Who's Who of Professional Women


Ruth-Arlene Howe

Ruth-Arlene W. Howe, professor emerita, dedicated almost 40 years to the student bodies of the Simmons College School of Social Work and the Boston College Law School as a professor of legal interviewing, family law and elder law. Motivated by her lifelong passion for civil rights and social justice, she began her career with an emphasis on social work before pursuing legal studies. She completed a Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley College in 1955 and was awarded a Master of Social Work at Simmons College in 1957. The same year, Ms. Howe accepted a position as a psychiatric social worker for the Catholic Youth Service Bureau of Cleveland, Ohio. She would continue to serve the Catholic Youth Service Bureau for the next four years.

Returning to Boston in 1961, Ms. Howe joined the League of Women Voters and began working on issues affecting low-income housing and educational services, and developed a reputation as a dynamic community advocate and organizer with a personal commitment to working on behalf of underserved groups. In 1970, she began teaching at the graduate level as a lecturer at the Simmons College School of Social Work and was accepted to Boston College Law School the following year. She earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1974, and was admitted to practice law by the State Bar of Massachusetts in 1977 and before the Supreme Court in 1995. After eight years as a member of the Simmons College faculty, Ms. Howe, in 1978, accepted an assistant professorship at Boston College Law School and received tenure as an associate professor in 1981.

In 1998, Ms. Howe became the first Black woman in Boston College history to be made a full professor of law, building on her legacy of advocacy for law students of color as an adviser to the Boston College Black Law Students Association and a 1985 founding member of the Boston College Law School Black Alumni Network, serving as treasurer until she became a director emerita in 2014. During her tenure at Boston College, she extensively published on foster care, adoption and social services, including co-authoring “Child Neglect Laws in America” in 1975, with Sanford Katz and Melba McGrath. She was a founding faculty member of the former Third World Law Journal, now the prestigious Boston College Journal of Law & Social Justice, and the Herman Dunlop-Smith fellow in law and social/public policy at the Radcliffe College Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute from 1994 to 1995. In addition to her work in academia, Ms. Howe was active as a clerk for the Boston-based Grimes-King Foundation for the Elderly from 1972 until 2014.

Ms. Howe was granted professor emerita status by Boston College in 2009. In recognition of her trailblazing career and her drive to use the law as a tool for equity, she has been presented with a 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and is the recipient of the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Outside her work, Ms. Howe enjoyed more than 63 years of marriage with her late husband, Theodore, and is a proud mother of four and grandmother of seven.


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