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... she must have known the court would decide against her, unless she either supposed that they were likely to be influenced by personal solicitation and clamor, or else that they were all gone crazy. -- Editorial in The Nation, April 1873, on Myra Bradwell's appeal to the Supreme Court to permit her to practice law [1]

It is probably true that Myra Bradwell was not at all surprised in 1873 when the United States Supreme Court, strictly on the basis of her sex, refused her a license to practice law. The reaction of one of the more liberal publications in the United States, The Nation (see above), probably did not shock her either. Yet Bradwell willingly subjected herself to a virtual landslide of opposition and ridicule, from enraged newspaper editorials and cruel political cartoons to catcalls on the street.

Bradwell's life story makes it obvious that America's "first" woman lawyer had a goal that went far beyond her own personal ambitions. There is much evidence that her fight for admission to the bar was a deliberate test case (Bradwell v. Illinois, 1873) to open the door to other women lawyers and broaden the struggle for women's rights.

Actually, Bradwell was not the first woman admitted to the bar, although she was given that title in 1890. Margaret Brent, who acted as the administrator for the estate of Maryland's governor Leonard Calvert in the 1640s, is often referred to as the first (and only) woman attorney on the American continent before the American Revolution. Then, for over 200 years there is no record of a practicing woman attorney! [2]

Bradwell's first success came as she lay dying with cancer. Her husband, James Bradwell, secretly convinced the Illinois Supreme Court to admit her to the state bar, antedating her admission to 1869, the date of her original application. Two years later the United States Supreme Court followed suit. Then, just months before Bradwell's death in 1894, the Illinois Bar Association called her "the pioneer woman lawyer" in recognition of the fact that she had waged a battle that battered down the doors for all those who followed her.

Like many of the women struggling for equality in the nineteenth century, Bradwell was raised by parents who supported the antislavery cause. Eben and Abigail Willey Colby were descendants of pioneer settlers of Boston. Bradwell, born on February 12, 1831, was the youngest of five Colby children. In 1843, five years before the Seneca Falls convention, the Colby family moved close to Elgin, Illinois. They became friendly with the family of Elijah Lovejoy, the publisher of an abolitionist newspaper who had been gunned down in 1837 by a mob of proslavery men. The parlor of the Colby home was the scene of many discussions on the pressing issues of the day: the struggle against slavery and the fight for women's equality.

With so few educational options for young women, Myra was sent to live with a married sister in Wisconsin, where she attended a typical "female seminary." Her "higher" education consisted of a year's preparation for a teaching career at another seminary in her hometown.

Bradwell received a good basic education along with instruction in the tenets of the Cult of Domesticity or True Womanhood, including religious devotion, submissiveness to male authority, and sole dedication to the task of building a good marriage and rearing virtuous children. Talented young women like Myra Colby were told not to worry about careers for themselves, except perhaps as grade school teachers, but to use their assets to help their future husbands advance in the world.

A year after she started teaching at the Elgin Female Seminary, Myra Colby broke the rules. She fell in love with James Bolesworth Bradwell, an apprentice law student working as a laborer to support himself. The Colby family disapproved of her poverty-stricken suitor. Myra's big brother Frank Colby, armed with a shotgun, ordered James Bradwell to stay away from his sister. Defying all of the conventions of the day, Myra Colby and James Bradwell eloped in 1852.

The young couple opened a private school in Memphis, Tennessee, where James Bradwell was admitted to the bar. Two years later, Myra was pregnant and the Bradwells moved to Chicago. James Bradwell won admission to the Illinois bar, and apparently the family patched things up. In 1855, when James Bradwell opened his first law office, his new law partner was none other than Myra's gun-toting big brother Frank.

Although Myra and James Bradwell raised four children, only two surviving, she was often seen in her husband's law office. Friends and family were told that Myra wanted to "work side by side and think side by side with her husband," but actually she was all the while studying for the bar examination. By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, James Bradwell had been elected to a judgeship and Myra Bradwell, now referred to as Mrs. Judge Bradwell, gave most of her time to women's organizations involved in providing aid to wounded Union soldiers.

Not long after the end of the war, on October 3, 1868, the first issue of the weekly Chicago Legal News appeared, announcing that it would cover "legal information, general news, new and important decisions ... and other matters useful to the practicing lawyer or man of business." [3] Myra Bradwell's name appeared on the masthead as publisher, editor, and business manager. She had quietly obtained permission from the Illinois legislature to run the business under her own name.

