Historic Court Connection

by Erin O'Boyle

Summer 2021

US Supreme Court building in Washington DC

Professor Susan Liebell, Ph.D., created the McKenna Project to give students the opportunity to research Joseph McKenna, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who served from 1898-1925.

Proving whether or not Joseph McKenna, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1898 to 1925, was an alumnus of Saint Joseph’s University was just one of the many goals of the McKenna Project, a faculty-student research collaboration led by Susan Liebell, Ph.D., professor of political science.

joseph mckenna standing in front of a book case

Recently, McKenna’s name was found in a University directory in the library, proving that this historical figure did indeed graduate from Saint Joseph’s.

“Every year during graduation, it’s mentioned that Joseph McKenna was a Supreme Court Justice and that he’d gone to St. Joe’s,” Liebell says. “But there was no trace of him.” So, Liebell created a research class, Political Science 470 — Research in the Discipline, so students could learn more about McKenna and his connection to St. Joe’s, and create a permanent online database for those researching the Supreme Court during this period.

“I wanted the class to be able to create a concrete product, like a website that students would be able to add to their resumes,” she says. Part of the students’ research included reaching out to other libraries, from Drexel to Rutgers to the Library of Congress. A huge discovery was made at Saint Joseph’s library: Lesley Carey, a library technician, found a 1901 University directory that lists McKenna as a Saint Joseph’s alum, with his address at the Supreme Court.

“This research moved fast,” Liebell says. “It was very exciting to get this document from the archivist at the library.”