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Mark De Wolfe Howe Dies; Lawyer, Historian Was 60


Mark De Wolfe Howe died early yesterday morning at the age of 60.

Howe, a member of the Law School faculty since 1946, was Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History. He was stricken at his Cambridge home during the night by a coronary occlusion, and died before dawn.

There will be a memorial service at 2 p.m. Friday in Memorial Church.

Mr. Justice Holmes once said that as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived." Mark Howe, who had been Holmes' law clerk in 1933-34 and was his biographer, stood in no peril. Howe combined meticulous scholarship in law and history with a life of political and social involvement.

Howe was deeply rooted in his native New England. His father, Mark A. DeWolfe Howe, was not a native of Boston (his father, also Mark A. DeWolfe Howe, had been Bishop of Central Pennsylvania in the Protestant Episcopal Church), but he came to be the Bostonian of Bostonians, historian of the city's clubs and societies, biographer of its literary figures--including Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Through his mother, too, Mark Howe was descended from a long line of Massachusetts men, including six Josiah Quincys, two of them Mayors of Boston and one a President of Harvard. Howe himself had a Bostonian's distaste for travel and the Puritan's taste for plainness and high standards for one's self.

After a boyhood surrounded by his parents' Boston friends and graduation from Harvard College in 1928, Howe turned at first to a different world, that of film making. He joined Paramount Pictures as a second assistant director and worked on pictures with Jimmy Durante and Fred Allen. Soon, however, Howe was back in Cambridge at the Law School.

Upon his graduation in 1933, his life took a turn that was to have a lasting effect on his career. The late Mr. Justice Frankfurter, then still in his professorial chair at the Law School, selected Howe to be secretary to Holmes. Similar to Holmes in background--both men had grandfathers who were men of the cloth, the father of each was at the center of the literary Boston of his day--Howe was ultimately to become the editor of Holmes' letters and the author of Holmes' biography, unfinished at Howe's death.

After his clerkship with Holmes, Howe entered private practice in Boston with the firm of Hill, Barlow & Homans. After a few years he left, in 1937, to become professor at the University of Buffalo Law School. He became Dean there in 1939, already at work on Holmes' papers.

In 1941 he published Holmes' correspondence with Sir Frederick Pollock. That edition, like Howe's later editions of Holmes' Civil War letters and his correspondence with Harold Laski, was notable for the unobtrusively informative notes with which Howe outfitted his text. Scarcely a book was so obscure or a person so forgotten by history that Howe was unable to provide Holmes' reference with concise words of identification and appraisal.

It was not until later, after service in World War II -- during which Howe recevied the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal -- and joining the Harvard law faculty, that Howe's work on Holmes enabled him to display the full range of his talents.

He published, in 1957 and 1963, two volumes of biography; Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: The Shaping Years, 1841-1870 and The Proving Years, 1870-1882. The two volumes brought Holmes only to his appointment to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, but in them Howe made a permanent contribution to judicial biography and American intellectual history.

Through his sympathetic understanding of Holmes world, Howe was able to bring alive the forces that molded the future judge and to show the growth of Holmes ideas. Clothed throughout in elegant and precise prose, Howe's analysis was the most substantial contribution yet made to the study of Holmes.

Howe's contributions to scholarship ranged far beyond his work on Holmes. Among the foremost American legal historians, he was vastly knowledgeable in historical matters, often serving his Law School colleagues as an encyclopedic source of assistance with their scholarly problems. He wrote extensively on question of constitutional law, particularly on church-state relations, the subject of his recent book, The Garden and the Wilderness.

But despite his extensive scholarly commitments, Howe was deeply and passionately involved in public affairs. An active Democrat and adviser to many Democratic candidates for state office, Howe served on his ward committee until he felt obliged last year to resign so that he would be free to support publicly a Republican. Elliot L. Richardson '41. Howe found his own party's candidate for Attorney General in that election intolerable.

Always active in cival liberties matters, primarily through the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Howe's energies in recent years had been concentrated on civil rights problems. The scholarly analyst of the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution was also a founder of the Lawyer's Constitutional Defense Committee, which sought to bring to fruition the paper rights granted by those amendments. In the summer of 1965 Howe spent his vacation in Mississippi trying civil rights cases for the Committee.

Howe taught on occasion in the College, with a General Education course on law, in addition to his Law School courses in constitutional law, legal history, and maritime law. Howe was further involved in the life of the College as a frequent adviser to the CRIMSON and to undergraduates working in civil rights, and, more formally, as a member of the Leverett House Senior Common Room and a Fellow of the House.

Howe married in 1935 the former Mary Manning of Dublin, a playwright, who, with their three daughters, survives him. He is also survived by a sister, Helen Howe (Mrs. Reginald Allen), a novelist, and a brother, Quincy Howe, a commentator and editor

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