In 1879, Belva A. Lockwood of Washington, D.C., became the first woman member of the bar of the U. S. Supreme Court. Lockwood had applied for admission to the bar three years earlier, but had been refused on the ground that no woman had ever been admitted and thus there was no precedent for women's admission. Not easily defeated, Lockwood lobbied Congress to amend the rules governing admission of attorneys to the Supreme Court bar to allow for women as well as men. In February, 1879, Congress adopted "an Act to relieve certain legal disabilities of women," which authorized women to be admitted to practice before the Court. Lockwood promptly reapplied for admission, which was granted, making her the first woman member of the Supreme Court bar. Over the course of the next twenty years, from 1880 to 1900, nineteen other women joined Lockwood as members of the Supreme Court bar. Prior to joining the high court's bar, these women had achieved many other "firsts" for women in the legal profession, by being the first women to attend, or graduate from, their law schools, the first women to
join their states' bars, or the first women to hold particular positions within the legal profession, such as law school dean and master of chancery. In breaking barriers to women's entry into the legal profession, and achieving a high degree of professional success while doing so, these women were recognized as leading women lawyers of their day. These early female Supreme Court bar members were well known to one another. They worked together in the woman suffrage movement, were active in the same professional and voluntary associations, and corresponded with one another about personal and professional issues. In time, they began to move each other's admission in the Supreme Court bar. For example, in 1890, Ada M. Bittenbender, the third woman member of the Supreme Court bar, moved the admission of Emma M. Gillett, the seventh woman member of the Supreme Court bar. Then in 1891, Gillett moved the admission of Marila Ricker, the ninth woman member of the Supreme Court bar. Ellen Spencer Mussey of Washington, D.C., the thirteenth woman member, moved the admission of over twenty women in the Supreme Court bar between 1897 and 1920.
Mary L. Clark,
The First Women Members of the Supreme Court Bar, 1879-1900,
San Diego L. Rev.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/sdlr/vol36/iss1/4