Women Lawyers History and Individual Biographies

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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This Note discusses sources on women lawyers history and the individual biographies of Clara Foltz's female contemporaries.


Women Lawyers History

General Works

In the database of pioneer women lawyers located at The Women’s Legal History Website, there is historical and biographical information on hundreds of American women lawyers and extensive material on the historiography of women in the legal profession. JILL NORGREN, BELVA LOCKWOOD: THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT, (2007) is a splendid account of the first woman at the Supreme Court Bar, whose history overlaps with Foltz’s at several points and resembles it at many others. See individual note on Belva Lockwood infra in this note. Virginia Drachman has written about women lawyers in the United States in two books and a number of articles. DRACHMAN, SISTERS IN LAW: WOMEN LAWYERS IN MODERN AMERICAN HISTORY (1998), is a comprehensive account of the rise of women in the legal profession from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. Drachman edited WOMEN LAWYERS AND THE ORIGINS OF PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY IN AMERICA: LETTERS OF THE EQUITY CLUB 1887 TO 1890 (1993), a very revealing collection from a late nineteenth-century correspondence club for women lawyers and law students. This book also contains excellent short biographies of the correspondents. Clara Foltz did not send a letter, but Laura Gordon did. See also Drachman, Entering the Male Domain: Women Lawyers in the Courtroom in Modern American History, 77 MASS. L. REV. 44-50 (1992); Drachman, My “Partner” in Law and Life: Marriage in the Lives of Women Lawyers in Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century America, 14 L. & SOC. INQUIRY 221-50 (1989); Drachman, The New Woman Lawyer and the Challenge of Sexual Equality in Early Twentieth-Century America, 28 IND. L. REV. 227-58 (1995) (on women’s aspirations to expand their presence in the legal profession and achieve sexual equality in their lives); Drachman, Women Lawyers and the Quest for Professional Identity in Late Nineteenth-Century America, 88 MICH. L. REV 241 (1990).

Historical accounts can also be found in CYNTHIA FUCHS EPSTEIN, WOMEN IN LAW (1993), though its focus is on twentieth century women lawyers. Other useful works include HEDDA GARZA, BARRED FROM THE BAR: A HISTORY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION (1996); KAREN BERGER MORELLO, THE INVISIBLE BAR: THE WOMAN LAWYER IN AMERICA, 1638 TO THE PRESENT (1986) (discussing barriers to women in law schools, courtrooms, and law firms) [hereafter MORELLO, THE INVISIBLE BAR]; Kathleen E. Lazarou, Fettered Portias: Obstacles Facing Nineteenth-Century Woman Lawyers, 64 WOMAN L.J. 21, 28 (1978); 2 WOMEN AND THE LAW: THE SOCIAL HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE 231 (D. Kelly Weisberg ed., 1982).

Comparison of Women Lawyers in Europe and the United States

For a well-researched and engaging comparative study of women lawyers in Europe and the United States, see MARY JANE MOSSMAN, THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF GENDER, LAW AND THE LEGAL PROFESSIONS (2006), [hereafter MOSSMAN, THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS]. See generally Carol Sanger’s Curriculum Vitae (Feminae): Biography and Early American Women Lawyers, 46 STAN. L. REV. 1245 (1993) which challenges women biographers to “present and accept early women subjects on their own complex terms.” Professor Sanger was reviewing JANE M. FRIEDMAN, AMERICA'S FIRST WOMAN LAWYER: THE BIOGRAPHY OF MYRA BRADWELL (1993).

MOSSMAN, THE FIRST WOMAN LAWYERS, writes about Louis Frank, author of The Woman Lawyer, 3 CHICAGO LAW TIMES 74; 1201;253; 382 (1889) (translated by Mary Greene, an American woman lawyer. For more on Greene, see entry below). Frank was a Belgian lawyer who not only wrote this long piece but also participated in the efforts of women to join the Bar in France, Belgium and Italy. He corresponded with the famous women lawyers in America in the late nineteenth century, including Lelia Robinson, Belva Lockwood, Mary Greene and Clara Foltz. From their reports to him of their own success and reception at the Bar, he wrote in 1898 that women were fully accepted as lawyers in the United States. MOSSMAN, THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS at 56-57. Mossman also has a fascinating chapter on Louis Frank’s role in the European movement for women’s right to practice law, at 239-268.