Within a few years, the Chicago Legal News enjoyed the highest circulation of any legal publication in the nation. Myra Bradwell provided information unavailable elsewhere. Attorneys had often felt handicapped by the long lag times between the passage and publication of new legislation. Bradwell convinced the Illinois legislature to provide her with copies of all legislation as each session ended. She then made similar agreements with other state legislatures and even the federal courts and Supreme Court. Regular reading of the Chicago Legal News enabled lawyers to go into court with full knowledge of the latest laws as well as court decisions in important cases. A consummate businesswoman, Bradwell invested some of her profits in a highly successful printing and binding plant.

If Bradwell had let matters stand at that, she would have been famous as one of a very few successful woman entrepreneurs in the nation, but she had much more ambitious goals. The Chicago Legal News ran regular columns on the need to reform the law profession by expelling incompetent, dishonest, and alcoholic lawyers, often involved in jury bribing. In another regular column called "Law Relating to Women," Bradwell argued eloquently for thoroughgoing reform of laws pertaining to divorce, child custody, and the rights of the mentally ill. Women's rights organizations published newsletters and pamphlets also agitating for equal rights for women. Male legislators rarely looked at the pamphlets, but they could not avoid seeing Bradwell's pieces.

Myra Bradwell's interest in women entering the legal profession was evident in every issue of her publication. She ran enthusiastic items on the handful of talented women practicing law in small towns after apprenticing with sympathetic male attorneys. None of these women had applied for state licensing, knowing that they would be refused.

Then, in June 1869, Bradwell gave full coverage to an important test case for women's entry into the legal profession. A twenty-three-year-old schoolteacher, Arabella Babb Mansfield, applied for admission to the Iowa bar before Judge Francis Springer, an outspoken believer in women's equality. Mansfield had graduated with honors from Iowa Wesleyan College, served an apprenticeship at her brother's law firm, and then achieved a high score on the bar examination. [4]

Although Iowa law limited bar membership to white males, Judge Springer found a loophole in the legal code and admitted Mansfield. The following year the state legislature officially changed the language of the restrictive law. Mansfield had won her point, but although she was the first woman to win bar admission in the entire country, she never practiced law. [5]

Certainly Mansfield's victory influenced Myra Bradwell. If Iowa could allow women to practice law, why not Illinois? On August 2, 1869, Myra Bradwell sailed through the Illinois bar examination and applied to the Illinois Supreme Court for her license, touching off a legal struggle that lasted for the next four years.

Setting an example for all who followed her, Bradwell refused to give up. She prepared her now famous appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but she did far more than that. In the pages of the Chicago Legal News, Bradwell launched a campaign for the admission of women to law schools and the bar in every state in the Union.

The majority of lawyers still prepared for their bar examinations as apprentices, but slowly university education became the norm. After the Civil War, government-supported land-grant colleges such as the University of California, the University of Michigan, and Syracuse University admitted a few women. The St. Louis Law School was the first law school to accept women. Bradwell applauded these advances in the Chicago Legal News. She also reminded her readers that women still could not practice without a court-granted license.

Bradwell focused first on her home state, where two women, Alta Hullett and Ada Kepley, were attempting to "attack the bar." Hulett had completed an apprenticeship, passed the bar examination and, as expected, had been turned down by the Illinois Supreme Court. Through a "leak" from one of her many readers, Myra Bradwell learned that one of the judges on the examining committee had commented that Hulett answered legal questions "much more readily than the four gentlemen who were examined with her and have since been admitted to the bar." [6]

Ada Kepley had graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Law School, one of the two females in the institution's first class, which also included two black men. In 1870, Bradwell announced in her paper that Kepley had been denied the right to practice in Illinois.

Myra Bradwell campaigned for the acceptance of women lawyers throughout the United States.

It took Kepley a decade to gain admission to the Illinois bar. Writing about her experiences, she said:

It seems I was the first woman to graduate from a law school in the world, and in addition, America, which boasted to the rest of the world to be "the land of the free and home of the brave," gave no freedom to her women.... I work as hard as a man, I earn money like a man ... I am robbed as a woman. I have no voice in anything or in saying how my money, which I have earned, shall be spent. ... Women might be cooks, wash women, floor scrubbers and do any sort of menial labor at that time, but they were barred from the so-called learned professions. [7]

Bradwell had many allies among her readers. One Illinois trial court judge, willing to jeopardize his own standing, offered to admit Kepley to practice before his court even without a state license. Bradwell turned him down. She had another, more ambitious plan in mind.

