Women's History Month: Hazel Bowman Kerper
March 31, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins
In her 2021 article in the Wyoming Law Review titled The Stoic Who Didn’t Know It: The University of Wyoming College of Law’s First Graduate Hazel Bowman Kerper, author Lindsay Hoyt argued that her subject’s life embodied stoicism.
“While we will never know whether Hazel intentionally lived stoically or not, her life embodied it,” Hoyt said. “Although women did not typically go to law school in the early twentieth century, let alone work outside the home, these norms had little consequence to Hazel. They actually became her route to leading the life she desired.”
Long before her arrival at SHSU, Hazel Bowman became the first woman to pass through University of Wyoming Law School’s doors as a student in 1925 and later the first to graduate in 1928. Here, she met her husband, Wesley Kerper. The two would also become law partners and run a practice in Cody, Wyoming for 30 years while raising their family.
In 1959, the couple decided they wanted their two youngest daughters to see the world and become multicultural and bilingual. All their children would go on to become teachers, lawyers or pillars in their communities and were strongly influenced by their mother’s example on a daily basis. Despite her hectic schedule as a practicing lawyer, she was always home for lunch and dinner and dedicated herself to their constant education.
“Hazel taught her four daughters early and often about the value of having a career,” Hoyt said. “All four girls identified early what it looked like to have a mother who did not work from home, but instead went to work as a lawyer. Hazel always intended to lead her daughters through both her words and her daily example.”
Kerper also earned degrees from Stanford University Law School and Florida State University. Her professional career included memberships on the Wyoming, California and Texas State Bars. She arrived at SHSU in 1966 and is credited with establishing the first law curriculum within the university’s criminal justice studies and developing a criminal justice courtroom learning lab, named in her honor in 1978.
“This room and the judges’ chambers are a monument to her,” said George Killinger, the founding director of the institute, at the room’s naming dedication ceremony. “While she was a great teacher, a great researcher, a great author and a great friend to us all, her greatest love was her field of study—the law—which she so vigorously fought for and so brilliantly added to the curriculum of the institute and which will now be preserved, promoted and perpetuated in this great teaching court room by the faculty and students who will follow and who will attempt to live up to the standards set by our great lady—Dr. Hazel Bowman Kerper.”
According to an April 1978 article in The Houstonian covering the event, a portrait of Kerper commissioned by a TDCJ inmate was also unveiled in the courtroom. Former SHSU President Elliot Bowers and former Criminal Justice Center Director George Beto made remarks.
Kerper served on the faculty at SHSU from 1966 until her death in 1975. She was a recipient of the Distinguished Professor Award during her tenure.
On top of the countless honorary societies she participated in, she also appeared in Who’s Who-American Women, Personalities of the South and Who’s Who in the South and Southwest. Her many
literary achievements include publications in Texas Law Review, American Criminal Justice Quarterly, Women Lawyers Journal and the American Journal of Correction. Between 1972 and 1976, she released three successful academic textbooks.
One of her daughters, Jill Mora, was quoted in the summer 2020 edition of Heritage Magazine reflecting on her mother’s legacy and what it means today:
“As you can imagine, I am thinking about my mother’s advocacy for criminal justice these days. She served on a panel for criminal justice reform with Senator Barbara Jordan a few years before her death. If she were alive today, I’m sure we would be hearing her strong voice in our national debate about criminal justice.”
Her ashes were scattered by her husband and children at the family’s cabin near Cody.
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