, Vermont, near the Canadian border, to Michael Kennedy and Amanda Melvina Webber. Michael was a first-generation Irish American and a farmer who grew hops and maintained a 400-tree sugar maple orchard on his 225 acre farm along Route 100. Mary had three older brothers: James Carroll Kennedy (1852-1924; B.C.E. 1879 Cornell; a very successful mining engineer in Colorado and elsewhere in the West), Alden Kennedy (who died as a child), and Franklin Olin Kennedy (1858-1928; eventually a farmer in Bradford, Vermont).


In 1884 Mary graduated from the "classical department" of St. Johnsbury Academy, a renowned coed private school in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Admission to the school required not only a certificate of good moral character, but also a passing grade on "a fair examination in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Geography, Elements of English Grammar, and Arithmetic through Common and Decimal Fractions." 2 The classical course involved a lot of Latin and some Greek, but also mathematics, science, English, history, elocution, and "Book-keeping, or Civil Government." While a student at the Academy, Mary roomed at I. H. Frost's home. Although tuition was only $15 per twenty-week semester, living expenses ran about $5 per week. Financial aid was rare. Mary's parents must have believed in education. But she was soon on her own. By August 1884, Mary had inherited at least part of the family farm and sold it to her brother Franklin for $450.

Mary went to Colorado to teach, and also served as the first assistant principal, at Colorado Springs High School. She soon met and, in about 1888, married the wealthy Dr. Frank P. Brown (1857-1889) of Grand Junction, Colorado. A native of Elgin, Illinois, Brown had graduated in 1879 from Rush Medical College in Chicago, moved in 1881 to Colorado, and enjoyed great success as surgeon for the Denver & Rio Grande Railway. The newlyweds lived the high life, traveling throughout the United States and Europe-until Dr. Brown died in June 1889, leaving his wife a large fortune.


In September 1890 Mary Kennedy Brown enrolled as a special student at Wellesley College for one year to study history and English literature. As a later magazine article noted, "Mrs. Brown has literary ability of a high order, and may turn her attention to fiction in legal romancing." 3

Litigation over her own business matters, and presumably her brother's Cornell experience, led her in 1891 to enter Cornell University's Law Department, which had opened its doors in 1887. There she was the first woman to undertake what was then a two-year undergraduate course of instruction in legal studies. 4 The Cornell Daily Sun noted her feminine presence at the opening lecture on September 30, 1891. 5 "Women [at Cornell] before 1900 felt the 'sense of being on trial . . . that gave women dignity making them seem more mature.' They dressed in skirts just above the floor, buttoned up in front to the chin, their hair 'doneup' tidily . . . ." 6 Despite the demanding workload, she did well in the class of sixty-two students, receiving her LL.B. in 1893. Through competitive orations, she was selected as one of seven university students to deliver an address at Cornell University's graduation ceremony. The New York Tribune reported that she "captivated her audience" with her commencement address, which was titled "Portia in the Nineteenth Century." 7

Mary's thesis, required for graduation, was entitled "The Statutory Liability of Stockholders for Corporate Debts" (1893). 8 She began her argument with an approving view of limited liability: "The corporation is created as a person, by sovereign authority, independent of members, and it is alone liable for its debts, and there is absolutely no liability for debts except as provided by statute. That is, by convenient fiction of the law the corporation is deemed to be one person [separate from] the stockholders . . . . This fiction has been resorted to, I believe for the convenient administration of justice." She then somewhat disapprovingly surveyed state statutes, and related case law, that created exceptions: (1) absolute personal liability of the stockholder to certain classes of creditors, "such as servants, employees and material men"; (2) personal liability of the stockholder limited to a certain percentage of his or her shares' par value; and (3) personal liability of the stockholder limited to a part of the debts proportional to the percentage of stock held by him or her.