Rather than wait while the Supreme Court decided on her own case, and perhaps because an unfavorable decision was expected, Bradwell sat down with Alta Hulett and drafted the first equal employment opportunity bill for women. The proposed law stated that "No person shall be precluded or debarred from any occupation, profession, or employment (except military) on account of sex." [8]

Most of the men serving in the Illinois legislature were lawyers, the vast majority of them readers of the Chicago Legal News, and some of them friends of the Bradwells. Under a steady hammering of logical prose in her paper and in person, Bradwell miraculously managed to convince a majority to vote for her proposed law. Women in Illinois were legally free to pursue whatever occupation they chose.

Alta Hulett promptly reapplied for admission. On the day that Hulett stood before the bar to receive her hard-won license at the age of nineteen, one of the justices publicly declared, "If you were my daughter, I would disinherit you!" [9]

At that point Myra Bradwell could easily have reapplied and received her Illinois license, but by then it was clear that she was more interested in spreading the equal opportunity victory to other states. Throughout the 1870s, in the pages of the Chicago Legal News and in person, Bradwell became the champion of women attempting to enter colleges, pass the bar, and win the right to practice law. When courts would not budge, she was there to draft legislation and push it through to passage.

There was no active women's movement to help her. The unified abolitionist-women's rights movement that had existed before the Civil War ended in a rancorous split in 1869, leaving a divided movement concentrating on winning suffrage for women. [10] That split affected not only Myra Bradwell but also other women striving for equal opportunity.

After the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and a few other abolitionist leaders had founded the Equal Rights Association to continue the fight for the civil rights of the newly freed slaves. Many had assumed that if former slaves were given the right to vote, women would also win suffrage. The Fifteenth Amendment shattered such illusions by stating that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." (Italics added.)

The word sex or gender was nowhere to be seen! Women would continue to be denied the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton announced in the pages of their newspaper The Revolution that they would work to defeat the Fifteenth Amendment. At the Equal Rights Association convention in May 1869 in New York City, the issue tore apart the long-standing coalition between abolitionists fighting racism and women struggling for equal rights, creating a breach that would do irreparable damage to both causes for decades to come. It would not be until the Civil Rights Movement, almost a century later, that antiracists and women's rights groups would again join forces. Frederick Douglass, urging continued work for the women's vote, pleaded with the assembled delegates to support the partial victory. Lucy Stone supported him.

During hours of heated debate, tempers flared. Elizabeth Cady Stanton made racist remarks about "Sambo" and the enfranchisement of "Africans, Chinese, and all the ignorant foreigners the moment they touch our shores." Susan B. Anthony added to the furor by saying, "I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman." [11]

A split was unavoidable. [12] Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, banning men from membership. Stone and others issued a call for a convention in Cleveland in November 1869 to form their own organization. Susan B. Anthony was shocked to see Myra Bradwell's name on the list of those supporting the Stone group. [13] In the pages of the Chicago Legal News Bradwell had editorialized angrily against the denial of suffrage to women. Yet here she was aligning herself with the "moderates"!

At the Cleveland convention the "moderates" created the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and decided to work for the right to vote on a state-by-state basis and steer clear of other women's rights issues. Bradwell organized the first woman suffrage convention in the Midwest in Chicago early in 1869, winning endorsement of woman's suffrage from many area judges and attorneys. Endorsements were one thing but votes in state legislatures quite another. The newly created Illinois State Suffrage Association could not persuade the state legislature to grant women the vote. The same situation prevailed all over the nation.

Throughout the 1870s, Bradwell took on many causes simultaneously. During the presidential election of 1872, when Susan B. Anthony led sixteen women in Rochester, New York, to the polls to attempt to vote, the Grant administration decided to prosecute her. Despite her differences with Anthony, Bradwell's Chicago Legal News was the only legal periodical defending her.

Bradwell also continued her work to change centuries-old divorce and custody laws. By 1871, largely through her tireless efforts, new legislation existed in several states requiring the consent of both parents in custody decisions.

Most of Bradwell's energies in the 1870s, however, were spent on the exhausting task of helping women gain law school and bar admission on a state-by-state basis. Although the legislation she and Hulett had won in Illinois certainly meant that Bradwell could now successfully apply for her law license, she did not try again. Two cases Bradwell took up illustrated all the male prejudice women faced at every turn.

The first involved a woman named Belva Lockwood, the second a woman named Lavinia Goodell. Lockwood had been in touch with Myra Bradwell since the early days of the Chicago Legal News, when she was accumulating rejections from law schools in the Washington, D.C., area. Lockwood could not leave the nation's capital because her husband was a minister there. In the pages of the Chicago Legal News, Bradwell had publicized Lockwood's struggle, culminating with a letter from the president of Columbian College, in Washington, D.C., informing Lockwood that "such admission would not be expedient as it would be likely to distract the attention of the young men." [14]

In 1870, Lockwood and fourteen other women were admitted to the newly formed National University Law School when the school found itself short on enrollments. The male student body treated the woman students so badly that only Lockwood and Lydia Hall stuck it out past the first semester.