Women Criminal Defense Lawyers

On the contributions of women criminal defense lawyers in the West in the nineteenth century, see Babcock, Women Defenders in the West, at WLH Website. On the acceptance that early women lawyers found in Western states, see Babcock, Western Women Lawyers, at WLH Website. Karen L. Tokarz, A Tribute to the Nation’s First Law Students, 68 WASH U. L.Q. 89 (1990) discusses Phoebe Couzins and Lemma Barkeoo, who in 1869 attended the St. Louis Law School, now Washington University.

The 1920s and 1930s in Boston, D.C., and Chicago

For an account of women in the legal profession in the 1920s and 1930s in Boston, Washington D.C., and Chicago, see RONALD CHESTER, UNEQUAL ACCESS: WOMEN LAWYERS IN A CHANGING AMERICA (1985). For an analysis of women within legal education, see D. Kelly Weisberg, Barred from the Bar: Women and Legal Education in the United States, 1870-1890, 28 J. LEGAL EDUC. 485-507 (1977). DAWN BRADLEY BERRY, THE 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN AMERICAN LAW (1996) and MARY L. VOLCANSEK, WOMEN IN LAW: A BIO-BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOURCEBOOK (1996) provide brief biographies of the lives and careers of present and historical women lawyers. On the unique experience of women lawyers in Hawaii, see CALLED FROM WITHIN: EARLY WOMEN LAWYERS OF HAWAII (Mari Matsuda ed., 1992); see also Babcock, Remarks on the Occasion of the Publication of CALLED FROM WITHIN: EARLY WOMEN LAWYERS OF HAWAII, at WLH Website. For an illuminating study of the race and gender dimensions of the legal profession, see REBELS IN LAW: VOICES IN HISTORY OF BLACK WOMEN LAWYERS (J. Clay Smith, Jr. ed., 1998).

Women and the Bar

On women at the Supreme Court Bar, see Alice L. O’Donnell, Women and Other Strangers Before the Bar 59, in YEARBOOK OF THE SUPREME COURT HISTORICAL SOCIETY (1977); Mary L. Clark, “The First Women Members of the Supreme Court Bar, 1879-1900,” 36 SAN DIEGO L.REV. 87 (1999). “Women as Supreme Court Advocates, 1879-1979”, JOURNAL OF SUPREME COURT HISTORY (2005).

Probably the earliest scholarly article about women lawyers is Martha Strickland, The Common Law and Statutory Right of Woman to Office, 17 AM. L. REV. 670 (1883). See Carolyn Jacobs, Martha Strickland (Clark) (2005), at WLH Website, for more on the life of this pioneer Michigan lawyer. Strickland discussed the court cases brought by Belva Lockwood, Myra Bradwell, Lavinia Goodell, and Lelia Robinson in their efforts to join the Bar, but did not mention Foltz and Gordon, presumably because they went directly to the legislature to gain admission rather than trying to establish a common-law right in the courts.

A Chicago lawyer, Ellen Martin, wrote Admission of Women to the Bar, 1 CHI. L. TIMES 76 (Nov. 1886). She said that regardless of the statutory scheme for Bar qualification — whether dependent on elector status, on male sex, or simply personhood —women were easily integrated in most places. Martin mentioned Foltz and Gordon in California, however, as an exception to the states which readily accepted women.

In 1890, Lelia Robinson published Women Lawyers in the United States, THE GREEN BAG (1890). See Barbara A. Babcock, Making History: Lelia Robinson’s Index to American Women Lawyers, at WLH Website, (introducing a modern reprint of the original article and explaining the achievement of the article). A year later, Ada Bittenbender, the first woman lawyer in Nebraska, wrote a chapter on Woman in Law, as one of eighteen essays in WOMAN’S WORK IN AMERICA (Annie Nathan Meyer ed., 1891). Foltz’s stories have a prominent place in the chapter, pp. 237-39. Other essays deal with women’s advances in education, in philanthropy, and in industry.

