Marjorie Knowles Obituary (2021) – New York, NY
Marjorie Fine Knowles, the first dean of a Georgia law school and nationally recognized women’s rights advocate, died in her sleep at her home in downtown Atlanta on Friday, September 24. She was 82 years old.
A native of New York and a graduate with honors from Harvard Law School (1965) and Smith College (1960), Knowles was one of the first female lawyers to work as an assistant to the United States attorney in the Southern District of New York. Although her goal was to help change the criminal justice system, the US attorney’s office banned her from working in the criminal division only because she was female and instead placed her in the civil division. Shortly after, Knowles went to work in the criminal section of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
In 1970, Knowles became the executive director of Joint Foundation Support (JFS), a small nonprofit organization that coordinated the philanthropy of several Jewish families. JFS was one of the first foundations to support groups involved in grassroots organization to fight racism and poverty in the Deep South. Her work took Knowles to Alabama, where she visited the Selma Inter-Religious Project and met Ralph Knowles, a civil rights lawyer from Tuscaloosa, whom she married in 1972.
After a honeymoon at the American Civil Liberties Union’s biennial national convention in Boulder, Colorado, Knowles became one of the first women to join the faculty of the University of Alabama Law School. She has been a strong advocate and role model for women and women’s rights in law school, campus-wide and statewide. Her efforts have increased the number of female law students from 13 to over 70 in three years. She helped teach the University’s first Women’s Studies course and established the University’s University Major in Women’s Studies. She is also the author of the first comprehensive analysis of Alabama statutes affecting women, an article that has become a model for removing sexist provisions from the Alabama Code.
Knowles was a leading voice in favor of passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Federal Constitution and traveled extensively across the country to support its ratification. She has worked closely with other feminists on women’s issues, including helping fund Gloria Steinem’s business, Ms. Magazine. In 1975, Knowles was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Women in America. by the National Federation of Business and Professional Women.
In 1978, the Knowles moved to Washington where Marjorie joined the Carter administration as deputy general counsel in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and was named shortly after the first Inspector General of the US Department of Labor.
In 1980, the Knowles returned to Alabama and Marjorie joined the University of Alabama law school. In 1986, she moved to Atlanta when she became Dean of the Georgia State University (GSU) College of Law. With her appointment, she was the 17th woman in U.S. history to serve as dean of a recognized law school. Over a period of five years, Knowles led the law school to become a major institution in legal education. During her deanship, GSU Law School gained accreditation from the American Bar Association and began training an unprecedented number of African American women and students.
After leaving his post as Dean in 1991, Knowles remained on the faculty of GSU Law School. His teaching, academic work and public service have focused on corporate governance and conflicts of interest. With input from Justice Ginsberg, Knowles’ seminar, Women and the Law, could have been titled “How Ruth Bader Ginsberg Changed the World”.
In addition to her academic interests, Knowles has served on numerous boards, including the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA) and the College Retirement Equities Fund (CREF), where she has served on corporate governance committees and social responsibility and as a member of the executive. committees. She also served on the Board of Directors of the GSU Foundation and was an advisor to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Her governance expertise led her to serve on the City of Atlanta’s first ethics committee and be appointed by a federal court to the task force overseeing the implementation of the settlement agreement in part of a major racial discrimination lawsuit involving Coca-Cola.
Knowles retired from teaching in 2011, but has continued to support and advise feminist leaders, women’s causes, liberal groups and the GSU Law School, where today her new building includes the center of conference Marjorie and Ralph Knowles.
Knowles’ legacy is enduring. As Anya Lee Wahal, a Georgetown University junior and the daughter of one of Marjorie’s close friends, said: “Ms. Marjorie has paved the way for young women like me to live our lives governed by our own. choice and guided by a vision of equality and justice. “
Knowles’ public and professional personality was only one aspect of his rich and well-lived life. She and her beloved husband Ralph welcomed their friends and family to their home for a lively conversation and shared generously with their community. Knowles was an accomplished knitter and craftsman; his extraordinary paintings have graced his home and his many friends have enthusiastically benefited from his creative skills. The Knowles’ deep love and strong partnership has been the key to their success. Individually, Marjorie and Ralph were amazing people, but together they were a powerful couple dedicated to justice and equality in the world.
Knowles is survived by her sister, Carolyn Fine-Clementi, and two sisters-in-law, Cheryl Knowles and Sue Stacy, and their husbands, as well as seven nieces and nephews and their families. She was predeceased by her husband, Ralph, and her parents, Jesse J. Fine and Roslyn L. Fine of New York.
A private service near the family grave will take place and a public memorial will be held when COVID conditions permit. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for gifts to be given to Planned Parenthood Southeast, Doctors Without Borders, or the NOW Foundation.
Published by Atlanta Journal-Constitution on October 3, 2021.