A project of Brooklyn Historical Society

Elizabeth Smith-Pryor

Scholarly and Community Advisor

I am an associate professor and the Undergraduate Program Coordinator for the Kent State University History Department. After 8 years here in Ohio, I consider myself lucky to have moved (with spouse and children) to this area. Born and raised in Staten Island, New York (part of New York City, although many Manhattanites might not recognize it as such), I earned my AB in Government from Harvard in 1984, and a JD from Stanford Law School in 1987. After practicing law for 6 years in New York, I recognized that career as overly-toxic and returned to academia, earning my PhD in American History from Rutgers University in 2001. At Kent State, I teach the survey course in modern American history, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in African-American History, The History of Race and the Law, Historical Methods, American Women's History, and Race, Gender, and Sexuality in American History. My first book titled Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness was published in May 2009 by the University of North Carolina Press. In my book, I closely examine the Rhinelander annulment trial of 1926, in which Leonard Rhinelander, the youngest son of a New York City real estate investor/developer with deep ties to New York's ruling class, descendant of a very wealthy Knickerbocker family related to Edith Wharton, sued to end his marriage to Alice Jones, his first and only girlfriend. The only legal basis Leonard used for this attempt was his claim that Alice had passed as white when she was, in fact, 'colored'. Their subsequent marital annulment trial generated massive amounts of newspaper coverage, not only in New York but across the nation, and rivaled the Scopes monkey trial as a public spectacle. My research interests include the tumultuous history of race in this country, along with its intersections with gender, class, and power. My new research project will focus on the era of Civil Rights and Black Power.