Frances Willard published a similar volume to Meyer's in 1897 entitled OCCUPATIONS FOR WOMEN (1897) which has a chapter on Women at the Bar. It does not mention Foltz, however. INEZ HAYES IRWIN, ANGELS AND AMAZONS: A HUNDRED YEARS OF AMERICAN WOMEN 172 (1933) tells story of admission to the Bar by Bittenbender and others. THERON STRONG, LANDMARKS OF A LAWYER’S LIFETIME 407 (1914) describes “the resistance of the public, determined opposition from the bar and actual hostility from the bench” that early women lawyers faced. Strong predicted that women will never be a big part of “the legal fraternity.” Id., at 414.

Women Lawyers and the Women's Rights Movement

The degree to which the early women lawyers were part of the more general movement for women’s rights has been a subject of discussion and debate. In reviewing Drachman’s SISTERS IN THE LAW, for instance, I argued for more emphasis on the connection between the women’s rights movement generally and the efforts of women to become lawyers. Feminist Lawyers, 50 STAN.L.REV.1689 (1998), available at WLH Website. Indeed, as to most of the first women lawyers, my research and that of my students (see Pioneer data base at the WLH Website) has revealed an active women’s rights advocate in virtually all of the women. Indeed, many, if not most, were suffragists.

Mossman, WOMEN lAWYERS, on the other hand, urges that Drachman draws too close a connection between the movement for legal and political equality and that for access to the legal profession, in particular in placing the women lawyers at the center of the women’s movement. She calls for a more nuanced assessment of the relationship, and posits that studying individual lives reveals that “women lawyers identities as professionals may have weakened the ties” between the lawyers and other activists, at 62-63.

On the need to study individuals, Mossman approvingly refers to Carol Sanger’s Curriculum Vitae (Feminae): Biography and Early American Women Lawyers, 46 STAN. L. REV. 1245 (1993) which challenges women biographers to “present and accept early women subjects on their own complex terms.” (Professor Sanger was reviewing JANE M. FRIEDMAN, AMERICA'S FIRST WOMAN LAWYER: THE BIOGRAPHY OF MYRA BRADWELL (1993). I do not disagree with this approach, indeed I applaud it and engage in it myself. But my research of individual lives reveals that any weakening of the ties between women lawyers and activist women generally happened in the twentieth century, after women had won suffrage, and it failed to change their political or professional situations as drastically as they had thought and hoped it would.

Excerpt from Feminist Lawyers

Here is a three paragraph summary of the relationship between women lawyers and the larger women's rights movement, especially that for suffrage. Babcock, Feminist Lawyers at 1702-03:

“[M]ost] women lawyers believed that the vote would almost instantly change their professional status. In 1920, the year of the federal amendment, survey responses of 190 women lawyers revealed only 12 percent who thought suffrage inconsequential to their professional efforts. Citing Drachman, Sisters at 183 (12 percent of 1, 738 total women lawyers according to the 1920 census). "Some among the optimistic majority focused on the intangible benefits of suffrage, they viewed the vote as empowering women lawyers and as therefore enhancing their status and respect. Others ...tied suffrage to their desire to run for public office or to win appointments to positions in the courts.”

“All such hopes were quickly dashed as political equality, so closely tied to jury service and women's professional advancement, had little impact on either. From these disappointments was born the first real divergence between feminism and professionalism. Professor Nancy Cott in The Grounding of Modern Feminism explains that once suffrage was achieved, women professionals put aside the special concern for women that defines feminism, and focused instead on the "neutral and meritocratic ideology" of the professions to mark their progress.” [See Nancy Cott, THE GROUNDING OF MODERN FEMINISM 1987) 233-234. Professor Cott conceptualizes the conflict between feminism and professionalism as being masked during the struggle for the vote, but always having an appeal with its "potent" promise "to judge practitioners on individual merit as persons (not as men or women) in the dispassionate search for truth and usefulness. Id., at 237.]”

“Not that women, especially women lawyers, had any real choice in the matter; they were so few, and once assimilated to the ethos of individual merit, so removed from each other. As Professor Cott observes: "Without the meritocratic pretensions of the professions women had no warrant for advancement or power within them at all." Thus did women take up "the professional credo that individual merit would be judged according to objective and verifiable standards, and clung to it "even when they saw it travestied in practice." Id., at 234.

