Supreme Court of the United States

In Re Lady Lawyers:
The Rise of Women Attorneys and the Supreme Court


Introduction

In Re Lady Lawyers: The Rise of Women Attorneys and the Supreme Court

On March 3, 1879, Belva Lockwood became the first woman admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court. The following year, she became the first woman to argue a case before the Justices. In the 19th century, women struggled against professional and societal barriers that largely prevented them from working in the legal field.

In a small number of documented cases, women argued before colonial courts in the 17th and 18th centuries, but such instances were rare. East Coast law schools and state bars resisted the growing tide of women who wanted to enter the legal profession. It was not until the 1840s, during westward expansion of the country, that women began to qualify by “reading law” and providing legal services at the city and county levels, even without formal admission to a state or territorial bar. By the turn of the century, a community of women lawyers was established and growing.

In 1981, just over a century after Lockwood’s inaugural argument, Sandra Day O’Connor took her seat on the Bench as the first woman on the Supreme Court of the United States. Reflecting on the women who went before her, and those who would follow her, she later observed: “As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.”



The Original List of Women Supreme Court Bar Members


An envelope titled 'In Re Lady Lawyers'

In the early 1900s, an employee in the Office of the Clerk began to keep a list of names of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar. The list begins with Belva Lockwood, who became the first woman admitted to the Bar in 1879, and contains the names of 97 women who joined the ranks of lawyers eligible to argue before the Court through 1920. The list was kept in an envelope titled In Re Lady Lawyers, shown above.



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List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1879-1903, Page 1
List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1879-1903, Page 1
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List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1904-1910, Page 2
List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1904-1910, Page 2
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List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1910-1913, Page 3
List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1910-1913, Page 3
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List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1915-1917, Page 4
List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1915-1917, Page 4
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List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1917-1919, Page 5
List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1917-1919, Page 5
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List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1919-1920, Page 6
List of women admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, 1919-1920, Page 6


 

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