One reason male students were so antagonistic was that degrees from universities that excluded women were considered far more prestigious than those earned at coed schools. Right before graduation day, a group of male students threatened to boycott the ceremonies if Lockwood and Hall were present. Not only did the administration ban the two women from the graduation exercises and delete their names from the program, but it withheld their hard-earned diplomas as well.

Hall, tired of the notoriety, dropped the fight, but Lockwood refused to give up. Denied admission to Washington, D.C.'s court because she had no law degree, Lockwood had managed to practice in a few lower courts while completing her law studies.

In 1873, Lockwood wrote to the president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, who also happened to be National University Law School's president, forcefully demanding her diploma. Two weeks later it came in the mail with no accompanying letter. A decade later National University Law School remained male only.

After two bar exams and a few court actions, Lockwood was finally admitted to the district bar in Washington, D.C. But the Lockwood case was far from over. Her cause became a vehicle for Bradwell to take on the federal courts and finally the U.S. Supreme Court itself.

Lockwood specialized in suits against the government. When she filed a client's appeal to the Federal Court of Claims, the court refused to admit her. It was one of the many disabilities for women lawyers. Even if they jumped the hurdles to practice law in their own states, they were not permitted to appeal to federal courts or the Supreme Court since they were not admitted to practice before these courts. The Chicago Legal News covered the events blow by blow. Nothing had changed. Chief Judge Charles Drake of the United States Court of Claims heard Lockwood's plea for admission, peered down at her, and said, "Mistress Lockwood, you are a woman," [15] and refused to allow her to speak in her own behalf.

No one was surprised at Judge Drake's decision that woman was without legal capacity to take the office of attorney. Lockwood prepared the legal documents for her client and had him read them in court himself, since any citizen is permitted to plead his or her own case.

In the fall of 1876, Lockwood decided to jump over the lower federal courts and apply for permission to litigate before the United States Supreme Court. Her acceptance would mean that she could then practice in any federal court -- or so she thought. In its written requirements for admission the Supreme Court made no mention of women but referred to "any attorney in good standing."

This time the decision came in a week. Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite once again relied on English common law, writing: "... none but men are admitted to practice before it as attorneys and counselors. This is in accordance with immemorial usage in England."

With her usual tart precision and sense of humor, Bradwell wrote:

Counselors have never been allowed to practice in Westminster Hall, and other superior courts in England unless they wore gowns and wigs, and therefore it follows that they should not be allowed to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States without these necessary articles. [16]

Bradwell and Lockwood next drafted a bill giving women lawyers access to federal courts. They convinced a friendly congressman to at least present it to the House Judiciary Committee. They waited for two years, and in 1878, "An Act to Relieve Certain Legal Disabilities of Women," passed the House of Representatives and moved on to the Senate. After a massive almost single-handed campaign by Bradwell and Lockwood, the legislation passed and was signed into law by President Rutherford Hayes in February 1879. A month later Lockwood was admitted to the Court of Claims and shortly thereafter became the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a $5 million settlement for the Cherokee Indian Nation to compensate for the theft of their lands.

But even in the face of her admission to practice before the Supreme Court, there were judges in the state courts steadfastly refusing to allow women lawyers into their courtrooms. [17] When Lockwood tried to file a lawsuit for a client in Maryland in 1878, she was turned away by a judge who said, "I pray to God that the time may never come when the State of Maryland will admit women to the Bar." [18]

While the decision in the Lockwood case was still pending, Bradwell went to the aid of another struggling woman lawyer, Lavinia Goodell, in Wisconsin. Like Lockwood, Goodell had been admitted to a circuit court but could not represent her clients in higher-court appeals.

Justice Edward Ryan of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, well known as an unshakable opponent of women's suffrage, did not even attempt to stick with legal arguments. First he complimented Goodell, "whose character raises no personal objection --  something, perhaps, not always to be looked for in women who forsake the ways of their sex for the ways of ours," and acknowledged that other courts had indeed admitted women. He then went on to sing Justice Bradley's old song, with somewhat stronger lyrics.

The law of nature ... qualified the female sex for the bearing and nurture of the children of our race, and for the custody of the homes of the world....