As indicated in the passage above, this is less a serious disagreement than a matter of interpretation of a history whose particulars are still being uncovered. I don’t think the discussion has been much forwarded by the associated debate over whether the nineteenth century women lawyers can properly be called “feminists.” My view is that a woman who became a lawyer in the nineteenth century was directly challenging male supremacy and putting herself on the line to overcome it. That made her, by definition, a feminist even if the word did not come into general usage until early in the next century. See Introductory Note, supra: Feminism and Women’s Rights: Nomenclature. Nancy Cott defines feminism, as above. She also argues against too broad categorization, and especially against the division of women into “social feminists” and other movement women interested only in their own rights. Nancy Cott, What's in a Name? The Limits of 'Social Feminism': Or, Expanding the Vocabulary of Women's History, 76 J. AM. HIST. 809 (1989).

For additional information regarding the connection between women lawyers and the women's rights movement, see discussion under Women's History: 'Feminism' and Women's Rights: Nomenclature

Individual Women's Biographies

Myra Bradwell

For more information, see Myra Bradwell at the Women's Legal History website.

For more information, see Babcock, First Woman, at nn.157-160; JANE M. FRIEDMAN, AMERICA'S FIRST WOMAN LAWYER: THE BIOGRAPHY OF MYRA BRADWELL (1993); Nancy T Gilliam, A Professional Pioneer: Myra Bradwell's Fight to Practice Law, 5 L. & HIST. REV. 105 (1987); Dorothy Thomas, NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN (Bradwell entry); Jeanine Becker, Myra Colby Bradwell: Sisterhood, Strategy & Family, (1997); E. Rae Woods, Myra Colby Bradwell: “A Living Example”, (2006) at WLH website.

Bradwell edited the Chicago Legal News, the most important legal publication west of the Mississippi. In many of the issues, she covered the activities of women lawyers. Bradwell and Foltz met on several occasions and Bradwell took credit for Foltz’s invitation to speak at the Congress of Jurisprudence and Law Reform. See Chapter Six and Note: Women at the World’s Fair. Bradwell herself was responsible for many of the gains of women in Illinois. For instance, she and others, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, lobbied through a bill giving married women the right to their own earnings in 1869. They also secured passage of legislation assuring women an interest in their husbands' estates. School board suffrage for women and a bill allowing women to be notaries public were also among her accomplishments. Chi. Legal News, Feb. 24, 1894. Ellen Carol DuBois has an excellent essay covering the Bradwell case and the other efforts of suffragists to use the post-war Constitutional Amendments to establish their own legal rights in Taking the Law into Our Own Hands, Bradwell, Minor and Suffrage Militance in the 1870s, WOMAN SUFFRAGE & WOMEN’S RIGHTS, 114 (1998).

Bradwell’s Supreme Court case in which her counsel argued that the newly minted privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment (passed in 1868, the year before she sued) prevented state interference with the individual’s right to pursue any vocation or calling is a landmark in women’s legal history. In re Bradwell, 55 Ill. 535 (1869), the lower court opinion, focused on the disabilities of marriage which forbid women to make or be held to contracts and generally to conduct business on their own. Drachman, at 16-18 (describing Bradwell’s case in the lower and Supreme Court). Gwen Hoerr Jordan, “Horror of a Woman:” Myra Bradwell, the 14th Amendment and the Gendered Origins of Sociological Jurisprudence, 42 Akron L.Rev. 1201 (2009) [hereafter Jordan, Bradwell] has an impressive, freshly written account of Bradwell’s biography and her legal arguments in her case. Of special interest is Jordan’s analysis of Bradwell’s arguments on the state level, where she relied on equal protection as well as the privileges and immunities clause which became the center of the SCOTUS argument. See also, Jordan, Bradwell for the far-ranging arguments that she made in the lower Illinois courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not include a federal right to pursue a vocation. Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130 (1873). The rejection of a federal right meant that women must battle state-by-state (and territory-by-territory) to be lawyers. The story of women at the Bar really starts with Bradwell; because of her case, there are hundreds maybe thousands, of vivid particular stories of women wanting to be lawyers, with their displays of nerve and courage, personality and character, idealism and eccentricity. See Babcock, Feminist Lawyers, at WLH Website. Other possible starting places for the story of women lawyers are 1640 when Margaret Brent was a magistrate and trial lawyer in Maryland and 1869, the year Arabella Mansfield was admitted to the Iowa Bar. See MORELLO, THE INVISIBLE BAR, at 4-14, for a discussion of contenders for possible “first woman lawyer.”

