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Martha Stimson – At 100, Still Never Afraid


Martha

While interviewing Martha Stimson’43 at her home in Cincinnati, it quickly became apparent that she isn’t much different from other Cincinnati Law alums.  She enjoys recalling her days of strenuous study, the constant worry about her grades, the professors that impacted her life, and the lunches she shared with her best friend before heading back to class – memories that all grads have.  

However, one discovers Martha is unique from her fellow alums because when she says, “back in the day,” she’s talking over 74 years ago—from 1940 to ’43.  

What was happening in the world at that time? It was the height of the Second World War, the global war that involved over 100 million people and 30 countries. Nazi Germany’s attempt to invade Moscow was beginning to fail. The Star of David was required wear by all Jews in the Netherlands and Belgium; Jews in other Nazi-controlled countries had already been forced to wear it. And, the Japanese naval advance in the Pacific would soon be halted thanks to the American victory at the Battle of Midway.

It was also a period of time when Martha, living at home, was deciding where to submit her applications to law schools.

Interestingly, Martha toured Italy and Germany as World War II continued to explode. Asked if she was ever afraid during her excursion held while the world appeared to be separating at the seams, Martha said, “I was a little scared. It was a period where all the homes had black curtains.”

She quickly added, “But when I communicated with my parents, I always told them that I was alright. Never afraid.”

Making the Case for Cincinnati Law

Martha cut her trip short due to the war. Soon, however, she was accepted at Cincinnati Law. Martha, and one other female, Dale Case, whose father was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, comprised the women in the Class of 1943. The two became fast friends and often ate lunch together between classes. Martha shares, “There was very little social life.”

Nine men and the two women made up the class. But did she or Dale ever consider themselves “trailblazers for women in the legal field”? The humble, soft spoken Martha politely shakes her head no. Not one for protest marches and bullhorn parades, her inroads were made with a quiet dignity, the daily pursuit of excellence, and a confidence in her classroom work.

“I enjoyed law school,” Martha softly states. “Some people were surprised I enrolled and I was told, ‘Only men do that.’ That is what men said then and that is what they always will say.”

Though it would take another 37 years before Cincinnati Law had its first tenured female faculty member, Martha reports there was never any pushback from her instructors.  

“The professors were glad to see you in class. They were a valuable part of your life,” she fondly recalled.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, Martha’s path took her through Long Island to Cleveland, Ohio and finally to Cincinnati in 1937 following the infamous Ohio River flood that left over a million people homeless from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.

Later, an aunt urged her to apply to prestigious Smith College in Massachusetts, which she did. In today’s competitive nature of law school acceptance and emphasis on LSAT scores, Martha shyly states that her excellent undergraduate grades at Smith were credentials enough for her to gain entry into UC Law.

She can still recite the names of numerous faculty members that taught her at UC. In an earlier interview, Martha is quoted as saying, “Dean (Frank) Rowley made us work hard and toe the line.”

A Professional Career Kicks Off

Martha was in one class taught by the legendary Murray Seasongood. The, “Father of Cincinnati’s Charter form of Government,” Seasongood took on what many called the nation’s worst governed city in 1923, and ignited a reform movement that later led Cincinnati to be hailed as the country’s best-run municipality. It was Professor Seasongood that asked Martha to come to work at the Paxton & Seasongood Law Firm upon her graduation.

Through her work at Paxton & Seasongood, Martha met Si Lazarus, who started the law department at Federated Department Stores, which is now known as Macy’s Inc. Federated Department Stores operated more than 400 department stores and 157 specialty stores in 37 states. “Mr. Lazarus got permission from Mr. Seasongood for me to come to work for him,” Martha says.

Martha proudly states, “Everything I ever accomplished professionally was because of my law degree.”

As for her dear friend Dale Case, she passed away over 20 years ago due to cancer. Martha still communicates with Dale’s daughter on a regular basis

Martha’s son, David, followed in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from Cincinnati Law in  1977. David is now Senior Counsel at Nixon Peabody LLP, in Rochester, New York, and reports, “I was allowed to make my own choices with law school. No pressure from Mom. But I knew where I was going.”   

Still Engaging with the College of Law

On November 4, 2017, the College of Law will be hosting an alumni event: Celebration 2017: ReConnect. ReEngage. ReIgnite.—an opportunity to renew relationships with the law school and with other alumni.  As with most gatherings of this type, it is a sure bet that memories will be recounted and improved upon… and perhaps even stretched a bit due to the passage of time.

However, if 100-year-old Martha Stimson attends – and she certainly still may physically –  the “youngsters” of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s will probably discover a new definition of the phrase, “back in the day at UC Law.” 

- By Thomas W. Giffin, Director of Development