After graduation Mary stayed on in Ithaca for a while, living at 85 Huestis Street (now College Avenue in Collegetown). She did so to teach a course entitled Evolution and Present Condition of the Laws Affecting Women for the Extension Department of the University of the State of New York. In this pioneering foray into women's studies, she gave "lectures on the property rights of married women, and kindred topics of a historical and political nature." 9 The course was publicized thus: "A course on the legal rights of women is offered by Mrs. Mary Kennedy Brown, LL.B. (Cornell); this is an unbiased and scholarly treatment of that branch of legislation, and though desirable for women's clubs, is adapted to any class of hearers who are interested in the history of a people as expounded in their laws." 10

Mary soon moved to Illinois and passed the bar there, to be admitted on January 15, 1894. Here too she was a pioneer. Ada H. Kepley had become the first woman graduate of a law school when she graduated in 1870 from Chicago's Union College of Law (now Northwestern), but she had been refused admission to the bar. In fact, by 1894, there were only about a dozen woman lawyers in Illinois. 11 Mary practiced in Chicago for three years, with the notable firm of Collins, Goodrich, Darrow & Vincent, which had been founded in 1893 by Clarence Darrow and others and was housed in the Rookery Building. 12 The English sculptor Harry Hems, with whom she became friends in Chicago, described her as "one of America's most brilliant lady lawyers." 13

In addition to practicing law, Mary was active in Republican women's groups and supported woman suffrage. In 1894 she addressed several gatherings, telling them that in Colorado, where women could vote, "the results have been for the best interests of the community" and saying:


It was my observation that the most cultured women did the voting, and I see the women who have been nominated on various tickets in Colorado this fall are among the best of the community. It might be that if the good women did not vote the bad ones would, but they evidently do not care to mix with husbands and wives and daughters. I recall the effect of women voting for School Trustees in a Colorado town of 2,500 people. At the time women were enfranchised two of the Trustees in this particular town were saloonkeepers. The argument used for retaining them was that they were wealthy. That they had money to control votes and couldn't be ousted. The women thought differently, and by going to the polls and voting their convictions the two saloonkeepers were defeated for reelection. We women in Illinois should vote. The franchise is given to us [in certain local elections] and it is our duty to act. We will not be exactly in politics, for the office of University Trustee is not the position which politicians seek or care for. When we vote this fall we shall be voting for education and not politicians. 14

A Chicago newspaper reported: "A significant feature of the present political campaign, which makes it stand out distinctively from all others, is the prominent role played in it by women." It noted in particular:


One of the brightest of the younger women whom the campaign has introduced into the political spheres is Mrs. Mary Kennedy Brown, a talented young lawyer in the office of Collins, Goodrich, Darrow & Vincent. Mrs. Brown is a woman of an exceptionally clear intellect and thorough mental training, being educated at an Eastern college and graduated from the law school of Cornell University. 15

By 1896 she was a delegate to the Republican state convention. But she shared her views with Democrats too, appearing before the national committee drafting the Democratic platform, and unsuccessfully pressing a suffrage plank for women that would have approved "every form of social and political progress which will bring them better pay and larger opportunities." 16

From Chicago Mary moved to Boston and practiced law there. On April 17, 1899, she married the well-to-do Lt. Alan Wyldbore Bosworth-Smith (1870-1901), heir to an English baronetcy, at Pembroke Church in Hamilton, Bermuda. 17 Alan served on the Hotspur, a British armored coast defense ship operating out of Hamilton. Theirs was quite the wedding. The bride's dress consisted of a white skirt, coat, and vest and a toque of pink velvet.


A detachment of bluejackets from the Hotspur drew the bridal carriage from the church, and British officers formed a steel arch, with their drawn swords, from the church door to the gate. The United States Consul gave the bride away, and a wedding reception followed at the Windsor Hotel. There were one hundred guests present, including the Governor of Bermuda, the British admiral, the military and naval officials, and prominent members of the American colony. The hotel was draped with bunting for the occasion. The bride, who has passed the Winter at the Hamilton Hotel, will resume her practice in Boston this Summer. The honeymoon will be passed at Shelly Bay. 18
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Soon the couple moved to England, and Mary became a British subject.

