Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kathryn "Kitty" Preyer: A Book of Her Own (part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous post, panelists and audience members alike were drawn to the April 15 celebration at the Massachusetts Historical Society because we admired Kitty’s scholarship and wanted to give it its due. But perhaps more than that, we all loved Kitty. I was fortunate to get to know her in the final few years of her life. We met in 1998 at Rare Book School, in Morris Cohen and David Warrington’s excellent class, “Collecting the History of Anglo-American Law.” We became friends.

Kitty had a way of making every one of her friends feel special and unique. But it was not an exclusive club: Kitty had many, many friends, which was evident at a memorial service held at Wellesley shortly after her death. I was at that service along with hundreds of others, each of us feeling like we had a special claim on Kitty’s friendship, only to realize everyone there felt exactly the same way!

More than one of the speakers at the MHS event remarked that they keep a picture of Kitty in their office. I have one too. It was taken in 2002, when Kitty visited our Rare Book Room to collaborate on an exhibit, “Collectors on Collecting,” which showcased the work of several book collectors who were linked to the law in some way, either by their profession or by the books they owned. Kitty loved all her books, and she struggled to select a few favorites for the exhibit. She was especially drawn to the most humble and well-worn volumes (she called them “truly ratty”) because they showed evidence of hard use by their previous owners. She used her books the same way: reading them, writing in them, engaging with them, making them truly her own.

A few years later Kitty was gone, but clearly not forgotten. Her friends at BC Law remember her for many reasons, including her generous bequest of her magnificent law book collection. In 2006 we displayed them in an exhibit entitled “Kitty Preyer and Her Books.” Though she regretted not publishing “a book of her own” during her lifetime, I think she actually had dozens. We are so grateful she entrusted them to us.

Kitty, we love you.

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