Katherine B. Fite

A Short Biography

International Humanitarian Law Dialogs

The International Humanitarian Law Dialogs are a historic gathering of the current and former international war crimes tribunal prosecutors at the historic Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua NY. Annually, renowned academics and law experts are invited to speak on a current issues centered on a theme.

Born in Boston, Katherine Fite earned her law degree from Yale in 1930 along with only three other women that year. Fite served as an attorney on the U.S.-Mexico Claims Commission as her initial legal job. In 1937 began her 25-year career working in the office of the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State. During the war years she worked under Green Hackworth, who would become the first American judge and President of the International Court of Justice.

In 1945, the State Department assigned Fite to work with Justice Robert H. Jackson while he served as the Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg.   Fite accompanied Jackson to the Potsdam Conference, into central Berlin, and to the Dachau concentration camp where more than 40,000 perished. When back in England, she and Jackson meat with Cambridge jurist Hersch Lauterpacht. In addition to gallivanting around Europe’s ruins with Jackson, Fite spent six months as an assimilated officer at the rank of major.

Fite was a hard-working, well-educated, upper class woman, whom felt more comfortable surrounded by work than in an evening gown. Often Fite was too busy to attend proceedings. Instead she attended the Allies’ summit at Yalta and helped interrogate defendants von Ribbentrop, Keitel, and Frick. Fite was not a prosecutor herself and often found courtroom proceedings dull. Instead she identified herself as a political observer. Fite rightly pointed out that politics mattered at Nuremberg, noting that the other three allies seemed to pressure the United States to hurry through the judicial process. Though other women practiced at Nuremberg, Fite had left by the time they arrived. In December she returned home to the state Department.