Kenyon, Smith 1908, laywer, civil rights advocate, feminist
“Let us all learn to treat
people everywhere like human beings, without distinction
as to color, race, creed, or sex, and the problems will melt
away. One world, one people—that is what we want.”—Dorothy
Kenyon, in a speech to the UN Commission on the Status of
Dorothy Kenyon was a champion
of civil liberties and human rights. Her decision to become
a lawyer in a time when few women were admitted to law school
was spurred by the terrible poverty she saw on a trip to
Mexico a few years after her graduation from Smith in 1908.
By 1914, she had earned her law degree from New York University,
and by 1917 had gained admittance to the New York State bar.
She established a private practice focusing on women’s rights, labor rights,
and civil rights, while becoming a founding board member
of the American Civil Liberties Union, and serving as a member
of many other prominent liberal organizations, such as the
YWCA and the American Labor Party.
Kenyon, noticed by the
New York City government, was appointed to several municipal
positions in the middle part of her career, which enabled
her to improve housing, tax relief for the unemployed, and
other issues. She was eventually appointed judge on the New
York City Municipal Court.
With her appointments as a U.S.
representative to the League of Nations Committee for the
Study of the Status of Women, and later as U.S. delegate
to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women,
Kenyon emerged on the international stage. Kenyon debated
the relative statuses of women in the U.S. and the Soviet
Union with her Soviet counterpart on the Commission. Despite
that public disagreement, U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy named
Kenyon a Communist sympathizer and informant in 1950. McCarthy
and the FBI found Kenyon guilty of connections with subversive
organizations such as the National Federation for Constitutional
Liberties, the Union for Democratic Action, and the American
Kenyon was not deterred. Upon
hearing of McCarthy’s
accusations, Kenyon said, publicly, that McCarthy was a “lowdown
worm and although it ought to be beneath my dignity to answer
him, I’m mad enough to say that he’s a liar and he can go
to hell.” Despite prominent support from Eleanor Roosevelt,
Kenyon went so far as to hire a “Wall Street Republican” as
her legal counsel for the loyalty hearings. Perhaps the tactic
helped: McCarthy’s investigation concluded that Kenyon had
simply displayed “naiveté and gullibility” in her involvement
in liberal organizations. She was not convicted.
brush with McCarthy’s witch-hunt, Kenyon continued her fight
for civil and human rights on state and national levels.
She remained active in the ACLU, helped write legal briefs
for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and set up legal counseling
for the poor of New York’s Lower West Side. Kenyon died in
1972 at age 84.