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Rebels at the Bar

The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers

Jill Norgren

Publication Year: 2013

"I read these stories of the first generation of women lawyers with awe and gratitude. We are all in their debt—and in Jill Norgren's, too, for recovering this forgotten history."
—Linda Greenhouse, Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow, Yale Law School
In Rebels at the Bar, prize-winning legal historian Jill Norgren recounts the life stories of a small group of nineteenth century women who were among the first female attorneys in the United States. Beginning in the late 1860s, these determined rebels pursued the radical ambition of entering the then all-male profession of law. They were motivated by a love of learning. They believed in fair play and equal opportunity. They desired recognition as professionals and the ability to earn a good living.
Through a biographical approach, Norgen presents the common struggles of eight women first to train and to qualify as attorneys, then to practice their hard-won professional privilege. Their story is one of nerve, frustration, and courage. This first generation practiced civil and criminal law, solo and in partnership. The women wrote extensively and lobbied on the major issues of the day, but the professional opportunities open to them had limits. They never had the opportunity to wear the black robes of a judge. They were refused entry into the lucrative practices of corporate and railroad law.Although male lawyers filled legislatures and the Foreign Service, presidents refused to appoint these early women lawyers to diplomatic offices and the public refused to elect them to legislatures.
Rebels at the Bar expands our understanding of both women’s rights and the history of the legal profession in the nineteenth century. It focuses on the female renegades who trained in law and then, like men, fought considerable odds to create successful professional lives. In this engaging and beautifully written book, Norgren shares her subjects’ faith in the art of the possible. In so doing, she ensures their place in history.
Jill Norgren is Professor Emerita of Political Science at John Jay College, and the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. She is the award winning author of many articles and books, including Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President ( NYU Press, 2007); The Cherokee Cases; and American Cultural Pluralism and Law (with Serena Nanda). 

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xviii

REBELS AT THE BAR describes the life stories of a small group of nineteenth-century women who became the first female attorneys in the In 1865, at the conclusion of the American Civil War, the idea of equal rights found new expression. In the optimistic decade that fol-lowed, a handful of women acted on their aspirations to become law...

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1. The Women’s War

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pp. 1-11

ON JUNE 18, 1860, Reverend Theophilus Packard committed his wife Elizabeth to the Illinois Hospital for the Insane. A staunch Calvinist, Theophilus held that his wife’s refusal to accept the orthodoxy of his...

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2. White Knights and Legal Knaves

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pp. 12-25

WHEN, AFTER THE CIVIL WAR , a few brave women insisted upon the opportunity to become lawyers, they entered a profession with a decidedly mixed reputation, one populated solely by male practitioners who were responsible for the nature...

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3. Myra Bradwell: The Supreme Court Says No

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pp. 26-43

IN 1894, WHEN IT MATTERED VERY LITTLE, the men of the Illinois State Bar Association showered praise on Myra Bradwell. A quarter of a century before she had sought their professional favor and many of them had...

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4. Lavinia Goodell: “A Sweeping Revolution of Social Order”

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pp. 44-73

LAVINIA GOODELL , BORN IN 1839, learned about the power of law at an early age. Slavery and temperance were everyday topics of conversation at her parents’ dinner table. By the age of nineteen Lavinia imagined law as a profession through which she could do good and...

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5. Belva A. Lockwood: The First Woman Member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar

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pp. 74-103

BELVA LOCKWOOD, like Lavinia Goodell, dreamed of a life in law long before she could make that ambition a reality. Lockwood was the second child, born October 24, 1839, of Hannah and Lewis J. Bennett, farmers who eked out a modest living...

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6. Clara Foltz’s Story: Breaking Barriers in the West

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pp. 104-133

IF BELVA LOCKWOOD was restless and ambitious, persistently seeking opportunities and trying new things, Clara Shortridge Foltz was even more so. Ardent in all that she pursued, Foltz led a life that reads like ...

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7. Not Everyone Is Bold: Mary Hall and Catharine Waugh McCulloch in Conversation

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pp. 134-155

Petticoats instead of breeches. . . . Brains and mentality are [often] measured by the formation of the wearing apparel. This will not do for an en-lightened and a leading state like our own. We must admit feminine law-every female, or male, lawyer sought the light and fight of trial work. The back office appealed to many attorneys, including Mary Hall, who ...

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8. Lelia Robinson and Mary Greene: Two Women from Boston University School of Law

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pp. 156-184

THEY GAVE COMFORT to one another, Lelia Robinson and Mary Greene, in 1888 the only two women practicing law in Boston. Greene said of their friendship, “I think it is helpful to both of us to feel that neither is ‘the only woman lawyer...

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9. Law as a Woman’s Enterprise

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pp. 185-206

FIRST-GENERATION WOMEN ATTORNEYS trained in the law in order to stretch themselves intellectually and to expand what were, otherwise, limited economic opportunities. Women attorneys also valued law as a tool...

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pp. 207-212

FOUR WOMEN HAVE now served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first of these justices, was not appointed until 1981. For a short while after O’Connor...


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pp. 213-248

Select Bibliography

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pp. 249-254


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pp. 255-267

About the Author

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pp. 268-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780814758632
E-ISBN-10: 0814758622
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814758625
Print-ISBN-10: 0814758622

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 847632603
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rebels at the Bar

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