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Ethel F. Donaghue Papers

Identifier: 2015-0146

Scope and Content Note

The collection primarily contains notes, publications and coursework undertaken by Ms. Donaghue while attending the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. Formats include correspondence, school work, and publications. There is no personal or family information or documentation in the collection.


  • undated, 1908-1973


The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained from the owner(s) of the copyright.


Ethel Frances Donaghue, only daughter of Patrick and Catherine (Weldon) Donaghue, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 6, 1896. The family, which included Ethel's older brother Thomas, lived at 135 Capitol Avenue in Hartford. Ethel graduated from Hartford Public High School in 1913 and completed her undergraduate education at Vassar College. Immediately after graduation in 1917, Ethel entered the University of Pennsylvania to study law. At the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Ethel won the Pemberton Morris Prize for “having attained the highest standing for three years in evidence, pleading, and practice.” One newspaper account of the time credits her with being elected president of her class two consecutive times and being the first woman admitted to the law clubs of the university, but, apart from the Pemberton Morris Prize, the University of Pennsylvania alumni office has no record of her achievements.

Shortly after graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 1920, Ethel was tapped for a job in the U.S. Justice Department. Her immediate supervisor, and possibly the man who secured the position for her, was Thomas J. Spellacy, who had known her since she was a child. Spellacy, mayor of Hartford from 1935-1943, was Assistant Attorney General of the United States in 1920, and Ethel Donaghue became a special assistant in charge of admiralty affairs. Defined as “the whole body of law relating to maritime affairs.” Between 1920 and 1922 she was in New York studying at New York University Law School and was the only woman in the class of 1922, having earned the degree of doctor of juridical science. Ethel was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1923, admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in March 1926, and the Connecticut Bar in April 1926.

In 1922 she appeared in the Hartford City Directory as “Ethel F. Donaghue, attorney at law,” practicing out of her home on Capitol Avenue. In 1926, she opened an office at 750 Main Street. At that time, three women were listed in the Directory as practicing law in Hartford. About the same time she and her brother moved from the family home on Capitol Avenue to 995 Prospect Avenue on the Hartford-West Hartford line. In 1927, Ethel moved her office to a family property, the brand new “Donaghue Building” at 525 Main Street. She began taking long cruises with her mother and brother aboard the luxury ships of the Cunard and White Star lines.

Ethel retired from the Connecticut Bar in 1933, and with her mother's death soon after, turned her attention to managing the family's fortune and property, travel and attending social events. The benfactor to several charities, Ethel established a trust in December 1952, to be administered by the Hartford-Connecticut Trust Company. Upon her death, the trust would become a perpetual trust whose income would be used “for research for the cause and cure of cancer.” In 1977, she established a foundation “solely for the purpose of providing financial assistance for research in the fields of cancer and heart disease and/or other medical research to promote medical knowledge which will be of practical benefit to the preservation, maintenance and improvement of human life.” The foundationis known as The Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation (

Ethel F. Donaghue died December 30, 1989 at her home in West Hartford. She was 93 years old.

References: [NYT] [Booklet]


0.75 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Law school papers of Ethel F. Donaghue, one of the earliest women to practice law in Connecticut.

Provenance and Acquisition

The collection was donated in November 2015.

Related Material

Archives & Special Collections has a substantial collection of materials pertaining to various aspects of Connecticut history.

Ethel F. Donaghue Papers
Under Revision
Archives & Special Collections staff
2015 November
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US