From Kate Stoneman to Stoneman Chair, Katheryn D. Katz: feminist waves and the first domestic violence course at a United States law school.

Author:Breger, Melissa L.


First-wave feminist, suffragette, and 1898 Albany Law School graduate, Katherine "Kate" Stoneman, pioneered the admission of women to the Bar of the State of New York. She led the charge against the statutory preclusion of women, overturning the statute in 1886 and winning legislative victory for non-discrimination in admission to the bar. Exactly one hundred years later, in 1986, second-wave feminist and Albany Law School graduate Katheryn D. Katz pioneered the teaching of violence against women in law schools by teaching the first documented Domestic Violence seminar course in a United States law school. In 2007, Albany Law School named Professor Katz the first Kate Stoneman Chair in Law and Democracy. The impact these two women made continues to be felt far beyond Albany Law School and New York State. This article positions the role of Albany Law School and two of its graduates in the struggle for equality of women under the law and within law schools. It also documents Professor Katz's historical place as a second-wave feminist and the impact her activism has had on the study of domestic violence law, family law, reproductive rights, juvenile rights, and the advancement of issues concerning women and children nationwide.


    Situated in the Capital Region of New York State, Albany Law School has played an interesting and often undocumented role in advancing and exploring cutting edge women's issues. Its earliest female alumnus, Katherine "Kate" Stoneman (Class of 1898), was a suffragette, lawyer, former teacher, and temperance activist. (1) Prior to attending law school in 1886, Kate (2) had successfully championed the admission of women to the bar of New York State. (3) Exactly a century later in 1986, Professor Katheryn D. Katz, a 1970 alumnus and the second woman to join the Albany Law faculty, taught the first domestic violence course offered in an American law school. (4) These path-breaking women integrated their talents as educators with their goals as lawyer-activists. (5) They used their experience as the laboratory from which they developed legal theories (in Professor Katz's case) and holistic strategies for change (in Kate Stoneman's case). This integration of educational mission with legal activism continues today at Albany Law School in its violence against women, intimate partner abuse, family law, and family violence programming.

    This article begins by exploring, in Part II, the lives and times of both Kate Stoneman and Professor Katz and their connection with Albany Law School and New York State law and policy. It also examines Albany Law School's identity during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when it distinguished itself with a liberal admissions policy. (6) In Part III, the article reflects upon and describes Professor Katz's unique and novel contributions to the Albany Law School curriculum and climate. Her accomplishments include the introduction of the first Domestic Violence Seminar in the nation in 1986, her active support of the development of multiple clinical offerings related to domestic violence law in the early 1990s, and her role in linking the first-and second-wave feminists through the development of the inaugural Kate Stoneman Day Program in 1994. This linking eventually led to the campaign to endow a Kate Stoneman Visiting Professorship in 2000. Then, in 2007, Professor Katz served as the first Stoneman Chair.

    This article concludes in Part IV by noting the interrelationship between practice and theory that was a hallmark of both women's lives. Kate Stoneman's nineteenth century professional career arc moved her from "Normal School" teacher to activist-lawyer. (7) She moved from filing lawsuits in the courtroom to deepening her study of the law in the Albany Law School classroom. Meanwhile, Professor Katz's twentieth century professional life moved in the opposite direction, from stellar student at Albany Law School to activist lawyer in the courtroom and then returning to Albany Law as activist-teacher-scholar. That interrelationship between practice and theory remains integral to the overall curriculum at Albany Law School. As described in the last section of this article, legal and policy issues concerning intimate partner abuse, violence against women, and family violence are taught through core courses, seminar offerings, clinical offerings, and supervision of student papers. (8) Students also become aware of and familiar with the thorny issues presented by the subjects through student organized events and extra-curricular connections with the community. (9) In addition, Professor Katz brought other issues to the forefront of legal education at Albany Law School, such as family law, juvenile law, children and the law, bioethics and reproductive rights law, and feminist legal theory.


