Mary Conway Kohler

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Mary Conway Kohler
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Born1903 (age 120–121)
Alma materStanford University

Mary Conway Kohler was a leading advocate for young people during much of her lifetime. She worked to assure that young people’s lives included opportunities for participation in activities that are challenging, constructive and include caring for others.

Born in Oakland, California in 1903, she received her A.B. in 1926 and her J.D. in 1928, both from Stanford University, among the first women to graduate from Stanford Law School. Conway Kohler went on to become a probation officer of the Juvenile Court, San Francisco, 1929-1931 and Chief probation officer, 1931-1932.

After serving in San Francisco, for 16 years, Conway Kohler came to New York to serve as a consultant to the Tweed Commission, 1953- 1959, which was responsible for the reorganization of the New York Court System and the development of the new Family Court of New York State. Later, as consultant to the Ford Foundation, she studied methods used to combat juvenile delinquency in Europe, writing articles for the Saturday Review, including: “Why Less Delinquency in Europe?” She also consulted for various government agencies and foundations. She served on President Kennedy’s Committee on Youth Employment; chaired the Committee on Juvenile Laws and Procedures of the American Bar Association. In New York City, she was the first director of the Neighborhood Youth Corps (1961), and was appointed by Mayor Robert Wagner to the NYC Board of Education (1963).

In 1966 she established, and directed until her retirement in 1982, The National Commission on Resources for Youth (NCRY). NCRY was an early effort to create Youth Development programming in the afterschool hours, during school and summer, what NCRY called, Youth Participation. She brought together a group of prominent educators, social scientists and businessmen who had long been concerned with the well-being of youth who became NCRY’s board. NCRY grew from their concern about the increasing difficulty young people have in making the transition from adolescence to constructive adult life. They believed that this difficulty had grown as a result of changes in society that limit opportunities for young people to undertake responsible, active roles that make a difference to others.

Working out of a small office in NYC, NCRY identified hundreds of programs in which young people had significant roles, during and after school and during summers. It developed two demonstration models of its own: Youth Tutoring Youth and the Day Care Youth Helper programs which were carefully evaluated.

Through its publications, training, presentations and technical assistance, NCRY helped to bring about the wide implementation of Youth Participation programs as well as a greater understanding of the need to provide opportunities for young people to experience challenging, active and responsible roles as part of growing up. It also worked to include more active roles for youth in federal policy and programs through education and work experience.

Judge Kohler was a highly effective speaker. She reached and influenced many people at all levels, both locally and nationally, with her passionate voice for young people. She loved to describe examples that she had witnessed of young people who felt needed; for example a boy who ran a printing press while in jail, and pointing to it, told her he would prefer to remain in prison because: “But for me, this would not work.”

She believed deeply in the importance of young people learning to care, the title of her 1983 publication for Seabury Press.

Mary Conway married John Kohler in 1926 and they had 3 children. She died in 1982 in New York City. Conway Kohler is co-author with Alan Gartner and Frank Riessman of: Children Teach Children: Learning by Teaching, 1971; NCRY had many publications including: New Roles for Youth in the School and Community, Scholastic Press, 1974. She is author of: Young People Learning to Care, Seabury Press, 1983.


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