Though the Supreme Court’s opinion in Bradwell was dry and short, and followed the same reasoning as the Slaughterhouse cases, 77 U.S. 273 (1869) denying the federal suit of butchers who protested a state monopoly, its effect on the women’s rights movement went beyond the right of women to be lawyers. Justice Bradley’s concurring opinion expressing the concern that “the harmony” of “the family institution” was threatened by “the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career” was the main popular message of the Supreme Court case, cited against women who wished to do any work outside of the home.

Bradwell was a blow to the efforts of women to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment as well as denying federal protection for the right to pursue a profession or vocation because they were using the same arguments about the privileges and immunities clause, though the Court did not decide against the suffragists explicitly until Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1874) discussed under “New Departure” in Chapter Six and in Note: Woman Suffrage History, WLH Website.

Lavinia Goodell

For more information, see Lavinia Goodell at the Women's Legal History website.

For more information, see Babcock, First Woman, at nn.161-64; Babcock, Women Defenders in the West; Babcock, Feminist Lawyers (all Babcock articles are available at WLH Website); see also, MORELLO, INVISIBLE BAR, at 22-27; Catherine B. Cleary, Lavinia Goodell: First Woman Lawyer in Wisconsin, 74 WISC. MAG. HIST. 243 (1991) is the best basic source, using many of Goodell’s papers. Jordan, Bradwell also has a good section on Goodell. Three excellent student papers are on the WLH Website with many additional sources.

Teresa M. Derichsweiler, The Life of Lavinia Goodell First Woman Lawyer in Wisconsin (1997); Joshua Kaul, Lavinia Goodell (2005); and Lauri Schumacher, Lavinia Goodell: Advocate for Prisoners (2001). Goodell was easily admitted to the trial level but turned away by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Ryan, who was thought progressive on other issues. On the rights of unmarried women, Justice Ryan observed: “it is public policy to provide for the sex, not for its superfluous members, and not to tempt women… by opening to them duties… unfit for the female character.” Matter of Goodell, 39 Wis. 232, 247 (1876). Though quickly overruled by legislation admitting women to the Bar, the opinion was widely cited to oppose women’s admission to the Bar. See Chapter One in which Foltz’s opponents in the Hastings litigation read verbatim from Justice Ryan’s opinion in Goodell’s case.

Mary Greene

For more information, see Mary Greene at the Women's Legal History website.

Mary Greene was unusual among the early women lawyers in her dedication to scholarly writing, lecturing and teaching rather than to active practice. This may have been due in part to her rather frail health.

Her biography was well-told, probably in her own words, in WOMAN OF THE CENTURY (quoted in next three paragraphs):

"GREENE, Miss Mary A., lawyer, born in Warwick, R. I, 14th June, 1857. She is a lineal descendant of Roger Williams, and also of John Greene, the founder of the famous Greene family of Rhode Island, prominent in the military and civic affairs of the State and the nation. Her Revolutionary ancestor, Colonel Christopher Greene, the gallant defender of Red Bank on the Delaware, was a cousin of General Nathaniel Greene. Miss Greene began the study of law in 1885, in order to be able to manage her own business affairs and to assist other women to do the same. She took the full course of three years in the Boston University Law School, graduating in 1888 with the degree of Bachelor of Laws, magna cum laude, being the third woman to graduate from the school. She was at once admitted to the Suffolk bar, in Boston, becoming thus the second woman member of the Massachusetts bar. After practicing eighteen months in Boston, she returned to her native State. She now resides in Providence, where she is engaged in the work of writing and lecturing upon legal topics."