On September 17, 1901, Alan began his command of the pictured Cobra, a turbine-powered destroyer of the Royal Navy. But the next day a storm in the North Sea broke his ship in half, and he was lost, along with sixty-six men. Only twelve survived, in a dinghy. A court-martial inquiry absolved the officers of blame, finding that the "Cobra did not touch the ground or come into any contact with any obstruction, nor was her loss due to any error in navigation, but was due to structural weakness of the ship." A newspaper reported:


Lieutenant Bosworth-Smith, who was in command of the vessel, died at his post like the gallant officer and gentleman that he was. Having given the few instructions that were necessary, he stood on the bridge with folded arms, and watched with unmoved mien the departure of the only link between himself and the world. Onlookers who saw the last of him as the dinghy drew away declare that he hardly, to judge by his countenance, seemed to realize his fate. Chief Engineer Percey had stood upon the bridge by his side until the very last moment, and then, diving into the sea, he was picked up by the occupants of the dinghy. 19

A memorial in St. Andrew's Church, Bingham's Melcombe, Dorset, England, remembers Mary's husband of less than three years as follows: "Alan Wyldbore Bosworth-Smith, Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who on September 18th, 1901, while H.M.S. Cobra, of which he was in command, was breaking up in a storm, remained standing on the bridge with his arms folded to the last, and went down with his vessel." A widow again, Mary Kennedy Bosworth-Smith received a pension from the British government for her husband's service.


Yet Mary was to marry again. Her third husband was Count Dumolin of Munich. Mary moved to Germany, living for several years as Countess Dumolin in Munich and Berlin. In the 1908 Cornell directory, and in the 1912 Wellesley directory, she is listed as the Countess Dumolin, living at the very attractive 49 Kanal Street in Munich. But it seems that Mary's third marriage did not end well. Perhaps the Great War tarnished her title's luster. At any rate, she later instructed the Cornell alumni office to strike all references in their records to Countess Dumolin and to resume using the name Mrs. Mary K. Bosworth-Smith.


Returning to the United States, she lived in lower Manhattan at a series of not-so-posh addresses. No longer a U.S. citizen, she could not enter the New York State bar. Instead, she took a clerical position at the American Book Company in Washington Square. She also took an occasional course in literature at Columbia University and was active in the Cornell Club of New York City. Shortly after attending the Cornell Spring Day at the Commodore Hotel on February 23, 1920, she sent news of herself to the alumni office, admitting, "My brother James . . . writes me that I am lacking in the Alma Mater interest." 20 However, she did attend her thirty-fifth reunion.

Mary died on April 29, 1932, in her apartment at 223 W. 17th Street in New York City. She had been ailing for about a year. She had no children. She was alone. Her kindly landlady, Mrs. Nora Lamy, had been taking care of her but did not know what to do with the body. She contacted Mary's lawyer, Charles A. Collin, of Collin, Wells & Hughes at 25 Broadway, but he refused to take responsibility and "said to let the City bury her." 21 The Cornell Club interceded and tracked down Mary's niece in Vermont. Mary still had some property, including two lots in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, and she had executed a will.


Memory of Mary Kennedy Brown seems to have faded everywhere, even among her surviving great-grand nieces and nephews. But now we will remember her.


FOOTNOTES:
1. See, e.g., Kevin M. Clermont, "The Indomitable George Washington Fields: From Slave to Attorney" (2013), http://issuu.com/cornelllawschool/docs/ gwfields; Cynthia Grant Bowman, "Trailblazers: First-Ever Women Editors in Chief of a Law Review," Cornell Law Forum, Spring 2014, http://forum. lawschool.cornell.edu/Vol40_No1/ Feature-4.cfm; Clermont, "When East Met West: 125 Years of Japanese Law Students at Cornell," Cornell Law Forum, Spring 2013, http://forum.lawschool. cornell.edu/Vol39_No1/Feature-2.cfm.

2. Catalogue of St. Johnsbury Academy (1884), 21. The photograph shows the Academy building, and the four-story South Hall just to its right.