Since Goodell was unmarried and presumably not about to "bear and nurture" children, he discussed single women as well. The "cruel chances of life ... may leave women free from the peculiar duties of their sex," he wrote. These women may need to work, he admitted, but the profession of law was not an appropriate one. Women were too delicate "to mix professionally in all the nastiness of the world which finds its way into the courts of justice; all the unclean issues ... sodomy, incest, rape, seduction, fornication, adultery, pregnancy." He then publicly vowed, "If, as counsel threatened, these things are to come, we will take no voluntary part in bringing them about." [19]

Although it took several years, the Wisconsin legislature eventually passed a law modeled on Bradwell and Hulett's Illinois legislation that barred sex discrimination. But Judge Ryan still refused to admit Goodell. So Bradwell launched an impeachment campaign against him in the pages of the Chicago Legal News. In March 1877, the Wisconsin legislature revised a recently passed equal employment statute to make it read even more specifically: "No person shall be denied admission or license to practice as an attorney in any court of this state on account of sex." (Italics added.) Almost two years later, another judge finally granted Goodell her license, with Judge Ryan still protesting.

At last Goodell was able to concentrate on her practice. She did so well that she was able to take in a partner, Angie King, a student at the University of Chicago. Goodell and King won several difficult cases. In 1880, only a year after her victory, Goodell died at the age of forty-one. The Chicago Journal published news of her death and asked whether women are able to endure the hard usage and severe mental application incidental to a legal professional career.

Bradwell fumed. This was not the first time a friend had died and newspapers had used the sad event to propagandize against women attorneys. In 1874, Bradwell's friend Alta Hulett had passed away at the age of twenty-three. Again some newspapers considered this "proof" that women should stay away from the legal profession. At that time Bradwell had retaliated by discussing the early deaths of "a number of male members of the profession ... recently stricken by the relentless hand of death, who were young, strong and vigorous." [20]

This time, Bradwell was less tactful, raising the possibility that Judge Ryan's long-term badgering of Goodell could very well have helped ruin her health. When Judge Ryan died, Myra Bradwell's obituary in the Chicago Legal News made no attempt to conceal her anger. She did not hesitate to mention his "ungovernable temper."

Stories of women's lack of stamina in the courtroom persisted for decades. In 1881, Anne C. Southworth, a Massachusetts law student, wrote an essay in which she commented on the hypocrisy involved in this "concern."

Men for years have watched woman grow thin and stoop shouldered as she passes in the gray of early dawn and the shadow of the evening to and from the great factories. They have seen the hectic flush rising in her pale cheeks and have heard the hollow cough; perhaps they have even shaken their heads and solemnly predicted that such close confinement was killing or at least enervating her; but they have never seriously objected to allowing her to kill herself in that manner if she chose. [21]

In 1875, Bradwell spent a great deal of time on yet another matter, a mission of supreme delicacy and controversy: the fact that a woman's husband could declare her insane and send her off to a mental institution without even a court hearing. Apparently, a son, with just a few more requirements, could do the same.

When no one else would act, Bradwell, using any means necessary, rushed to rescue Abraham Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, from the clutches of her only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln. The Bradwells and Lincolns had been friends in the pre-Civil War days before Lincoln was elected president. After Lincoln's assassination, Mrs. Lincoln's life had become terribly bleak and she became an ardent, even compulsive, shopper. The money she spent came from the interest earned from her own estate, valued at more than $100,000. Perhaps her son worried that she would begin depleting the principal as well and he would inherit less, or perhaps he was embarrassed over the gossip. Whatever his motivation, he carried out actions that brought Myra Bradwell into head-on conflict with him.

When Mrs. Lincoln visited her son on March 12, 1875, he hired a detective to follow her around for three weeks. Then he asked six physicians to write reports on his mother's sanity. Four of them never even met Mrs. Lincoln, and the other two never professionally interviewed her. Nevertheless they all agreed that she was insane, and Robert Lincoln filed for an insanity hearing on May 19. Mrs. Lincoln was informed of the event one hour before the kangaroo court took place. Robert Lincoln's attorney provided a counsel for her on the spot.

Seventeen "witnesses" came forward with receipts proving that Mrs. Lincoln had "shopped till she dropped," a practice not then the widespread hobby it is today. Robert Lincoln also testified about his mother's spending habits. No witnesses appeared on Mrs. Lincoln's behalf. Neither the Bradwells nor any of Mrs. Lincoln's other friends even knew that the trial was taking place! After a few minutes, an all-male jury unanimously declared her insane.

Mrs. Lincoln was shipped off to a mental hospital for wealthy women in Batavia, Illinois. Not even permitted to write or receive letters, Mrs. Lincoln managed to smuggle a few notes out of the hospital. One was addressed to the Bradwells. [22] Myra Bradwell dropped everything and rushed to Batavia.

