Margaret Holmes McDowell ’38

University of Montana School of Law, Class of 1938

Obituary — 20 August 1997 — Missoulian

+++++“Margaret Holmes McDowell, formerly a senior lawyer in the Civil Division of the New York Legal Aid Society, and most recently of counsel with the Family Law Center, died peacefully in her home in New York City on Thursday, Aug. 14, after a brief illness.
+++++Born in Great Falls, she received her law degree from the University of Montana in 1938, the only woman in her class, and developed a distinguished legal career in two phases, first as an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. and the National War Labor Board in Denver, Colo., and later as an attorney in the Civil Division of the Legal Aid Society in New York City where she specialized in family practice, landlord-tenant law, and immigration law. She became a leading authority on the representation of immigrants in deportation hearings. She retired from the Legal Aid Society in 1996 and became counsel to the Family Law Center in New York City.
+++++Margaret McDowell was participant and leader in the New York County Lawyers’ Association, the New York State Bar Association and the Bar of the City of New York. She received many award and honors from her peers for her work with indigent clients. In addition, she received a Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Montana, and in 1996 was granted the Honorary Doctor of Law Degree from the University of Montana.
+++++Margaret McDowell was a conscientious and imaginative lawyer who championed the legal rights of the poor. She believed that every human being is deserving of a fair hearing in the courts of law. In advancing the causes of the poor, of workers, of immigrants, and of women, Margaret McDowell, known affectionately to her many friends and colleagues as Peggy, sought to create a more just society.
+++++Margaret is survived by her four children, Catherine Brooks, Maura Kealey, and John and Ann McDowell, and her grandchildren, Nick and Louise Brooks, Danny Kealey, and Juan Jose, Sofia and Michael McDowell.”


+++++4 August 1916


+++++John J. Holmes and Kathryn Gillespie


+++++7 siblings

Legal Education:

+++++LL.B., University of Montana School of Law 1938

Admitted to Practice:

  • Montana 1938
  • New York 1976


+++++Joseph E. McDowell


+++++Four children — Catherine, Maura, John and Ann


  • Staff Attorney, Office of Hon. James E. Murray, Senator from Montana, Washington, D.C. 1938
  • Review Attorney, National Labor Relations Board, Washington, D.C. 1938-1941
  • Associate Attorney, National Relations Labor Board, Washington, D.C. 1941-1943
  • Assistant Regional Attorney, Ninth Regional War Labor Board, Denver, Colorado 1944-1945
  • Attorney, Legal Aid Society, New York, 1967-1995

Community Service:

  • New York County Lawyers Association
  • New York State Bar Association
  • Association of the Bar of The City of New York
  • New York City Women’s Bar Association
  • Women’s Division, Legal Aid Society
  • Fifth Annual Conference on Women and Law
  • Governor’s Conference on Women
  • White House Conference on Juvenile Deliquency


+++++14 August 1997, in New York City

10 October 1936 — Great Falls Tribune — “Two Women Taking Law School Course

+++++Margaret (Peggy) Holmes, Helena, once against is known as ‘the only woman in the law school.’
+++++Last year Peggy enrolled as a freshman in the law school and became the chief object of barrister funsters until Jessie Walton, Columbia Falls, joined Peggy’s class.
+++++‘When Jessie Walton returns in about two weeks, I’ll surely welcome her with open arms,’ Peggy says, ‘because there are approximately 75 men enrolled in the law school this year..'”

18 January 1939 — The Missoulian — “Peggy Holmes Gets Job in Washington

+++++“Margaret Holmes, former Helena girl who took a degree in law at Montana State University this year, could have had 87 dates every day of the year — she was that popular.
+++++Miss Holmes was the only woman among 88 students taking law, and rumor always had it that ‘Peggy’ had the boys practically enslaved. What’s more, she was their equal when grade time came around.
+++++Miss Holmes recently joined the review staff of the Labor Relations board in Washington, D. C. They told her she was crazy when she, a woman, tried for a legal job. But she got it.
+++++Miss Holmes is the eleventh woman in the 27-year history of the law school to get a law degree. The last was in 1933. During those 27 years 297 men have been granted degrees.”

Margaret Holmes McDowell’s “Addendum to Resume”

+++++“I graduated from the University of Montana Law School in June 1938, the only woman in the class, the only woman in the law school for most of my enrollment, and the first woman graduate for the preceding ten years.
+++++From 1938 to 1943, I worked for the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D. C., ending my tenure as an appellate attorney preparing Board briefs on appeal to the Third Circuit. . . . These were exciting times for young, idealistic attorneys. Labor’s rights were simply defined in the then unamended Wagner Act and were enthusiastically enforced as the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities under Rep. Martin Dies accused the Board of shielding a hotbed of ‘Reds.’
+++++During World War II, I worked for the National War Labor Board in Denver as Assistant Regional Attorney, retiring to the practice of what we then called ‘Homemaker’ in 1945. Raising four children, attending PTA meetings, and being den mother for girl scout troops honed my skills in advocacy and negotiation! During these years I also participated in such activities as a White House Conference on Juvenile Delinquency, and discussion leader in Child Study and Great Books Programs.
+++++In 1966-1977, now settled in Manhattan, I took refresher courses at New York University School of Law and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1967. I volunteered at The Legal Aid Society from 1967 to 1969, joining the staff in 1969. Engaged primarily in family law practice from 1967 to 1974, I handled every variety of family problem, including a habeas corpus proceeding in the Supreme Court which resulted in the return to his mother of a Mexican child who had been sold in Mexico to a New York resident.
+++++In the fall of 1974, I helped establish The Legal Aid Society Office for the Aging in Brooklyn. We selected a site in Flatbush which was and is inviting and accessible to the elderly, and procedures, including home service, to meet their needs. Serving in the beginning a community of over 350,000 elderly residents, this office now serves the entire borough and is a bulwark to the elderly in preventing evictions and obtaining services and benefits to which they are entitled.
+++++I returned to the Park Place office in 1977, combining the practice of family law with landlord-tenant, consumer and public benefits cases. With a colleague, I represented an entire building in Brooklyn in a dispute over unconscionable rent increases. A proceeding in the Supreme Court to enjoin the collection of these increases resulting in a settlement establishing legal rents and securing extensive repairs.
+++++From 1984 to 1992, I have been the senior attorney in the city-wide Immigration Unit of The Legal Aid Society, representing asylum seekers fleeing persecution and assisting long-time residents to become U.S. citizens, to sponsor spouses and children, and to obtain waivers of deportation in those unfortunate cases where a violation of law threatens to terminate their status.
+++++More recently, I have been co-counsel in a class action to compel the Immigration Service to replace lost or stolen green cards, the I.D. lawful permanent residents require to work, travel, etc. Substantial relief was obtained in the district court and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Remaining issues on appeal to the circuit are now the subject of promising negotiations.
+++++During these 25 years with The Legal Aid Society, I have assisted in lawyer training on a regular basis for the Society and for The New York County Lawyers’ Association and The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, served as mentor to volunteer attorneys in many fields, conducted educational lectures in the community, participated in training programs of The Legal Services Corporation and in a moot court program at The New York University Law School. I have been an active member of the Bar associations to which I belong, among other activities chairing the Women’s Rights Committee and the Committee on the Revision of the By-laws of the New York County Lawyers Association. During my tenure, the latter committee revised the by-laws to make them gender neutral and later completely revised them to reflect changes in policy and practice.”

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