3. "Women at the Bar," Law Student's Helper 1 (1893): 202.

4. For a description of the program, see Clermont, "The Indomitable George Washington Fields," above, 21-26. The law school moved in 1892 from Morrill Hall to Boardman Hall (pictured), which was located where Olin Library now stands.

5. "Law Department," Cornell Daily Sun, Oct. 1, 1891, 1. See generally Charlotte Williams Conable, Women at Cornell: The Myth of Equal Education (Cornell University Press, 1977). Coeducation was hardly an instant success. See "Co-education at Cornell," New York Herald, June 24, 1894, § 4, 1, available at bit.ly/1hNPOav (after quoting a male Cornell student who had belittled his female classmates for lacking style in The Cornellian (1894), 228, "there's one now as old as the hills," the news article observes: "It has already been intimated that there is little social intercourse between the students and the 'co-eds.' . . . On the campus the social ostracism of the unfortunate 'co-eds' is striking. . . . There are two main reasons for the existence of these conditions, and each of the reasons, in part, accounts for the other. First, there is a strong feeling among the [male] students against co-education. . . . Second, . . . it is perfectly patent that the men do not [regard the women as their equals socially].").

6. Barbara Loebenstein, "University Co-eds Traced from 1871 Through 1955," Cornell Daily Sun, Apr. 16, 1955, 21, 27. In The Cornellian (1893), 254, there is a long poem entitled "A Co-ed Dream," wherein the author dreams of coming back to Cornell in 1922 to see the status of women: Oh yes! They run the Cornellian, Get up some terrible grinds, And the men are forced to admit That Co-eds have brains and minds. But right in the midst I awoke Disgusted beyond all degree, That after all I am only A Co-ed of Ninety-Three.

7. "End of the College Year," New York Tribune, June 16, 1893, 4; see "Commencement at Cornell," New York Times, June 16, 1893, 5. A Tribute to Henry W. Sage from the Women Graduates of Cornell University (1895) lists Mary as the author of The Modern Portia.

8. The thesis is available at http:// scholarship.law.cornell.edu/historical_ theses/334/.

9. "Women at the Bar," above, 202.

10. University Extension Bulletin, Dec. 8, 1893, 32.

11. See generally Virginia G. Drachman, Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History (Harvard University Press, 1998).

12. The firm dissolved in 1895. Martindale's American Law Directory (1896), 786, listed her business address as the Imperial Hotel.

13. Notes & Queries, May 5, 1894, 356 (recounting a dinner at which she extemporaneously instructed him on the derivation of the term "crank").

14. "As Done in Colorado," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 11, 1894, 12; see "Women Candidates Will Speak," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 12, 1894, 5.

15. "Work of the Women," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1894, 3.

16. "Building of a Platform," Chicago Daily Tribune, July 9, 1896, 11.

17. On the family and on Alan, see Lady Grogan, Reginald Bosworth Smith: A Memoir (James Nisbet, 1909), 264-66 (a book about Alan's father written by Alan's sister).

18. "Notable Wedding at Bermuda," New York Times, Apr. 18, 1899, 9; see "A Lady with a Title," St. Johnsbury Caledonian, Apr. 26, 1899, 8.

19. "Loss of H.M.S. Cobra," Poverty Bay Herald, Oct. 24, 1901, 4.

20. Mary K. Bosworth-Smith to Mr. Norchuck, Mar. 2, 1920 (letter in Cornell University's alumni files); see "Cornell's Fame," Cornell Daily Sun, Feb. 23, 1920, 4 ("Not every University could turn one of New York's greatest hotels into a fairground for an evening and virtually shift its campus into the heart of the city.").

21. Jessamine S. Whitney to Mrs. W. W. Rogers, May 2, 1932 (letter in Cornell University's alumni files, wherein a representative of the Cornell Club reaches out to Mary's niece). We have a record of Mary visiting this niece, Mary's brother Franklin's daughter Lula Ina Rogers (1885-1934), in Bradford, Vermont. "Bradford," United Opinion, July 28, 1922, 8.

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