The number of women engaged in the industrial and commercial lines is increasing so rapidly, that it is but natural to expect that they will also turn to the legal profession. The amount of property handled by women is rapidly increasing. Property rights before the law need to be understood and asserted by women. Many, who have large property interests to care for, have taken a course in law, that they may the more intelligently and safely conduct their affairs. Women must study law and practice law in self-defense.
Those who devote themselves to law as a profession have large opportunities for enabling their sex to secure their rights and win substantial victories.
We do not ordinarily associate the legal profession with philanthropic activities, but women lawyers have opportunities for philanthropic work on a broad scale, scarcely inferior to those afforded by the medical profession.
The improvement in the social and legal status of woman during the past century has not been due to man primarily. Woman herself has been obliged to take the initiative; then a few broad-minded men have been found who were willing to give sympathy to the movement. But generally man has been an obstructionist in anything relating to the movement. He looked upon her with suspicion and jealousy, especially in the professional field.
So the world needs women lawyers who, with a comprehensive grasp of the present statutes and a familiarity with legislative processes, can seek and secure still further protection and advancement of their sex.
The legal profession has been the most difficult for woman to enter. The educational requirements are severe. There must be a broad and almost measureless knowledge of things legal. There must be a mind fitted for painstaking investigation. There must be profound knowledge of human nature. Woman’s intuition is a good part of the equipment. But her naturally sympathetic nature must not be allowed to overrule intuition. There must be a training for putting things on a basis of evidence and giving a high place to cold, hard reasoning. Woman has those great gifts, tact and common sense, and these must be cultivated rather than allowed to become blunted and dwarfed.
Then there is required, when she begins the practice of her profession, an attention to the minutest details, for a case may turn upon the merest trifle. Courage of a particular sort she must have; courage to face the sneers and braggadocio of an opponent. In the medical profession, women can go forth quietly among her patients, with no antagonism to break in as a discord, while she ministers to others. But in law it is different. Her sensitive nature must be armored against loud-mouthed abuse and browbeating. She must have courage without brazenness; intensity without noise; persistency [sic] without loss of self-control.
The United States gave the world the first woman lawyer. During the past thirty years, more than three hundred have been admitted to practice law in the various state and federal courts. Probably one hundred and twenty-five are now practicing in these courts. The exact number is not obtainable.
Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, and Maryland have laws which prevent women practicing in several states. Other states have no statutory prohibition and woman has only prejudice to overcome.
Mrs. Belva A. Lockwood, whose biography is briefly given in another portion of this book, was refused admission t the Law School of Columbia College. After receiving her degree of A.M. from another university, she was finally admitted to the National University Law School. But after this the battle was a long one. Step by step she won her way. She did not always find a way, and was then obliged to make one. A notable instance of this latter work is seen in her drafting a bill admitting women to the bar of the United States Supreme Court, and securing the passage through both branches of Congress. Having made the way, she entered it and was the first woman to be admitted to the bar of that august body.
The name of Mrs. Myra B. Bradwell stands beside that of Mrs. Lockwood, as that of a pioneer in the legal profession. She studied law partly as a pastime and partly to be of assistance to her husband, Judge Bradwell. Her taste for the profession increased as she proceeded with her studies.
Though her abilities were unquestionable, she was not admitted to the profession because she was a married woman. She sent out a writ of error against the state of Illinois, where she was living. The case was decided against her, and so she was still refused admission to the bar. After many years, however, the decision was reversed, and she received her certificate of admission. For twenty-five years, beginning in 1869, Mrs. Bradwell was editor and manager of the Chicago Legal News, which took high rank in the legal profession.
Another woman, who not finding a way made one, is Miss Mary Philbrick of New Jersey. Having completed her studies and applied for admission to the bar, she discovered that, being a woman, she was legally disqualified. She proceeded to have a bill introduced into the state legislature, permitting women to practice law. She appeared before the committee, arguing her case with great effectiveness, and secured passage of the bill through both branches of the legislature. When the bill had been passed, with heroic and womanly perseverance she went to the governor and convinced him that he ought to sign the bill. So she won a victory for herself and womanhood. Her legal disabilities being removed, she was admitted to the bar and achieved marked success, as she so well deserved.
If all women are to make progress, some one must push. All great reforms have been won only by agitation and usually through obloquy. With the majority of mankind, “whatever is, is right,” and womankind has too long submitted to this monstrous dictum, which is the fossilizing force of humanity.
At the opening of this century and far more that half its course, woman was held in a sort of servitude so far as the laws of the several states were concerned. The laws relating to women were largely relics or reproductions of ancient and medieval legislation, which had its origin in an assumed inferiority of woman. Striking changes have been wrought. Much remains to be done, and woman with a thorough legal education must take the lead.
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.