March is Women's History Month ✨ To celebrate, we are highlighting some of law’s leading ladies and the “firsts” that paved the way for women in law.
Who Was The First American Female Lawyer?
Arabella graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College as valedictorian in 1866. Shortly after, she began teaching at Simpson College, while studying law at her brother’s practice.
At that time, the Iowa bar exam was restricted, by law, only to males over 21 years old. Arabella challenged that and took the exam, passing with high marks in 1869. She was officially certified by Judge Francis Springer, making her the first licensed female lawyer in the U.S.
After being certified, Iowa changed its laws and became the first state to allow women to practice law.
In the years to follow, Arabella continued to teach and became very active in the women's suffrage movement, where she worked with Susan B. Anthony.
Who Was The First Woman To Graduate From Law School?
In 1867, Ada married attorney Henry B. Kepley and became his legal assistant.
He encouraged her to study law, leading her to attend and graduate from the Pritzker School of Law in 1870. This made her the first American woman to graduate from law school.
However, she was denied a license and helped her husband draft a bill calling to end gender discrimination in the "learned professions." The bill became state law in 1872 and by 1881 Ada was admitted to the bar. Her passions led her to become a fierce advocate for both the women's suffrage movement and the temperance movement.
Who Was The First Black Female Lawyer In The U.S.?
Charlotte E. Ray
Charlotte enrolled at Howard University Law School using the name C. E. Ray to disguise her gender.
In 1872, she became the first Black woman in the U.S. to receive a law degree, as well as one of the first women admitted to the District of Columbia Bar.
She opened her own law office in 1872. However, racial and gender discrimination prevented her from attracting clients, forcing her to shut down her practice. She then moved to New York where she began teaching and getting involved in the women's suffrage movement.
Since 1989, the Charlotte E. Ray Award has been presented to outstanding Black female lawyers in the D.C area.
Who Was The First Woman To Argue Before The Supreme Court?
Belva decided to pursue a law degree shortly after the end of the Civil War, however, she was denied her diploma and admittance to the bar based on her gender.
She later drafted an anti-discrimination bill to allow all female lawyers to practice in any federal court, which Congress passed in 1879.
In 1880, Belva became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court in Kaiser v. Stickney.
In 1906, she made another argument before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, and won them a $5 million settlement.