Refused the right to see Mrs. Lincoln, Bradwell launched a publicity campaign. When the headline appeared asking, "Is the Widow of President Lincoln a Prisoner?", followed by a story of Bradwell's not being given permission to visit her friend, the embarrassed head of the institution finally admitted Bradwell. Determining that her friend was in no way insane, Bradwell, knowing that a court appeal would achieve nothing, took a few extralegal steps to secure Mrs. Lincoln's freedom.

First she obtained the agreement of Mrs. Lincoln's sister to take her in after her release was accomplished. Then she sneaked the editor of the Chicago Times, Frank B. Wilkie, into Mrs. Lincoln's room so that he could judge her mental state.

Robert Todd Lincoln fumed when he learned that Bradwell had visited his mother, and he ordered Dr. Patterson, the head of the hospital, to deny the Bradwells future access to his mother because it would "tend to unsettle her mind." This only made the Bradwells more suspicious. On August 24, when Mrs. Lincoln had already spent almost four months incarcerated by her son, Wilkie published a story of his visit with "a perfectly sound and healthy" Mrs. Lincoln and also his interview with "an extremely reluctant Myra Bradwell."

Other newspapers picked up the story, calling for Mrs. Lincoln's immediate release. In less than two weeks, Robert Todd Lincoln took his mother to her sister's house in Springfield. Within the year she was officially declared sane by the Cook County Court and once again had control over her own trust fund.

Myra Bradwell had defeated Robert Todd Lincoln, by any means necessary, fair or foul. Mary Todd Lincoln showered the Bradwells with gifts and credited them with saving her. [23] She also sent a bitter letter to her son, telling him, "you have tried your game of robbery long enough."

With Mrs. Lincoln rescued, Bradwell returned to concentrate on the issue of the admission of women to law schools. As industrialization spread and the federal government expanded, educated professionals were much in demand. Colleges and law schools opened throughout the nation. A college degree followed by a law school degree became the norm for attorneys in the job market. Soon it became obvious that to land a spot in a prestigious law firm or the government, a degree from Harvard, Yale, or Columbia, the most prestigious Ivy League schools, was worth far more than graduation from other law schools. Women were barred from the elite schools, and although it seemed futile to try, a few women attempted to break down the barriers. Lemma Barkaloo, born in Brooklyn, New York, was one such woman. Barkaloo had been the first to apply for admission to Columbia University in 1868, along with two other young women, giving Columbia the dubious distinction of being the first Ivy League law school to reject women. Columbia's George Templeton Strong entered in his diary:

Application from three infatuated young women to the Law School. No woman shall degrade herself by practicing law in New York especially if I can save her. ... "Women's Rights Women" are uncommonly loud and offensive of late. I loathe the lot. [24]

Strong was not only adamant about keeping women away from Columbia but also Jewish applicants. In 1874 he pushed for "either a college diploma or an examination including Latin" for entrance to the Law School. "This will keep out the little scrubs (German Jew boys mostly)." [25] (Original italics.)

Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of President Abraham Lincoln, was committed to an insane asylum by her son.

The reasons given for excluding women were often patently ridiculous. In the 1870s two women, Ellen Martin and M. Frederika Perry, applied to Harvard Law School and were told that the school could not "admit young men and young women to the law library at the same time, and it is not considered fair to admit them to the Law School without giving them privileges to the Library." [26]

In 1872, a prominent Yale alumnus wrote a letter of "recommendation" to Yale's administrators for the admission of a woman acquaintance. It can be presumed that the woman never saw the letter. "Are you far advanced enough to admit young women to your school?" he asked. "In theory I am in favor of their studying and practicing law, provided they are ugly, but I should fear a handsome woman before a jury." [27] In the face of such obstacles, no other woman again attempted to knock at the hallowed doors of the Halls of Ivy until 1885.

It was difficult in all parts of the nation for women to enter the law profession, but in the burgeoning cities of the East, it was just about impossible. The idea of the "woman's sphere" was easier to enforce there than in the labor-short West, where many women worked alongside men. Several eastern-born women, including Lemma Barkaloo and Lavinia Goodell, relocated and received their education elsewhere rather than face a losing battle.