"Always frail in constitution, Miss Greene found herself unable to endure the strain of court practice, although she was successful in that line of work. For that reason she has never applied for admission to the Rhode Island bar, her standing at the Boston bar being sufficient for the kind of work she is at present doing. She is a regular lecturer upon business law for women in Lasell Seminary, Auburn-bale, Mass., the first girls' school to give systematic instruction in principles of law. Among her literary productions are a translation from the French of Dr. Louis Frank's essay, "The Woman Lawyer," which appeared in the Chicago "Law Times," and the original articles: "Privileged Communications in the Suits between Husband and Wife," in the "American Law Review" ; "The Right of American Women to Vote and Hold Public Office," in the Boston "Evening Traveller"; "A Woman Lawyer," and a series of articles upon "Practical Points of Every-Day Law," in the " Chautauquan." Miss Greene is firmly impressed with the importance to all women of a practical knowledge of the principals of business law, and in all her professional work she endeavors to educate her hearers and readers in those most necessary matters. As a public speaker she is very successful. She always speaks without notes and with great fluency and felicity."

"At the fortieth anniversary of the first woman's rights convention, celebrated in Boston in January, 1891, Miss Greene was invited to speak for "Women in Law" as the representative of that profession. She is not, however, identified in any way with the woman suffrage movement, possessing, as she does, that spirit of conservatism mingled with independence which has always characterized the people of Rhode Island. She believes that her mission is to educate women to an intelligent use of the rights they possess, and that to others may be left the work of demanding further rights for her sex."

During the eighteen months she practiced in Boston, Mary Greene was a partner with Lelia Robinson, and in a letter to the Equity club wrote about their founding of a Portia Club, where the women lawyers and law students met at a hotel for dinner and discussion. Men were not invited except for the meeting celebrating the marriage of Lelia Robinson in 1890. DRACHMAN, WOMEN LAWYERS, supra at 186-87 (Mary Greene letter of 1890). Greene also wrote lively, opinionated letters in 1887, 51-53, 1888, 97-99 and 1889, 163-65.

On her legal writing, see Kathryn Johnson, “A Pioneer Woman”: The Scholar and Lawyer, (2006) available at WLH website. Greene’s article on the validity of contracts made between husband and wife grew out of a bill she presented to the Massachusetts legislature, according to Lelia Robinson, writing on Greene in Women Lawyers of the United States, 2 Green Bag 10 at 14. Out of this experience, Greene wrote an article entitled Privileged Communications Between Husband and Wife, 24 AM. L. REV. 779 (1890), which she and others claimed was the first article to be published by a woman in the prestigious Review. But actually Martha Strictland, a Michigan lawyer had earlier written The Common Law and Statutory Right of Woman to Office, 17 AM. L. REV. 670 (1883) about women becoming lawyers. Foltz was only the third woman to publish in the American Review in its thirty year history; Clara Foltz, Public Defenders, 31 AM. L. REV. 393 (1897).

Though she was not a suffragist, Greene was a “woman’s rights woman” (as Clara Foltz called herself). Her entire career was spent working for women’s equality in business and professional life. Moreover, Greene was not against votes for women, but she thought the claim exaggerated that suffrage was the key to all other reforms, and objected generally to the more sweeping demands of the suffragists. She wrote of her disagreement with the “methods” of the suffragists to Louis Frank in 1895 quoted in MOSSMAN, THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS at 61. (Greene was the translator of Frank’s article on women lawyers at 3 Chicago Law Times, 74, 120, 253, and 382 (1889). In her book, THE WOMAN’S MANUAL OF LAW (1902), Greene advised against lobbying for legislation by appealing to “sentiment” and instead said reform came about when “any existing law is shown to be inconvenient to business men, or unjust in some individual case” at 67.

For Greene’s speech at the Congress of Jurisprudence and Law Reform, see On-Line Bibliographic Note: Women at the World’s Fair.

Belva Lockwood

For more information, see Belva Lockwood at the Women's Legal History website.

