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Agents of Social Change - Dorothy Kenyon


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Dorothy Kenyon (1888-1972)

League of Nations Memorandum

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Dorothy Kenyon on arrival in New York after serving as the U.S. representative to the League of Nations Committee for Study of the Legal Status of Women in Geneva, January 20, 1939.
International News Photo (copyright unknown)

Dorothy Kenyon began her career as a lawyer in New York City in 1917. In 1936, she moved into public service by serving first as the Deputy Commissioner of Licenses in New York City, and later as a Justice on the city's Municipal Court. In these positions, in her capacity as the U.S. representative to the League of Nations Commission to Study the Legal Status of Women from 1938-40, and as the first delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women from 1947-50, "Judge" Kenyon worked tirelessly to advance the status of women and minorities in the U.S. and internationally.

In addition to her political appointments and private law practice, Kenyon also held offices in many organizations including the Consumers' League of New York, the League of Women Voters, and the American Association of University Women. She served on the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1930 until her death and almost single-handedly persuaded the organization to take on cases that challenged sex discrimination.

Despite Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist attack on her in 1950, Kenyon remained politically active in the 1960s and early 1970s through her work in the War on Poverty and her participation in the Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Women's Liberation movements. In 1968, at age 80, she and another lawyer established an office for legal services for the poor on Manhattan's Lower West Side under the aegis of Mobilization for Youth.

The 29 feet of Kenyon Papers include material that documents her professional and activist career from the 1920s to 1972, and her personal life and family history from 1850-1980. Organizations represented in Kenyon's files include the ACLU, NAACP, various UN and League of Nations committees, the Citizen's Union of New York City, Smith College, New York University, and numerous Lower West Side community development groups. Her speeches and writings and research files address such issues as worldwide suffrage, the status and role of women, domestic and foreign policy, abortion rights, minority legal rights, civil liberties, the Equal Rights Amendment, anti-communism, and women's liberation. In addition to the insight the collection offers into the personal and public life of a pioneering woman lawyer, judge and political figure, the Kenyon papers illuminate issues such as family relations in the early 20th century, the sexual revolution of the 1910s and 1920s, and the continuity of social activism around such issues as race, class and gender from the height of the Old Left to the height of the New Left.

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