She had Hutzpah!
“I packed my bags with a beating heart. Go I
would - for why life unless adventure?”
Excerpt from the second edition of They Persisted
Madeline Zabriskie Doty was born on August 24, 1877, in Bayonne,
New Jersey. Her parents were Samuel William Doty and Charlotte
Gautier Zabriskie Doty. The had three children, Madeline, Douglas,
Madeline earned a B.L.(Bachelor of Law) from Smith College in 1900 and went on to study law at Harvard, even though women were strictly barred. She attended four lectures dressed as a man, wearing a tailored suit and trousers, and a hat hiding her hair before she was discovered and called out by a professor. She argued her case strenuously before the faculty but was not allowed to continue. I am continually appalled that so many women were forced to assume a male persona to succeed in their chosen path. Yet, at the same time, I applaud their free thinking and hutzpah!
She earned her L.L.B. (Latin Legum Baccalaureus, which translates to Bachelor of Laws, meaning that the actual degree classification is equivalent to that of a BA) from New York University in 1902 graduating at the top of her class.
After practicing law for five years in New York City she began to focus on the children’s courts, delinquency, and social reform work. For three years she was secretary of the Russell Sage Foundation Children’s Court Committee, working in the juvenile court system until 1912 when she was appointed to the New York State Commission on Prison Reform. This was the beginning of her long career in public service.
Madeline was among the few early female lawyers. In 1870 the U.S. census notes five women lawyers. In 1900, there were 108,000 lawyers and judges in the U.S., the great majority of whom were white men. Only 1,010 were women. By 1950 only 3.5% were women. Numbers have risen since then but they are still a minority and there is often still a pay disparity.
She was a determined feminist and reformer, accepting some extreme challenges in order to promote the change she envisioned. Her experiences during her education fanned those flames.
In 1913, a scant year into her new position with the state, she decided that
the best way to determine what reforms were needed in the prison system was to actually become a prisoner! With the cooperation of the warden and the chief matron, she was incarcerated for four days as “Maggie Martin” in the women’s penitentiary at Auburn on a trumped up charge of forgery. Here it is again, hutzpah!
Upon her release, she wrote a scathing expose for the New York Sunday Post that describing in detail the deplorable conditions and the poor treatment she had received as a prisoner. As a result of this experience, she wrote
Society’s Misfits (1916) which was about juvenile and women’s prison reform. Her goal was to see change, and she wanted to make it happen.
In 1915 with 43 other women from the United States, Madeline attended
the Women’s Peace Congress at the Hague. She was an ardent pacifist and
a member of an international circle of other pacifist women. She became a
correspondent for the New York Tribune and Good Housekeeping.
When World War II broke out her world came tumbling down around
her like so many sand castles. She questioned her work for prison reform
when the entire world seemed to be on fire. How could she keep her focus? Where could she put her energy and talent now?
In 1916, Madeline was in Germany reporting the effects of war on the poor
there, when she visited a friend at the American Embassy in Berlin.
He advised her to to leave, saying that her presence would make trouble
for them at the embassy. “I shall…break no rules, cause no trouble, but
I’m in search of the truth, and as a free American citizen I mean to talk
to everyone I can from the Kaiser to Liebknect (a peace activist who was
very vocal). The friend warned her that she would be watched constantly.
She was and she wrote: “The funny thing about German spies, is that they
dress for the part. They are as unmistakable as Sherlock Holmes. They
nearly always wear gray clothes, a soft gray hat are pale-faced, shifty-eyed,
smooth shaven, or have only a slight mustache, and carry canes.”
One evening, Madeline who spoke no German and a new friend and traveling
companion who was from Germany, and did speak the language, gave the
spies a chase all through Berlin, “We jumped from one car to another. It
proved an exciting game. Once we went up to a gray-clad man, and asked
him if he wasn’t tired. But spies grow angry when spoken to. German
officials have no sense of humor. If they had, I wonder if there would
have been a war.” I can only imagine that this escapade provided not only some comic relief but relieved some stress and tension.