In 1870, Carrie Burnham Kilgore, the first woman in New York State to win a degree in medicine in 1864, tried for another first when she applied to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Rejected, she attempted to buy individual tickets to attend lectures. One of the law professors, E. Spencer Miller, ungrammatically told her: "I do not know what the Board of Trustees will do, but as for me, if they admit a woman I will resign for I will neither lecture to niggers nor women." [28]

Eleven years later, Kilgore tried again, this time sending her husband to purchase the lecture passes. The Board of Trustees quickly informed her that even if she attended every required lecture and passed all of the examinations, they would not guarantee that she would earn a diploma. Later Kilgore said, "It is impossible to appreciate the intense opposition to my admission to the University.... Now people ... wonder if there really was opposition. The necessity for police protection was quite seriously discussed at the University." [29]

Initially refused admission to the Pennsylvania bar, Kilgore managed in 1883 to win admission to a lower court. Three years later she was admitted to litigate before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She was the only woman lawyer in the "City of Brotherly Love" for at least ten years.

In the 1870s, Boston University admitted women, but the state of Massachusetts banned women from bar admission. Lelia J. Robinson, a Boston University honors graduate in 1879, spent over a year fighting for bar admission. She never forgot that year. Over the next decade she researched the issue of discrimination against women law students and lawyers, publishing her depressing findings in a legal magazine.

It remained a little easier for women in the Midwest to enter law schools. An occasional one, like the State University of Iowa, admitted several women. The Iowa administration also made sure, by sending people to accompany them to their classes, that women would not be tormented in classes. Mary B. Hickey was the first woman to graduate from Iowa State in 1873, and each decade the enrollments increased. The law school of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor also admitted some women.

Lemma Barkaloo, after her Columbia University rejection as well as dozens of others, went on to become the first woman law student in the United States as well as Missouri's first woman lawyer. Amazingly, the Law Department of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, accepted her. She attended her first classes in the fall of 1869. One professor claimed that Barkaloo "seemed to enjoy the embarrassment of the young men very much," but since she quit after her first year of school, it is dubious that her pleasure amounted to much. She passed the Missouri bar exam but died soon after during a typhoid epidemic in 1870. Eight years later the United States Biographical Dictionary said that Lemma Barkaloo had "died of over-mental exertion." [30]

Phoebe Couzins, Barkaloo's classmate, stayed on to graduate. When she did, she thanked the university officials for their fair treatment of "one whose soul has been sadly torn and bruised by endless friction with the carping spirits and narrow minds of today." [31] Couzins was admitted to the bar in Missouri, Kansas, and Utah, and later to federal courts. She briefly served as a U.S. Marshall, completing her father's term when he died suddenly.

But the few Midwestern state universities open to women were exceptions to the rule of not permitting women to study law. Moreover, the majority of law schools and men in the legal profession continued their often demeaning behavior toward women lawyers. Newspaper reporters were especially upset by even the possibility of prestigious appointments for women attorneys. In 1882, for example, when someone suggested that President Chester Arthur appoint Phoebe Couzins to the commission regulating the Utah territory, a St. Louis Spectator editorial declared that women "are totally unfit to enter into the courts and practice law." [32] Couzins did not get the job.

Every step of the way was a fresh struggle. In 1878, the University of California announced the establishment of the Hastings College of Law, made possible through an endowment from Judge Clinton Hastings. Women would not be welcomed, Judge Hastings declared, because they would "distract the male students by their rustling garments." [33]

Once again a woman of valor, Clara Shortridge Foltz, California's first woman attorney, challenged the Hastings administration. Once again, one single staunch ally, Myra Bradwell, was there to help her. [34] Perhaps Judge Hastings underestimated his adversary. Clara Foltz, the first woman attorney in California, had fought for her career every step of the way.

She had arrived in California in 1874. At the age of twenty-five, she already had five children. Two years later she divorced her husband and decided to study for the bar in the office of a sympathetic lawyer. Anticipating that the California Supreme Court would refuse to admit her no matter how high her bar examination score, Foltz determined to change the California law. She found an ally in Laura De Force Gordon, who was well-known for her unfaltering struggle for women's rights and her tough demands on women. Gordon had once told a group of women at a suffrage meeting "not to sit like mummies but to open their mouths and vote audibly. This disinclination to do business in a business-like way is discreditable." [35]

Together Foltz and Gordon fought for legislation to change the words in the state code on bar admission from "any white male citizen" to "any citizen or person." After months of hard work by the women, Senate Bill 66, known as the Woman Lawyer's Bill, was approved by both houses of the state legislature.

Foltz sailed through the bar exam and was admitted to the 20th District Court Bar in the fall of 1878. In a few months she had a growing practice in San Jose. [36]

Neither Foltz nor Gordon was willing to drop the battle for the admission of women to the Hastings College of Law. In one of the earliest sit-ins in American history, Foltz and Gordon walked into the school, were refused registration, and occupied seats in the required classes. Many male students quickly engaged in a mocking game of "monkey see, monkey do," imitating every cough and movement of the two women. The college board immediately ordered the two women tossed out. Gordon and Foltz rushed off to file suit against Hastings in California Supreme Court.

