Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Rebels at the Bar

Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of Americas First Women Lawyers

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 286
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Rebels at the Bar
    Book Description:

    "I read these stories of the first generation of women lawyers with awe and gratitude. We are all in their debt - and in Jill Norgren's, too, for recovering this forgotten history." - Linda Greenhouse, Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow, Yale Law School In Rebels at the Bar, prize-winning legal historian Jill Norgren recounts the life stories of a small group of nineteenth century women who were among the first female attorneys in the United States. Beginning in the late 1860s, these determined rebels pursued the radical ambition of entering the then all-male profession of law. They were motivated by a love of learning. They believed in fair play and equal opportunity. They desired recognition as professionals and the ability to earn a good living. Through a biographical approach, Norgren presents the common struggles of eight women first to train and to qualify as attorneys, then to practice their hard-won professional privilege. Their story is one of nerve, frustration, and courage. This first generation practiced civil and criminal law, solo and in partnership. The women wrote extensively and lobbied on the major issues of the day, but the professional opportunities open to them had limits. They never had the opportunity to wear the black robes of a judge. They were refused entry into the lucrative practices of corporate and railroad law.Although male lawyers filled legislatures and the Foreign Service, presidents refused to appoint these early women lawyers to diplomatic offices and the public refused to elect them to legislatures. Rebels at the Bar expands our understanding of both women's rights and the history of the legal profession in the nineteenth century. It focuses on the female renegades who trained in law and then, like men, fought considerable odds to create successful professional lives. In this engaging and beautifully written book, Norgren shares her subjects' faith in the art of the possible. In so doing, she ensures their place in history.Jill Norgrenis Professor Emerita of Political Science at John Jay College, and the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. She is the award winning author of many articles and books, includingBelva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President( NYU Press, 2007);The Cherokee Cases; and American Cultural Pluralism and Law(with Serena Nanda).

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5863-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 The Women’s War
    (pp. 1-11)

    ON JUNE 18, 1860, Reverend Theophilus Packard committed his wife Elizabeth to the Illinois Hospital for the Insane. A staunch Calvinist, Theophilus held that his wife’s refusal to accept the orthodoxy of his religious views, her refusal to echo his thinking, spoke unequivocally of a deranged mind. Theophilus acted quite legally. Illinois law permitted a husband (but not a wife) to authorize the involuntary commitment of a spouse. Elizabeth Packard, forty-four, the mother of their six children, and completely sane, had not given her consent and was literally dragged off. Elizabeth spent three years imprisoned in the state insane asylum...

  5. 2 White Knights and Legal Knaves
    (pp. 12-25)

    WHEN, AFTER THE CIVIL WAR, a few brave women insisted upon the opportunity to become lawyers, they entered a profession with a decidedly mixed reputation, one populated solely by male practitioners who were responsible for the nature of their profession. By the late 1860s in the United States, significant economic and political changes were in place. Members of the legal profession, which had served rural colonial America and then a small agrarian nation, now understood that they must be capable of addressing the issues created by urbanism, industrial capitalism, and the building of transportation and communication infrastructures. Solo practitioners maintained...

  6. 3 Myra Bradwell: The Supreme Court Says No
    (pp. 26-43)

    IN 1894, WHEN IT MATTERED VERY LITTLE, the men of the Illinois State Bar Association showered praise on Myra Bradwell. A quarter of a century before she had sought their professional favor and many of them had withheld it. Now she lay on her deathbed receiving tender expressions of respect.

    Attitudes had loosened and tempers cooled since 1869 when the Chicago businesswoman, wife of Judge James Bradwell, sought to be licensed as an Illinois attorney. Born in Manchester, Vermont, in 1831, Myra Colby had a New England pedigree and, from the age of twelve, under the watchful eye of four...

  7. 4 Lavinia Goodell “A Sweeping Revolution of Social Order”
    (pp. 44-73)

    LAVINIA GOODELL , BORN IN 1839, learned about the power of law at an early age. Slavery and temperance were everyday topics of conversation at her parents’ dinner table. By the age of nineteen Lavinia imagined law as a profession through which she could do good and not lose her moral bearings. From the same age, she also imagined herself happily, forever, unmarried.

