May/June 1997 issue

Breaking the Barriers:
The St. Louis Legacy of Women in Law 1869-1969

A Review By Margaret Dostal, Assistant Circuit Executive

Lucile Willey Ring recently published a book entitled Breaking the Barriers - The St. Louis Legacy of Women in Law 1869-1969. Ms. Ring graduated from Washington University School of Law and was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1946. She began practicing law in 1960. Her column "A Glimpse at the Past - Women in St. Louis Legal History" appeared in the St. Louis Daily Record for several years before her recent retirement.

Her book is a compilation of articles about women lawyers who broke barriers and established precedents for future generations of women. The book documents not only the details of their accomplishments, but the human dimension of their struggle.

Iowa University was the first law school to admit women in 1868. The St. Louis Law School (Washington University), the University of Michigan, and Union College of Law in Chicago (later Northwestern University) admitted women in 1869.

On June 15, 1869, the first woman in modern times was admitted to a state bar in this country. Arabella Aurelia Babb Mansfield, who had not graduated from law school, was admitted at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in spite of a state statute which on its face admitted only "white males."

In 1870, M. Lemma Barkeloo was the first woman lawyer in St. Louis and in Missouri. She was the first woman trial lawyer in America, and the first woman lawyer to try a case in federal court.

Mrs. Ada H. Kepley of Effingham, Illinois, was the first woman to graduate with an LL.B. from a law school or university. She graduated from Union College of Law (Northwestern) on June 30, 1870.

Mrs. Charlotte E. Ray, is reported to have been the first Black woman law student. She graduated in 1872, and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar. She was the first woman admitted to practice in a federal court, and the first Black woman admitted to any bar.

In 1876, Phoebe Wilson Couzins was the first woman to appear at a national political convention. Appearing at the Democratic National Convention held in St. Louis, she was a delegate from the Women's Rights National Convention and requested that the platform of the Democratic Party include a plank for women's suffrage. In 1887, she was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Missouri, and was the first woman to serve as a U.S. Marshal in the United States.

In 1879, Belva Ann Bennett was the first woman admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and was the first woman to argue a case before the Court.

She was also the first woman to appear on the ballot and campaign actively in a presidential election. In 1884, and 1888, she was the candidate of the Equal Rights Party. In 1884, she received 4,149 votes when women in most states were ineligible to vote in national elections.

In 1904, Gratia Evelyn Woodside was the first woman ever admitted to the American Bar Association.

In 1922, Florence E. Allen was the first woman to sit on a state supreme court, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as the first woman to serve on the United States Court of Appeals. Appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1934, she served as chief judge, and took senior status after serving on the Court for twenty-five years.

On November 2, 1942, Dorothy L. Freeman became the first Black woman lawyer in St. Louis and in Missouri.

On March 29, 1943, Margaret Berenice Bush (Wilson) became the second Black woman lawyer in Missouri. She could not graduate from the University of Missouri School of Law at Columbia because she was Black. She could not join the Bar Association of St. Louis because she was Black, but she could not have gone to Harvard University School of Law because she was a woman. Harvard was one of the first university law schools to admit a Black man and one of the last law schools to grant equality in legal education to women. (In 1868, George Lewis Ruffin, a Black man, was enrolled at Harvard University School of Law, and received his law degree in 1869.)

In 1944, one hundred fifty-five years after the Supreme Court of the United States was established, Lucile Lomen was selected as the first woman law clerk in the history of the Supreme Court by Justice William O. Douglas.

In 1960, Gretchen Huston was the first woman law clerk appointed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

[This book is available in the St. Louis Library at KF355.S2R56 (1996)]

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