Their claim was legally sound. Since Hastings was part of the University of California, and the university admitted women, there was no legal basis on which to bar them. Hastings' lawyers attempted to prove that since Hastings had received private funding, it was not part of the University of California. After a court victory, Foltz officially attended her first classes on January 9, 1879, but the fight was far from over.

First a letter from Judge Hastings informed her that her admission still required approval by the board of directors. In her classes, the students continued their games, assuming that the college authorities would find a way to get rid of her if her presence disrupted class proceedings. "You would have thought the whooping cough was a raging epidemic among the little fellows," Foltz later said, describing her reception.

After two days of this nonsense she received the expected notification that her application for admission had been denied. Back to court she trudged with Gordon by her side. Hastings's attorney cited cases where judges had used the "law of nature" to ban women from law practice. He referred to Foltz's "beauty" and said that a jury would not be able to judge fairly when she pleaded a case. Yet press reports on the case added not so subtle hints that the two women were less than "feminine." They printed details of Gordon's "stylish black dress with some suggestions of masculinity in the make" and Foltz's hands "not lacking in bone and muscle." [37]

Foltz remained calm, telling the judge that she had expected legal arguments, and that she more than met all of the entrance requirements. Apparently, the judge agreed, ruling in favor of the women. No doubt in an effort to wear down Foltz and Gordon emotionally and financially, the Hastings board of directors appealed. While the case pended, the women attended classes. Foltz was admitted to the State Supreme Court bar in December 1879 and successfully represented herself against the Hastings lawyers during their appeal. Later she described that case as "the greatest in my more than half century before the bar."

Foltz went on to be appointed the first woman Los Angeles deputy district attorney. She also created California's parole system and public defender system. The work she did probably made a huge difference to literally thousands of poor men and women. Despite these remarkable achievements, Foltz continued to find herself the object of ridicule in courtrooms. At one trial the prosecutor publicly stated that it would he better if Foltz had stayed home to care for her children. Foltz's rapid response was: "A woman had better be in almost any business than raising such men as you."

In another case, the prosecutor, in his closing remarks to the jury, warned them: "She is a woman; she cannot be expected to reason ... this young woman will lead you by her sympathetic presentation of this case to violate your oaths and let a guilty man go free." [38] Foltz had already made her closing remarks but she was granted permission to address the court and won her case.

In 1879, after a ten-year running battle, Myra Bradwell was able to announce that twenty-six women had been admitted to the bar in seven states. But in thirty states, "the laws are such that a woman would be refused admission by the bar, simply on account of her sex." [39]

Despite the hard-won victories, most of the pioneer women lawyers knew that on this state-by-state, one-by-one basis, it would take decades for women to gain an effective presence in the legal profession. It was clear that only federal legislation would bring a noticeable change, and as long as women could not vote, the power to make laws remained in the hands of men. Suffrage, many of them believed, was the key, and several woman lawyers worked to achieve that goal.

As usual, ridicule was the favorite weapon used against women's suffrage advocates. A Boston newspaper praised a man who "with a wedding kiss shuts up the mouth of Lucy Stone." Her husband, Henry Blackwell, supported Stone totally. They edited the word obey out of their wedding ceremony, and Lucy kept her own name.

Just as the issue of the black vote had broken the early women's rights movement in two, so too racism continued to haunt the suffrage movement. The state-by-state method had very few successes, and Susan B. Anthony and her supporters wanted an all-out push for a constitutional amendment. But the Southern Woman Suffrage Conference held firmly to the "states' rights" position, as did the former slaveholders. The southern women believed they could win the vote from southern legislatures only if they could guarantee that black men would lose their voting rights and black women never get theirs. [40]

For African Americans in the South and Hispanics in the Southwest, at the mercy of their state governments, not only voting rights but just about all of their civil rights were in jeopardy. In 1876, federal troops were withdrawn from the South and Reconstruction was to all intents and purposes dead. Segregationist laws called "black codes" were passed throughout the South, and the Ku Klux Klan enforced them with whips and lynching ropes. By 1895 most black men had been excluded from voting. Black women, of course, had never been allowed to vote. There wasn't even a hint of revival of the old coalition between those who supported black civil rights and women's rights advocates. As allies the groups might have changed history. Instead, women and all minorities -- blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans -- found themselves largely shut out of the "American Dream."

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