    Moral bearings were everything in the world of Rhoda Lavinia Goodell. The second surviving daughter of William and Clarissa Goodell, Lavinia, or Vinnie as she was called, began life in Utica, New York. The area was a...

  8. 5 Belva A. Lockwood: The First Woman Member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar
    (pp. 74-103)

    BELVA LOCKWOOD, like Lavinia Goodell, dreamed of a life in law long before she could make that ambition a reality. Lockwood was the second child, born October 24, 1839, of Hannah and Lewis J. Bennett, farmers who eked out a modest living in the Niagara County town of Royalton, New York. The Bennetts were removed from the cosmopolitan world of professions, and wedded to the conservative words of scripture in the matter of woman’s submissiveness. Social status was not theirs to bestow, nor the higher education that their bright, assertive daughter craved.

    With her family in need of money, at...

  9. 6 Clara Foltz’s Story: Breaking Barriers in the West
    (pp. 104-133)

    IF BELVA LOCKWOOD was restless and ambitious, persistently seeking opportunities and trying new things, Clara Shortridge Foltz was even more so. Ardent in all that she pursued, Foltz led a life that reads like the nomadic road map of a woman in search of work, status, and a more equitable society. Like Lockwood, Foltz fought her way into the profession of law only to spend decades frustrated by the norms and prejudices that made it impossible for her to win appointment as a judge, election to public office, or selection as a corporate law partner. Courtrooms suited Clara Foltz. Like...

  10. 7 Not Everyone Is Bold: Mary Hall and Catharine Waugh McCulloch in Conversation
    (pp. 134-155)

    THE COURTROOM SUITED Foltz, Lockwood, and Goodell, but not every female, or male, lawyer sought the light and fight of trial work. The back office appealed to many attorneys, including Mary Hall, who believed that public opinion would be against a woman trying cases in court. Hall, the first woman attorney in Connecticut, was one of seven children born to Louisa and Gustavus Hall of Marlborough, a town less than twenty miles from the state capital of Hartford. Her birth, on August 16, 1843, occurred at the beginning of the dramatic transformation in women’s civic life. The public agitation for...

  11. 8 Lelia Robinson and Mary Greene: Two Women from Boston University School of Law
    (pp. 156-184)

    THEY GAVE COMFORT to one another, Lelia Robinson and Mary Greene, in 1888 the only two women practicing law in Boston. Greene said of their friendship, “I think it is helpful to both of us to feel that neither is ‘the only woman lawyer in Massachusetts.’”¹ Robinson agreed that more women lawyers meant each could “march on with a firmer and stronger tread.”² Women of great intellect, they also had in common New England backgrounds, diplomas from Boston University School of Law, a love of writing, and a talent for the law. They welcomed praise but eschewed flash.

    Robinson, born...

  12. 9 Law as a Woman’s Enterprise
    (pp. 185-206)

    FIRST-GENERATION WOMEN ATTORNEYS trained in the law in order to stretch themselves intellectually and to expand what were, otherwise, limited economic opportunities. Women attorneys also valued law as a tool of reform—not all, to be sure, but many. They supported woman suffrage and understood their personal struggles to be part of the larger fight to achieve an equal place in society.

    Woman lawyers, like other pioneering female professionals, engaged in endless debate over what they should or should not do, what was good, bad, normal, or eccentric. In 1881 Belva Lockwood saw that male attorneys in the District who...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 207-212)

    FOUR WOMEN HAVE now served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first of these justices, was not appointed until 1981. For a short while after O’Connor retired, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the court in 1993, was the sole female member. In 2009, U.S. district court judge Sonia Sotomayor joined her. Elena Kagan, the first woman dean of Harvard Law School, was confirmed a year later.

    The first generation of women lawyers imagined such success and status for themselves but were barred by custom, prejudice, and, in some instances,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 213-248)
  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 249-254)
  16. Index
    (pp. 255-267)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 268-268)