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Womens’ History Month: The Women of Law

Fictional character Elle Woods from Legally Blonde is not the only female attorney to whom practicing women attorneys owe their gratitude, although some would say she significantly improved the garb.

There have been many women of law throughout history.  Even though some never attained the right to practice law, many were pioneers for equal rights in the legal profession.

For Women’s History Month, this article is a tribute to the historical women of law.

Margaret Brent: Brent arrived in Maryland in 1638. She became executrix for Governor Leonard Calvert of Maryland and on numerous occasions appeared before the provincial court to file suits against her own debtors and to plead cases for others.

Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Wilson Couzins: These two women are believed to the nation’s first female law students.  They were admitted to Washington University’s law school, then known as the St. Louis Law School in 1869. 

Arabella Mansfield: Arabella Mansfield fought for her right to become the first female lawyer in the United States in 1869, despite the fact that the Iowa State Bar only accepted white men over the age of 21.

Myra Bradwell: Bradwell filed a petition with the U. S. Supreme Court to appeal the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court that denied her admission to the state bar in 1872 after she had completed her legal studies and passed the bar examination.

Belva Ann Lockwood: Although Lockwood was not the first female lawyer in the United States, she graduated from National University Law School and was denied a degree. In 1879 she petitioned then-president Ulysses S. Grant and the Supreme Court to be able to practice.  She passed the bar and went on to enjoy a modest private practice.

Charlotte E. Ray: Ray was the first African-American woman to practice as an attorney in the United States. An undergraduate at Howard University, Ray undermined the law department’s discriminating standards by applying for law school using only her initials. She graduated and passed the D.C. Bar in 1872. Her practice focused on commercial law.

Through their determination and perseverance, women attorneys everywhere both past and present, have helped form the legal profession into what it is today.