    For Albany Law School, the linking of the several historical iterations of the United States women's movement is direct and explicit. Our first woman graduate, Kate Stoneman, was a notable suffragette who successfully overturned legislation precluding the admission of women to the New York State Bar in 1886. (10) Exactly one hundred years later, second-wave feminist and Albany Law Professor Katheryn D. Katz advanced the study of legal issues which had enormous impact on women's lives when she taught her 1986 domestic violence law course, the first documented within a United States law school. (11) Both of these women, by all accounts, were humble. (12) Their histories now deserve more attention than they have received heretofore.

    1. 1886--Kate Stoneman: Suffragette, Women's Rights Activist, and First Women Admitted to Practice Law in New York State

      Kate Stoneman was raised on a family farm in Busti (now Lakewood), New York. (13) During the United States' Civil War, she traveled to Albany to attend the "State Normal School," (14) worked part-time as a copyist for the state reporter of the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state), and eventually returned to her alma mater to teach others. (15) In the late nineteenth century, upstate New York "was a hotbed of reform: religious revivalism, abolition, women's rights, utopian communal experiments, temperance, and prison reform," to name only a few. (16) Kate dove into the thick of it as a suffragette, and as a peace league (17) and temperance activist. (18)

      According to one source, Kate's political activism began sometime in the 1870s and continued in a more organized way in 1880 "when she and other local suffragists lobbied the legislature to pass a bill allowing women to" be elected to the local school boards. (19) They also formed the Women's Suffrage Society of Albany. She later reflected in an oft-quoted statement: "I think it is called lobbying now, but in those days it was the simplest thing in the world to get inside the brass rail. We had the 'run' of the two houses and were allowed to come and go as we pleased." (20)

      Kate appears to have been, like many of the early suffragettes, a brave woman who endured risk for what she believed in. The executive committee of the State Normal School "was not pleased with her advocacy of suffrage to her students" and directed the president of the school in 1887 "to explain to Miss Stoneman that any expression of her views in regard to women's rights and cognate subjects to the students was contrary to the wishes of the executive committee." (21) This directive came the year after Kate came to public attention for her advocacy of the right of women to be admitted to the bar. (22) Kate and others, such as Susan B. Anthony, were frustrated by women's limitation to seven occupations of "housekeeping, sewing, cooking, tailoring, domestic nursing, teaching in 'dame' schools, and shop work." (23) In fact, Professor Katz noted in her essay, Kate Stoneman: Pioneer for Equality, that even in the teaching profession the cultural practices of the day limited women's opportunities.

      [Kate] taught subjects that were typically taught by women in that era--geography, drawing and penmanship, rather than subjects requiring more intellectual rigor, as these were considered unsuitable for women. During her tenure at the normal school, Kate served as vice-principal for a time and had the distinction of being the first female president of the alumni/ae association. Kate, however, was never promoted to professor. (24) Kate's activism included the desire to "extend the field of women's activity" to other occupations. (25) She reportedly developed an interest in the law after being named executrix of her aunt's estate in nearby Troy, New York. (26) In 1882, at the age of forty-one, she began work as a law clerk in a local attorney's office. (27) Four years later, in 1886, she was inspired to take and pass the oral and written bar exams, but was denied admission to the bar because she was female. (28) Admission at that time was decided by the courts. (29) The three judges who denied Kate's request for admission did so with these dismissive words: "No precedent, No English precedent, No necessity." (30) Professor Katz tells the rest of the story eloquently:

      Undeterred, Kate and her suffragist supporters began lobbying efforts to change the law. Within a day she had found almost unanimous support in both houses of the legislature for an amendment stating that neither race nor sex could be an impediment to bar admission. That same day Kate visited Governor David B. Hill, and Secretary of State Homer A. Nelson, who signed the bill. Shortly thereafter Kate took the signed bill to the Supreme Court and was duly admitted to practice by the same three judges who had earlier denied her application. Thus Kate became the first female member of the bar in New York and one of the few women admitted to practice law in the United States. (31) The actual language of the...

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