I personally learned a lot about the Katzenbach School while researching March’s column, and became intrigued by the naming of the school “to honor a long-time advocate for the deaf, and her commitment to the school and its students as a State Board of Education member for more than four decades.” I decided to devote April’s column to Marie Katzenbach to find out more about her.
Marie Louise Hunt Hilson was born in Trenton on Dec. 8, 1882 to Cleaveland and Matilda Emily Hunt. Her family’s roots in Trenton go back to the early 18th century and include Moore Furman (1728-1808), the first mayor of Trenton (1792-94).
She received her education at the New Jersey State Model School at Trenton, a “practice” school associated with the New Jersey State Normal School, the first institution in the state for training teachers. (The Normal School later became Trenton State College, and then The College of New Jersey.) Miss Hilson then received additional education at the University of Pennsylvania, and also studied abroad.
Soon after, she worked at the Union Industrial Home for Destitute Children, an orphanage on Chestnut Avenue in Trenton, which provided its children “the advantages of moral, religious and useful training,” according to TrentonHistory.org.
She advocated for and eventually obtained certain benefits for the orphan children, including education in the public schools, and attention to their developmental and psychological needs. During this time she also worked in the Trenton Free Library as a librarian, and eventually as chief of staff within the cataloguing department.
In November of 1911, she married lawyer and frequent political educator Edward L. Katzenbach, also of a politically prominent Trenton family, who would serve as the attorney general of New Jersey from 1924 to 1929. Her husband’s brother, lawyer Frank Snowden Katzenbach Jr., had served as mayor of Trenton from 1902-1906, and ran for governor in 1907. Marie and Edward had two sons, Edward L. Katzenbach, Jr., and Nicholas de Belleville Katzenbach (a future US Attorney General), both of whom would also make significant political names for themselves.
Mrs. Katzenbach continued to dedicate her time and abilities to the needs she perceived around her, in particular improving education, even after the death of her husband in 1934. In 1921, she was appointed to the New Jersey State Board of Education, one of the first two women to be appointed to the board.
She remained active on that board for over four decades, helping to set the rules for the supervision and governance of the state’s public schools. She became the first woman president of the State School Board in 1956, and was instrumental in forming the state college system, among other achievements.
A resident of Princeton, Mrs. Katzenbach also served as a trustee of Rutgers University from 1932 to 1970. Her service to the University was honored by the naming of Katzenbach Hall, a women’s residence hall at the University’s Douglass College. Rutgers also bestowed upon her an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1948 for her faithful service to the people of New Jersey, and her commitment to state education.
Marie Katzenbach also continued her service on other boards, including the Union Industrial Home, the Visiting Nurses Association, the Family Service Association, and the Travelers’ Aid Society. But it was her commitment to the New Jersey School for the Deaf that captivated much of her passion and attention, and resulted in her life-long association with the institution here in Ewing.
First named to the deaf school board in 1923, she helped to plan the move to the Ewing campus later that decade. She continued to be involved in the growth of the institution and its mission to the deaf until her death in 1970. It’s appropriate that the school was renamed in her honor in 1965.
Mrs. Katzenbach received a number of honors and awards, including the Distinguished Service to Education award from the New Jersey Education Association, and the first annual Higher Education Service Award in 1960. Marie Hilson Katzenbach, with many other members of the Katzenbach family, rests in the Ewing Church Cemetery after a life well-lived, near a prominent monument inscribed with the family name.