Jill Norgen, BELVA LOCKWOOD: THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT (2007) is a definitive work. It relates Lockwood’s effort to join the Court of Claims where she was refused admission, because “immemorial usages… forbid such a far-reaching change.” In re Belva A. Lockwood (Ct. of Cl. May 11, 1874), reprinted in 21 CENTRAL L.J. 254 (1874). Next she went to the United States Supreme Court, thinking she would become a member of that Bar, and then bring an original action against the Court of Claims, but her petition was denied without opinion. Belva Lockwood, My Efforts to Become a Lawyer, LIPPINCOTT’S MONTHLY MAG. (Feb. 1888), reprinted in 1 WOMEN IN AMERICAN LAW 259 (Marlene Stein Wortman ed., 1985). Finally she obtained passage of a bill making women eligible to join the bar of all federal courts. Act of Feb. 15, 1879, ch. 81, 20 Stat. 292. The main proponent of the bill was the pro-suffrage Senator from California, Aaron Sargent, whose wife, Ellen Clark Sargent, was an early suffrage leader in the state. 3 HWS, 108-10, at n.6. Lockwood became the first woman to take advantage of the bill and joined the Supreme Court Bar. Clara Foltz interacted with Lockwood in 1884 when Lockwood ran for President (told in Chapter Two), in 1890 when they both attended the Woman’s National Liberal Union Convention (told in Chapters Six and Seven), and in 1893 at the World’s Fair (told in Chapter Five).

Arabella (Belle) Mansfield

For more information, see Arabella (Belle) Mansfield at the Women's Legal History website.

Mansfield was from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, the town where Foltz had her abbreviated girlhood and only formal schooling. Teresa Federer, Belle A. Mansfield: Opening the Way for Others, at WLH Website, is an excellent paper setting the scene in Mt. Pleasant, and mapping out Mansfield’s effort to become a lawyer. Though Margaret Brent in Maryland is sometimes said to be the first woman lawyer, Mansfield was the first through regular study and bar admission. Federer describes at 27-28, her arguments for admission in the face of a statute that restricted bar membership to white males. In his opinion, the District Judge said that whenever any “restrictive words did a manifest injustice to individuals, the court was justified in construing statutes as extending to others not expressly included in them.” Transcript of Record, Book H at 54-55 (held in District Court in Henry County, Iowa, during the June Term, 2nd Day, Tuesday, June 15, 1869). Jordan Bradwell has an excellent section on Mansfield. Ada M. Bittenbender, Woman in Law, in WOMAN’S WORK IN AMERICA (Annie Nathan Meyer ed., 1891) has story of Mansfield’s acceptance in face of express words of the statute. She quotes Mansfield as saying that an expansive reading should be given the phrase “white male persons” whenever injustice would result. See also, INEZ HAYES IRWIN, ANGELS AND AMAZONS: A HUNDRED YEARS OF AMERICAN WOMEN 172 (1933).

Mansfield may have practiced occasionally with her brother, also a lawyer, but her main work was as a college professor at Iowa Weslyan and later at DePauw University. She and Clara Foltz crossed paths at least once, at the first nationwide meeting of women lawyers described in Chapter Five.

Marilla Ricker

For more information, see Marilla Ricker at the Women's Legal History website.

Marilla Ricker was an apprentice to Belva Lockwood in Washington D.C. and joined the Bar there in 1882. She went on to be a U.S. Commissioner and Examiner in Chancery, a quasi judicial position. NORGREN, BELVA LOCKWOOD, at 91-92. Ricker also became in 1884 the first woman lawyer in New Hampshire where she practiced part of the year. Ricker was also the first woman Notary Public in the Federal system. On her efforts to achieve this position, see Dorothy Thomas, 3 NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN (Marilla Ricker entry); Mrs. Marilla Ricker in A WOMAN OF THE CENTURY; Marilla M. Ricker, 1 LAW STUDENT’S HELPER 304 (1893), available at WLH Website; Lee Ann Richey, Reading Between the Lines: Marilla Ricker in the Struggle for Women's Rights (2002), at WLH Website; WOMEN WITHOUT SUPERSTITION: NO GODS—NO MASTERS; THE COLLECTED WRITING OF WOMEN FREETHINKERS OF THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES (Annie Laurie Gaylor ed., 1997) (Ricker entry). This is the first book collecting the writings of women activists who were also leaders in free thought. Excellent short biographies precede the selected writings of fifty women, including famous ones like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Sanger, and less well known ones today like Matilda Gage and Voltairine de Cleyre, both of whom were at the Woman’s National Liberal Union convention in 1890, which Foltz also attended. See Chapter Six. Ricker is the only lawyer in the book.