Constantly being followed did take its toll and didn’t seem as much fun anymore. She wrote: “I feel exactly as though I am in prison. I acquire the habit of looking out of the corner of my eye and over my shoulder. These spies are as annoying to their countrymen as to me. The people detest them. They grow restless under such suppression. Free conversation is impossible, except behind closed doors…”
She traveled around the world and in 1917, at the age of 40, she traveled
to Russia as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and Good
Housekeeping, she was there during the 1917-1918 Bolshevik revolution,
and she was able to provide an eye witness account for the American public
back at home.
Doty spent six weeks in Petrograd and observed first hand this tumultuous
period in Russian history. By 1917, the majority of people in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) had lost faith in the Tsarist regime. Government corruption was unrestrained, and Tsar Nicholas II had frequently disregarded the Imperial Duma. Thousands of workers flooded the streets of Petrograd to show their dissatisfaction. On March 8, 1917, demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets in the Russian capital of Petrograd. Supported by 90,000 men and women on strike, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets.
She had arrived not only to this chaos and fermenting uprising but it the dead of winter. She experienced illness and poverty in very hostile surroundings. She had no access to medical care and when she finally found a doctor he had no medications because the chemists were on strike. She was a virtual prisoner again, this time in a hotel, and really not of her choosing.
The streets were filled with revolutionary tensions and she had great anxiety; the revolution impacted all aspects of daily life for everyone, including her. She relied greatly on the housemaid for friendship and assistance. “I lay and shivered, and waited for street fighting to begin. When the machine guns opened fire, what should I do? If the soldiers entered to search for loot, would they spare me? How was I to explain that I was an American, a worker, not a capitalist?” Gradually, when she regained a modicum of health and began to feel more at ease, she was able to more fully appreciate her surroundings. She could focus on the issues she had come here to cover.
She interviewed deposed ministers of the former government that were
imprisoned in dire conditions; she witnessed the trials of the Revolutionary
Tribunal that had replaced all of the judges and lawyers literally overnight;
and she befriended Maxim Gorky, who had tried to help the Russian
people and had condemned the Bolsheviks. Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, primarily known as Maxim Gorky, was a Russian writer and political activist. He was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
She listened carefully to people talking as she rode the train through
Siberia. She penned an article Revolutionary Justice which was published
in the Atlantic. In it she wrote: “The working class had risen. The extreme
left of the Socialists, the Bolsheviks, had gained control…overturning
the Provisional Government under Kerensky, which had not succeeded
in providing what the working people wanted—peace, bread, and land.”
Madeline had a serious love affair with the noted author, David Graham
Phillips, American journalist and novelist, whose interests ranged from the plight of women to corruption in Congress. Late in 1918 she was engaged to Roger Nash Baldwin, educator, social worker, probation officer and pacifist who did not believe in war. He founded the American Civil Liberties Union. As a conscientious objector, he served a year in prison for refusing the draft. They were finally married in August of 1919. They lived in Greenwich Village until 1924 when Madeline was selected as the International Secretary of the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom in Geneva, Switzerland, then as editor of Pax International for the League of Nations. From this point on she spent most of her life abroad with occasional visits to New York and Florida. This must have put undo stress on the marriage. She and Roger amicably divorced in 1925.
She created the first Geneva Junior Year Abroad Program for the
University of Delaware. She returned to academia and earned her Ph.D.
in International Relations, from the University of Geneva in 1934. She
was 66 years old. Later in 1946 she came back to the United States and
organized another Geneva Junior Year Abroad Program for her alma mater,
Smith College, running the program there for three years. The program
continues today and is a living legacy to this brave, forward thinking and rather indomitable woman.
In 1950 she taught history at Miss Harris’s School in Florida. Apparently,
the warmer climate appealed to her. She retired from this position at
the age of 75. Still feeling the fire of reform she returned to Geneva and
became a lecturer at the University of Geneva until 1962 when she retired
and settled at last in Greenfield Massachusetts.
She published several books: Society’s Misfits (1916) on juvenile and
women’s prison reform; Short Rations: An American Woman in Germany (1917), and Behind the Battle Line (1918).
Suggestions for further reading:
One Woman Determined to Make a Difference: The Life of Madeleine
Zabriskie Doty by Madeleine Z. Doty and Alice Duffy Rinehart
Short Rations: An American Woman in Germany, 1915 1916 (Classic
Reprint) by Madeleine Zabriskie Doty
Behind the Battle Line: Around the World in 1918 by Madeleine