Friday, August 2, 2013

August 2: Myra Bradwell, Woman Lawyer

On this date in History .... August 2, 1869:

photo courtesy of
Columbia law
Myra Bradwell passed the Illinois Bar Exam at the age of 38, becoming one of the first women lawyers in the country and the first woman lawyer in Illinois. (Arabella Mansfield is credited with being the first woman to pass the bar (in Iowa) in June 1869.) However, the Illinois Supreme Court denied Bradwell admission to the bar, not because she was a woman …. but because she was a married woman.  They were afraid that since a lawyer may be held responsible for their actions, she might be arrested and “therefore she would not be available to her husband.”

 "The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life....The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign office of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator." [83 U.S. 130 at 141].   

Her appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was denied but this time it WAS because she was a woman, with one of the four reasons being that allowing her to practice law would “open the floodgates” and the court feared civil offices would be filled with women.

Bradwell appealed the decision to the Supreme Court who also denied her access to practice law. Illinois eventually passed laws to permit women to practice law and in 1890, she was granted a license to practice law. Her license was granted munc pro tunc (“now for then”) and dated 1869, making her officially the first licensed woman lawyer in Illinois.

Bradwell was the lawyer for Mary Todd Lincoln’s insanity trial in 1875 when Lincoln was declared sane and released from the sanitarium.  (SEE ALSO MY BLOG OF JUNE 19 – MARY TODD LINCOLN) 

In 1868, Bradwell founded The Chicago Legal News, a regional legal-news newspaper that was the highest circulated legal newspaper for over two decades. She became very involved in married women’s property rights, drafting a law in 1869 to protect the earnings of married women and to protect the interest of widows in their husbands’ estates.

Her daughter graduated law school in 1882 and continued to run the newspaper until 1925.

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