Bok, Curtis, 1897-1962

Variant names

Hide Profile

Born in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, Curtis Bok became a common pleas court judge in Pennsylvania in 1937 and was elected as a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1958. He published a number of books dealing with aspects of law.

From the guide to the Curtis Bok Collection, 1941-1948, (Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections)

Curtis Bok, born in 1897 as William Curtis, was Edward and Mary Louise Curtis Bok⁰́₉s oldest son. He attended Haverford School, the Chestnut Hill Academy, and The Hill School, a preparatory school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. When graduated from The Hill School in 1915, he moved to Massachusetts and began studying at Williams College. He left school around 1917 to join the Navy when the United States entered World War I. By the age of 21, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant. At the end of the war, Curtis returned to Philadelphia to ponder his future. He turned down the opportunity to work in his father⁰́₉s publishing company, and instead decided to study law at the University of Virginia. When he returned to Philadelphia, Curtis worked for a short time as the assistant district attorney of Philadelphia County. He took on cases that were deemed ⁰́hopeless, ⁰́₊ and took a special interest in the plight of prisoners. He became an Eastern State Penitentiary trustee, and even volunteered to serve a term in prison so he could experience first-hand life behind bars. Curtis was appointed to the city's Orphans Court in 1935, then to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. While serving locally, he oversaw what became his most famous case, Commonwealth v. Gordon, on obscenity and books. He ruled that if a controversial work had any social or redeeming values, it was not obscene. His decision still stands on the books today. He was later elected, as a Democrat, to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1958. In 1924, Curtis married Margaret Adams Plummer; together they had a daughter, Margaret Welmeot, and two sons, Benjamin and Derek. The couple divorced in the early 1930s. He married Nellie Lee Holt, a religious educator from Nebraska in 1934, and the couple had two children, Rachael and Enid. Curtis maintained lifelong interests in music, sailing, and writing. His writing abilities and legal knowledge shined in four books---The Backbone of the Herring; I, Too, Nicodemus; Star Wormwood; and a novel, Maria---as well as his "Judge Ulen" that he wrote for the law magazine The Shingle. He was deeply involved with the Curtis Institute of Music and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Curtis also wrote articles sailing and was a member of the United States Power Squadron, a non-profit organization that promotes boating safety and education. Curtis Bok died in 1962. Nellie Lee Holt was born in Falls City, Nebraska, to William Robert Holt and Eve Lezetta [Giannini] Holt on February 1, 1901. The Holts were known regionally for their award-winning Berkshire hogs. Nellie Lee graduated from high school in 1917 and attended St. Mary⁰́₉s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, where she studied piano at the school⁰́₉s Conservatory of the Music. She went on to obtain a master's degree from the University of Nebraska. Her first career was as a teacher in the religious education department at Stephen⁰́₉s College, Columbia, Missouri. She worked at the college from 1925 to 1934, and early on during her tenure, at the behest of the college's president, she went on a tour of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia to meet various leaders in education and religion. While in India, she stayed in two ashrams (religious settlements) with Mohandas Gandhi, whom she interviewed. After marrying in 1934 marriage Nellie Lee and Curtis Bok moved to Philadelphia. Nellie Lee's first foray into public service began in 1935 when she was appointed to serve on the Philadelphia County Board of Mothers' Assistance, Old Age Pension and Relief of the Blind. She resigned in 1937, the same year their first child was born. In the 1940s, she and Curtis joined the Society of Friends. Among Nellie Lee's many interests were the humanities, the education of women, music therapy, mental health reform, and, like Curtis, the treatment of prisoners. She joined numerous service organizations and helped organize the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission. In 1956, she was appointed president of The American Foundation, Inc., which was set up by Curtis's father Edward Bok. (Curtis served as secretary of the organization up to his death.) The foundation promoted educational programs for and relating to prisoners. Additionally, it supported the Mountain Lake Sanctuary in Lake Wales, Florida, which was also founded by Edward Bok. Nellie Lee's dedication to the community also extended to service with the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Award, the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Settlement School of Music, and the National Council of Crime and Delinquency, among other organizations. Curtis and Nellie Lee lived in several locations throughout the region, including the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, and Radnor, Pennsylvania. Later in life, Nellie Lee moved to an apartment in Center City, Philadelphia. She died in 1984.

