History's Women: Misc. Articles: Belva Lockwood Spofford, First Woman Admitted to Bar of U.S. Supreme CourtBelva Lockwood
First Woman Admitted to Bar of U.S. Supreme Court
1830 – 1917 A.D.

Mrs. Lockwood is one of America’s most remarkable women, and has achieved marked success in her chosen profession, that of law. In this she is the pioneer of our country. Her career is the story of struggle as well as earned victories.

Her maiden name was Burnett and her birthplace Royalton, N.Y. She began teaching school when but fourteen years old and with the money thus earned attended the academy in her native town. She was married to Mr. McNall, a farmer in the town. One daughter was born to them. Her husband died four years after their marriage, and the following year she entered Genesee College and graduated in the regular course. She was at once called to become principal of the Lockwood Union School, where she continued for four years. Subsequently she taught at Gainsville Seminary, and later was proprietor of the McNall Seminary at Oswego, N.Y.

In 1868 she removed to Washington D.C., and opened a school. Soon after this she married Rev. Ezekiel Lockwood. About the same time she began the study of law and sought admission to the law school of Columbia College, but was refused on the ground that her presence in the classes “would distract the attention of the young men.”

Two years later she receive the degree of A.M. from Syracuse University, and the following year was admitted to the National University Law School, from which she graduated, receiving the degree of B.L.

After a long and spirited controversy she was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, where she practiced with marked success. In 1975 she sought admission to the Court of Claims. She was rejected on the ground, first, that she was a woman, and, second, that she was a married woman. A year later she sought, but was refused, admission to the U.S. Supreme Court. She then drafted a bill admitting women to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court, and after three years of work secured its passage through both branches of Congress. She was then admitted and stands as the first woman to be granted that honor.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.

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