Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Women in Law: Today's Fascinating Downstate Fact

Ada Kepley of Effingham, Illinois, was the first woman in the United States to graduate from law school! Not just an Illinoisian, but a downstate Illinoisian, who broke the barrier!

Her husband, who initially urged her to attend law school, drafted the bill that prohibited discrimination against women in the "learned professions" in Illinois after she was refused admission to the bar. The bill was passed into law in 1872.

Kepley attended the Chicago Union College of Law, which later became Northwestern University, from 1869-1870 and graduated with an LL.B. (which is a very old-fashioned sort of law degree).

The first American woman lawyer, incidentally, was also a midwesterner: Arabella Mansfield of Iowa, who was admitted in 1869 -- one year before Kepley graduated. Mansfield learned law as an apprenticeship under her brother; she did not attend law school.

The Illinois State Bar felt that "the "strife" of the bar would surely destroy femininity" (Bradwell v. Illinois, a contemporaneous case on the issue of women in the legal profession in Illinois). One suspects the Illinois State Bar of the late 1860s and early 1870s couldn't imagine Eyebrows's 70 pairs of shoes or they wouldn't have worried about it.

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