From the description of William Curtis Bok and Nellie Lee Holt Bok papers 1836-1991 1905-1984. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). WorldCat record id: 761394389

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Bok, Curtis, 1897-1962. Curtis Bok collection, 1941-1948. Princeton University Library
referencedIn Jerome New Frank papers, 1918-1972 (bulk 1929-1957) Yale University Library
referencedIn Hastie, William. William Hastie papers. 1916-1976. Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Thorbecke, Sonya Stokowski,. Interview conducted by Oliver Daniel, Feb. 26, 1979 [sound recording]. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Ernst, Morris Leopold, 1888-1976. Papers, 1948-1950. Indiana University
referencedIn Glueck, Sheldon, 1896-1990. Papers, 1916-1972 Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
creatorOf Bok, Curtis, 1897-1962,. William Curtis Bok and Nellie Lee Holt Bok papers 1836-1991 1905-1984. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
creatorOf Cooke, Rose Terry, 1827-1892. Correspondence with Mr. B.W. Austin, Secretary Northwestern Literary and Historical Society, Jan. 22nd, 1886, Winsted, Conn., to Dr. I.T. Talbot, Jan. 9th, 1890, Pittsfield, Mass., to Mr. Ticknor, Jan. 8th, 1889, New Haven, Conn., to My dear Kate, August 6th, 1889, Winsted, to Mr Bok, publisher, Dec. 29th, 1890, Pittsfield, Mass., to Mr. Hubbard, Sept. 3, 1881, Winsted, "My dear friend," April 23, 1878, Winsted, Dr. Ward, Nov. 14, 1890, Pittsfield, Mass., Mary, July 14, 1886, Winsted / Rose Terry Cooke. University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
creatorOf Bok, Curtis, 1897-1962. Correspondence to Maxwell Struthers Burt, 1949. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Stokowski, Leopold, 1882-1977. Leopold Stokowski papers, 1916-1994. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Thorbecke, Sonya Stokowski,. Interview conducted by Oliver Daniel, Mar. 9, 1979 [sound recording]. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. records, 1914-1961, bulk (1930s-1950s). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. records, 1914-1961, 1930s-1950s New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Philadelphia Award. Correspondence with Marian Anderson, 1941-1985. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Frank, Jerome, 1889-1957. Jerome New Frank papers, 1918-1972 (inclusive), 1929-1957 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn Bok, Nellie Lee,. Interview conducted by Oliver Daniel, June 12, 1979 [sound recording]. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Samaroff Stokowski, Olga, 1882-1948. Correspondence to Eugene Ormandy, 1934-1948. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Curtis Bok Collection, 1941-1948 Princeton University. Library. Dept. of Rare Books and Special CollectionsManuscripts Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith American Foundation, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Isabella Giannini. person
associatedWith Bok, Derek Curtis. person
associatedWith Bok family. family
associatedWith Bok, Nellie Lee, person
associatedWith Bok, Nellie Lee Holt, 1901-1984, person
associatedWith Bragdon, Claude Fayette, 1866-1946 person
associatedWith Cooke, Rose Terry, 1827-1892. person
associatedWith Curtis Publishing Company. corporateBody
correspondedWith Ernst, Morris Leopold, 1888-1976. person
associatedWith Frank, Jerome, 1889-1957. person
associatedWith Gandhi, Mahatma, 1869-1948. person
associatedWith Giannini family. family
associatedWith Giannini, M. person
associatedWith Glueck, Sheldon, 1896- person
associatedWith Goldman, Rachel Bok. person
associatedWith Hastie, William. person
associatedWith Holt, Eva Giannini. person
associatedWith Holt family. family
associatedWith Holt, William R. person
associatedWith Keyserling, Hermann, Graf von, 1880-1946. person
associatedWith Okun, Enid Curtis Bok. person
associatedWith Philadelphia Award. corporateBody
associatedWith Philadelphia Fellowship Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Samaroff Stokowski, Olga, 1882-1948. person
associatedWith Seymour family. family
associatedWith Speer family. family
associatedWith Speer, Laura. person
associatedWith Stokowski, Leopold, 1882-1977. person
associatedWith Thorbecke, Sonya Stokowski, person
associatedWith Zimbalist, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, 1876-1970. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Pennsylvania. Supreme Court
Great Britain
United States
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Pennsylvania. Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia County)
Bok Tower Gardens (Lake Wales, Fla.)
Judicial process
Judicial process
Judicial process
Judicial process
Lawyers as authors
Legal history
Obscenity (Law)
Obscenity (Law)
Stephens College
Trials (Obscenity)
Voyages around the world
War diaries
American fiction
Family life


Birth 1897-09-07

Death 1962-05-22





Ark ID: w6br8s76

SNAC ID: 13674238