Joan Borden Stuart, 90, of Villanova, a lawyer and a founder of Laurel House, a shelter for abused women in Montgomery County, died Saturday, July 6, of complications from Parkinson’s disease at Beaumont at Bryn Mawr, a community for seniors.
Mrs. Stuart was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Narberth. She graduated from the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr and Bennington College in Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Mrs. Stuart married Thomas Walter Stuart, a management consultant, Rotarian, and squash player. The couple had three daughters, whom they raised in Villanova.
While serving as a mother and homemaker, Mrs. Stuart volunteered at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and participated in the visiting live-animal program that it sponsors. The animals are taken to schools, nursing homes, and community events as ambassadors for the environment, said academy spokesperson Carolyn Belardo.
She also volunteered at the Franklin Institute, where she helped paint and refurbish the walk-through likeness of a human heart.
Mrs. Stuart graduated with a law degree from Villanova University in 1976 and went on to earn a master’s degree in taxation. Working from offices on Lancaster Avenue in Haverford, she practiced family law and handled probate matters such as trusts and wills. She served clients in Montgomery County for many years before retiring a decade ago.
In 1974, while studying law, Mrs. Stuart became aware of domestic violence against women and the victims’ need for a safe place, sometimes immediately. In 1980 she became a “founding mother” and benefactor of Laurel House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Montgomery County.
“Their philosophy in setting up this women’s center was simple; it would consist of ‘women helping women,’" says a history on the Laurel House website.
Since its inception, Laurel House has grown into a full-fledged agency that provides shelter as well as counseling, referral programs, advocacy, children’s programs, and community education.
Mrs. Stuart enjoyed playing croquet, tennis, and squash with her husband at the Merion Cricket Club. She also loved travel and reading about science.
“She majored in chemistry at Bennington before she went into criminal justice,” said her daughter Pamela Stuart. “She was the Mr. Wizard in the neighborhood.” (Watch Mr. Wizard was a children’s TV show that aired from 1951 to 1965 that demonstrated the science behind ordinary things in a simple way.)
Pamela Stuart said her mother was very progressive.
“We went to the first women’s march in Washington in 1978. She was proactive about the ERA. She was a really good example to us,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Stuart’s husband died in 2009. A daughter, Patricia, died in 2007.
In addition to her daughter Pamela, Mrs. Stuart is survived by another daughter, Leslie Matthews; five grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
A memorial celebration is planned for 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 12, at the Merion Cricket Club, 325 Montgomery Ave., Haverford. Burial is private.