Catherine G. Roraback, granddaughter of a Connecticut Supreme Court chief justice, joined the family business in Canaan. But she left the fold when it came to the family's politics – and changed the world from a little white building on Main Street.
The grandfather, Alfredo T. Roraback, built the Roraback law office in 1875, where he later practiced with his younger brother, J. Clinton. Staunch, conservative Republicans, they ruled the town and another uncle ruled the state GOP for 25 years until 1937.
Young Catherine, raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., came out of Yale as a new lawyer in 1948 and could have joined her great-uncle’s firm, but he advised her to stay in New Haven. Eventually she did take over the practice, in 1955, maintaining an office in both places.
- Pictures: Catherine Roraback's Law Office To Open As History Center
- Courtroom Surprises: Twists And Turns In Connecticut Trials
- In Connecticut, A Long Battle For Reproductive Freedom
- Dan Haar's Route 44 Photos
- Dan Haar's Food Finds Along Route 44
- Flat Danny Travels The State With Courant Readers
See more photos »
- Justice System
- Trials and Arbitration
- Courts and the Judiciary
See more topics »
And with fellow radical liberals such as Ella T. Grasso as comrades, she launched a civil rights career. In 1965, she brought the case of a couple that challenged Connecticut’s blue law against sales of contraceptives, and won the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that still stands today as the landmark for private freedom over government restrictions of rights – Griswold v Connecticut.
It led the way for Roe v Wade eight years later.
Roraback later represented a member of the Black Panthers in a 1971 New Haven murder case that ended in a mistrial, her client going free.
Kathryn Boughton, the North Canaan town historian, has worked for years to reopen the law office as a history center for research in many local issues and topics -- and it happens this Sunday with an open house at 2 p.m.
Boughton, who knew Roraback, can imagine the clashes between her and her family. “They had lively dinner-time discussions,” she said in a bit of an understatement.
And Roraback even did local, routine work such as wills – sometimes. Roraback was supposed to have finished Boughton’s father’s will when, Boughton recalls, “My mother met her on the street and said ‘Catherine, don't worry about that will, he's dead.’ She would have gotten around to it someday.”
Roraback, a cousin of state Superior Court Judge and former Sen. Andrew
Roraback, left her papers to Yale and the building to a local foundation in Canaan, which later put it on the market. Boughton and others persuaded the town to buy it – and she's aware that it can't just be another small, local museum, one of hundreds that dot the Connecticut landscape.
Up Route 44 a few miles in Lakeville, the Holley-Williams house stands as a sad reminder of the harsh reality for many town museums. The house, more than 200 years old, was perfectly preserved, as the last family member donated it fully furnished in 1971, down to the towels and teacups. And it was important, as the home of a governor and a family that made industrial history.
But for the Salisbury Association, which owned it, the expense was too high, the visitor count too low despite marketing efforts. In 2010, the group auctioned much of the contents and sold the house to private owners -- where it's preserved, but not open to the public.
Of the Roraback law office, Boughton said, “This is not a historical society, this is a research center....I'm hoping that within a few years all these shelves will be filled with books and materials that are germane to this area.”