Activists, Politicians, Philanthropists, and Humanitarians

Some lawyers are better known as diarists and essayists, or as activists. Of course many other politicians in various countries have entered politics and government service.


Etty Hillesum (1914-1943), who died at Auschwitz, is now known for her work An Interrupted Life.

Nelson Mandela, the South African activist who spent most of his adult life in prison for opposing the apartheid regime of his country, had little time to practice law, but was the first post-apartheid President of South Africa.

Fidel Castro got a law degree in 1950 and Vladimir Lenin studied law before turning to revolution.

Niccolo di Macchiavelli (1469-1527), the author of the influential tract The Prince, was trained in the law.

Mohandus (Mahatma) Gandhi earned a law degree but became much more famous as a founder of modern India. His experiences of prejudice while working as an attorney helped shape and confirm his humanist vision.

Nigerian activist Ogaga Ifowodo expresses his concern for his people in his poetry.

Robert de Forest, an 1872 graduate of Columbia University Law School, worked with charitable organizations throughout his life and served as a trustee and benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His brother Henry was also an attorney, and an art collector and amateur landscape architect.

John Graver Johnson represented the poor and unknown as well as the rich and famous, and donated his art collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Judge Alphonso T. Clearwater collected silver for many years; his collection became a major part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s silver holdings.

Roger Houston Ogden, a Tulane University Law School graduate, turned his lifelong interest in the arts of the South into a major Louisiana museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Lawyer John Borger donated his collection of 30,000 superhero comic books to the University of Minnesota’s Library. Here’s an article by his wife, Judith, who encouraged him to make the gift (I was sorry to read it wouldn’t go to Michigan State, which is also my alma mater).

The numismatist Eric P. Newman was also a lawyer. He earned his JD from Washington University. He amassed an impressive collection of coins and founded the Newman Money Museum, to which he donated millions of dollars.

Bishop James A. Pike, whose interests included the study of parapsychology and contact with the dead, received a law degree from Yale.