Robert Ingersoll was Ricker’s mentor and hero. Ingersoll was the most famous American free thinker, an indefatigable lecturer and author. Though free-thought and the clash of religion and science were his main subjects, he also spoke on women’s rights, civil rights for freedmen, and literary and historical subjects. He was by far the most successful and famous of the nineteenth century orators, and it was said that before the radio and moving pictures he had been heard and seen by more Americans than any other lecturer. FRANK SMITH, ROBERT G. INGERSOLL: A LIFE (1990). In the 1880s, Ingersoll was defense counsel in a huge prosecution of alleged fraud in the management of mail delivery routes in the far west, known as the Star routes. Marilla Ricker assisted him. Accounts of her role in the Star Route trial vary widely. Some refer to her as Ingersoll’s “assistant counsel.” NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN, supra. Others say she “represented” one of the defendants. LAW STUDENT’S HELPER, supra. Still another says she “achieved national prominence through her work as an investigating attorney.” See Susan Martel, Suffragist Marilla Ricker, PREMIER 38 (May 1995).

Ricker’s very definite and unusual personality comes through the nineteenth century “pen-pictures.” Ingersoll was said to have referred to her as “the most sensible woman he had ever known,” quoted in A Woman Candidate, Marilla M. Ricker Seeks the Republican Nomination for Governor, 42, 44 in GRANITE MONTHLY: A N. HAMPSHIRE MAG. 163 (June 1910). As noted in Chapter Seven, Ricker’s practice in criminal defense and prison law was very like the aspects of Foltz’s practice that contributed to her public defender idea. The two met in San Jose when they were on the same suffrage platform in 1888, and perhaps also in Washington D.C in 1890 when Foltz attended the Woman’s National Liberal Union convention, discussed in Chapter Six.

Lelia Robinson

For more information, see Lelia Robinson at the Women's Legal History website.

Lelia Robinson was the first woman lawyer in Massachusetts and the first to graduate from Boston University Law School, finishing fourth in her class. When she was turned down by the trial court for admission to the Bar, Robinson took her own case to a higher court, arguing that the Supreme Court in Bradwell had left it to each state to decide the qualifications of its lawyers. The Court refused her admission, suggesting that women’s bar admission would lead inexorably to suffrage. Lelia J. Robinson’s Case, 131 Mass. 376 (1881) (discussed in Drachman, Sisters-in-Law, at 27-37). See Douglas Lamar Jones, Lelia J. Robinson’s Case and the Entry of Women into the Legal Profession in Massachusetts, in THE HISTORY OF THE LAW IN MASSACHUSETTS: THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT, 1692-1992, at 241-74 (Russell K. Osgood ed., 1992). Robinson’s letters to a correspondence club of women lawyers, the Equity Club, describing her early practice and her time in Washington Territory are both interesting and lively. Drachman, Women Lawyers, at 63-67 (1887 letter on her early practice) 117-27 (western experience, biography with other sources at 257-62). Robinson published an account of her experience in Women Jurors, 1 CHI. L. TIMES 22, a journal edited by a fellow woman lawyer, Catherine Waite of Chicago.

Robinson wrote two successful texts for lay people. LAW MADE EASY: A BOOK FOR THE PEOPLE (1886) and THE LAW OF HUSBAND AND WIFE (1889). For other work on her, see Mary Greene, Mrs. Lelia Robinson Sawtelle-First Woman Lawyer of Massachusetts, 7 WOMAN’S L.J. 51 (1890). Two very informative papers are available on the WLH website with many citations: Sarah Killingsworth, Lelia Robinson (1997) and Mary Nicol, Lelia Robinson: a Second Look (1998).

Robinson made the first systematic effort to survey women lawyers in the United States and published it in a popular magazine for lawyers, THE GREEN . See 2 GREEN BAG 10 (1890). See my description of its importance and content in Making History: Lelia Robinson's Index to American Women Lawyers introducing a reprint of Robinson’s article in the modern version of the Green Bag, From the Bag, 2 GREEN BAG (1998). Clara Foltz is mentioned, but not commented on extensively, probably as happened with the Equity Correspondence club because she was too hard pressed to respond to Robinson’s request for information about her practice. Laura Gordon, Marilla Ricker, and others are pictured and covered in some detail.

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