America's First Woman Lawyer

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Today is my sister's birthday, and since she recently became a lawyer I thought that today's book should be about America's first female lawyer.

She requested that I list her good qualities on the blog today, to which I replied, "Well, you're really good at positioning the mirrors in the room so that you can see yourself at all times - that's something that not everyone excels at."

I had to fit in reading in between telling her everything I liked about her, looking at her baby book with her, and having our traditional family birthday dinner. I learned some interesting things from the baby book - which did not suffer at all despite her being the third child. For instance, she's always loved to sleep, and slept 10 hours a night at the age of 2 weeks. For those of you who know her well this information will not come as a shock. When then looked through the pictures and found the pictorial evidence of her love of sleep; Alissa asleep in her high chair, Alissa asleep while coloring, Alissa asleep while eating a brownie. I also learned that she forced us all to play Sesame Street when she was 3. I played the part of Big Bird in case you were wondering dear readers. She returned the favor when I was in the middle of my Little House obsession and I forced her to play blind Mary. We argued back and forth about who should be Mary - she said I should be Mary since she was older and so was I, but I convinced her that I should be Laura since Laura was the one who grew up to the be the writer. She eventually agreed, and played a very convincing blind person. So I guess it all evened out.

Today's book; "After she applied to practice law in 1869 in her home state of Illinois and was denied, Myra Bradwell (1831-1894) instead became a legal journalist, publishing and editing the influential Chicago Legal News. In this heavily footnoted and prodigiously researched study, Wayne State University law professor Friedman posits that Bradwell's achievements have been overlooked because her disagreements with feminist Susan B. Anthony led Anthony to exclude Bradwell from her definitive History of Woman Suffrage. Using her journal as a forum, Bradwell successfully agitated for judicial reform and women's rights, particularly the right of married women to enter the professions."

Today's book started out well, and then got kind of boring around page 100 - it kind of crashed at the mid-way point - and so it was a struggle to make it through the end part of the book.

I was still able to find some fun facts in the book to share with you -
  • Yale was the first law school to admit women. In 1885 Alice Jordan entered the school and received her degree. However, in 1890 the school reverted back to a "for men only" policy.
  • When Myra Bradwell passed the bar in the 1870's the state of Illinois refused to grant her the right to practice law because of her gender. She then took the case to the Illinois Supreme court, which upheld the states decision. The reason give; because of the disability imposed by her married condition.
  • Despite the ruling, Bradwell maintined her friendship with one of the Justices that ruled against her. She also endorsed three of justices who had ruled against her during an election that took place ten years later.
The title of the book is a bit misleading, since Myra Bradwell was denied the chance to practice law for most of her life and wasn't actually granted the right until 1890. The license was issued with the date when she originally applied, 1869 - so she's really only the first female lawyer on a technicality.

After being denied the right to practice law, Bradwell went on to lead a very productive life - she served as president of the Chicago Soldiers' Aid Society, which raised money for the familes of soldiers who fought in the civil war, then she founded the most successful legal publishing empire of the nineteenth century, became the guiding force for a vast number of law reform activities, and almost singlehandedly secured the release of Mary Todd Lincoln from an insane asylum (when she was falsely committed by her son who was rumored to be after her money).

If you do ever decide to read this book I would recommend reading the first 100 pages and then stopping there. Nothing happened for the last 112 pages that was interesting.