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Agents of Social Change - Mary Metlay Kaufman


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Mary Metlay Kaufman
Photograph by James Rutledge for the Journal Herald, Dayton, Ohio, January 28, 1972. Reproduced with permission from the Dayton Daily News.
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Mary Metlay Kaufman (1912-95)

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Finding aid

Mary Kaufman began her career as a labor attorney in New York City in the 1930s. In 1947, she served on the prosecution team of the U.S. Military War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany.

From 1948 to 1960, her practice consisted primarily of defending state and national leaders of the U.S. Communist Party indicted under the Smith Act. She also represented individuals called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Subversive Activities Control Board. Kaufman was active in the National Lawyers' Guild from its inception in the 1930s, and became the first Director of the Guild's Mass Defense Office in New York City in 1968, supervising the defense of hundreds arrested in political actions. From 1972 to 1976, she taught legal studies as a visiting professor at Antioch College in Ohio, and Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. She taught courses in labor law; McCarthyism; Nuremberg and international law; racism and the law; and political trials of the 20th Century.

Through her experiences in Nuremberg, Kaufman developed the concept of individual responsibility as a defense for political activists arrested for protesting government crimes against peace and humanity. She served as legal advisor and expert witness on international law in the trials of peace and anti-nuclear activists arrested for civil disobedience; and from the 1960s to the 1980s she participated in international tribunals, investigating U.S. war crimes from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan to the war in Southeast Asia and the nuclear arms race.

Mary Kaufman's papers document her professional and activist career from 1937 to 1986. Her legal case files include court documents, testimonies, correspondence, and research material and provide important source material for the study of Communist and anti-Communist activities in the U.S., as well as political activism in the Civil Rights, peace, and anti-nuclear movements. Kaufman's writings and speeches reveal her development of the "Nuremberg defense" for those arrested for civil disobedience. Also included are her teaching materials, and records documenting her work with the National Lawyers' Guild and the Mass Defense Office.

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