Q. Do Boalt Hall professors ever marry their law students? (I’m just asking.) – C.E., Berkeley
A. Since 2003, the University of California has had an official policy forbidding professors from dating students in their classes, or any student who might reasonably be expected to enroll in one of their classes. But once the Socratic method has been left far behind, le coeur a ses raisons…. In 1921, Bay Area newspaper readers were titillated by the headline, “Cupid Laughs at Law Books,” and shocked by what the article revealed.
Boalt alumni of a certain age remember the incomparable Alexander “The Captain” Kidd, who terrorized and inspired generations of law students. “More than once,” his University obituary reads, “following a series of unprepared or inept student performances, ‘The Captain’ terminated the session in midhour by picking up his books and stalking from the room.” Those books might also be launched as missiles if the exasperated professor, eyes flashing beneath his trademark green eyeshade, felt a law student was being willfully ignorant.
Few law students of his later years would guess that The Captain was once the subject of a scandalously juicy tabloid romance. “A fast and furious courtship of three weeks ended at high noon last Wednesday with the marriage of Miss Frances Wilson, deputy district attorney, and Alexander M. Kidd, professor of law at the University of California…. Although Miss Wilson and Kidd have known each other for years, the announcement of the wedding dropped like a thunder cap [sic] onto the University of California campus, where Kidd was known as a confirmed bachelor.” Professor Kidd was forty-two.
“Some time ago,” the 1921 newspaper article continues, “Miss Wilson, in her capacity as deputy district attorney, prepared a brief for the state on the Laura Culver case for presentation to the Supreme Court. Professor Kidd read over the brief and it was during their consultations over the legal document that Dan Cupid pierced the intricate legal tangle with his golden arrow.”
The San Francisco Bulletin reported breathlessly, with a giggle and a tsk: “Last Monday Miss Wilson asked for a leave of absence of one week, to commence last Wednesday. The request was granted and on the same day Miss Wilson and Professor Kidd eloped to San Jose and were married.”
The society columnist for the Examiner noted that the “fair eloper” is “the only woman holding such a position [deputy district attorney] in Alameda county, and is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Wilson of 2743 Derby street, Berkeley. A graduate of the University of California Law School, she also attended Stanford University, where she was a member of the Pi Omega sorority. Concert training in the pianoforte took her at one time on the vaudeville stage, where, after a successful tour, she abandoned the musical career in favor of law.”
Several papers noted that the new bride would not be giving up her position as deputy district attorney. “That a woman’s business or professional career is not protection against the assaults of romance is evidenced in the information just received by District Attorney [Ezra] Decoto that Miss Wilson is now Mrs. Kidd, but that the change in name will make no difference in her career if agreeable to ‘the boss’.”
Though happy, the marriage was unfortunately brief. Frances Wilson Kidd died in 1928, leaving one daughter, Portia. Alexander Marsden Kidd’s own obituary in 1960 concludes with the observation that “Professor Kidd was undoubtedly the best loved, by the Law School alumni, of any faculty member in the history of Boalt Hall….”
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