Harriet Putnam Henry (1923-2004) became Maine’s first woman judge in 1973. Nationally recognized as an expert in marine law and coastal management, she soon became known as an advocate for women judges, and for her work in the areas of child abuse and child welfare.
Born in Ashland, Kentucky, she graduated from Smith College in 1945, after which she moved to Washington D.C. During the 1940s and 1950s, she was employed at the Office of the Quarter Master General and the National Security Agency, while studying at the George Washington Law School at night. She received her law degree in 1954 and moved to Maine in 1958 with her husband Merton G. Henry, where they raised three children.
In Maine she became involved in environmental law and legislation, directing a research study entitled “Maine Law Affecting Marine Resources,” working as a consultant to the State Planning Office, and drafting an aquaculture lease law. She also chaired the Board of the Portland Housing Authority and was active in the League of Women Voters, serving as its president from 1963 to 1965.
In 1968 she directed a project of the Office of Sea Grant Programs and the University of Maine Law School studying all Maine law affecting the state’s marine resources including fishery regulations, restriction on and use of estuaries, restrictions on industry, shore zoning, and recreational activities. The project resulted in a four-volume study entitled Maine Law Affecting Marine Resources, published in 1969-1970.
In 1973, Henry was appointed Judge at Large for the Maine District Court, a position she held until 1990. During her judicial career she has served on numerous commissions and committees, including the Children in the Courts Committee (1983), Commission to Study the Future of Maine’s Courts (1990), and the Ethics and Election Practices Commission (1997).
A long-time friend of Margaret Chase Smith, Henry was a strong supporter of the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan. Her extensive civic service includes membership on the board of the original Maine Commission on the Status of Women and the Cumberland County Child Abuse and Neglect Council. She chaired the Maine Commission on the Future of the Courts, the Professional Ethics and Judicial Responsibility Committee of the National Conference of Special Court Judges, and the Child Abuse Committee of the Women Judges Foundation for Justice.
Among her honors are an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Bowdoin College and from the University of Maine, and the Maine Commission on Women’s Woman of the Year Award. Her board service includes the Maine Humanities Council, the Maine Historical Society, Westbrook College, Sweetser Children’s Services, the National Center for State Courts and, as a charter member, the National Association of Women Judges.
Her papers are deposited at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library. She died on September 11, 2004.
Harriet P. Henry. Papers 1940-2001. Special Collections, Raymond H. Fogler Library, the University of Maine at Orono
“Long-Time Friend Passes Away.” Margaret Chase Smith Library Newsletter. September 2004.