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Reviewed by:
  • Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President
  • Mary Jane Mossman (bio)
Jill Norgren . Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President. New York and London: New York University Press, 2007, 347 p.

Jill Norgren's study provides an engaging account of Belva Lockwood's struggles and achievements as one of the first women to enter the legal profession in the United States in the late 19th century. As the first woman to be admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1879, and the second to become a candidate for President (in 1884 and again in 1888), Lockwood used her intelligence to develop (often successful) strategies to pursue her goals. At the same time, she struggled all her life for financial security, outlived two husbands and two children, and was often the target of unflattering comments in the press. In spite of these problems, Lockwood was a formidable woman. As Norgren concluded:

Lockwood exuded ego. She openly chose fame, reveled in public notice, and offered herself as a model of female accomplishment and independence. She endured scorn and ridicule, but also found, and cultivated, communities of women and men who shared her passion for reform. A person of great energy, she made her last trip to Europe at the age of eighty-three in order to lobby for the cause of women and international peace. She did not close her private legal practice until the following year.

(p. xiv)

Norgren's study describes how Belva Lockwood (her surname was acquired on her marriage to her second husband) was born in 1830 in upper state New York to a farm family. She left school at the age of fourteen to work as a rural schoolteacher; then at the age of eighteen, she married a local farmer, just four months after the 1848 Convention at Seneca Falls, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, at which the "Declaration of Sentiments" had been adopted.1 According to Norgren, Lockwood resisted "ordinary life" as a farmer's wife by pursuing her interests in reading and writing, activities that were often regarded by her [End Page 164] contemporaries as "unwomanly habits." When her husband died in 1853, leaving Lockwood with a three-year old daughter to support, she used his estate funds to attend Genesee College, graduating in 1857. For several years thereafter, Lockwood continued to teach, but she also became involved in several women's reform movements in western New York, sometimes working with Susan B Anthony, the suffrage activist.

In 1866, with her daughter enrolled at Genesee College, Lockwood moved to Washington, a place of great ferment in ideas and politics in the years just after the Civil War. Although she again worked as a teacher initially, she married Ezekiel Lockwood in 1868, and the couple worked together as rental agents and in processing claims arising out of the War. Lockwood had also begun to read law on her own and continued her involvement with the suffrage movement. Sadly, although she gave birth to a little daughter, the child sickened and then died in 1870. In this context, when National University opened its law program to women in 1871, Lockwood decided to study law even though the University's degrees were not yet open to women. Having successfully completed the course, Lockwood engaged in lobbying for the degree, which was finally conferred in 1873, but only after Lockwood wrote to President Ulysses S Grant (who was also President of National University). Thus, in 1873, Lockwood was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia, the second woman attorney in the capital.2

However, Lockwood's War claims work required that she be admitted to other federal courts, particularly the U.S. Court of Claims. Relying on the rule permitting an attorney to be admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court after three years of practice before the courts of the District of Columbia, Lockwood applied for admission to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1876; the court summarily dismissed her application on the ground that the admission of a woman required legislative action. Apparently undeterred, Lockwood began an aggressive lobbying campaign; as Madeleine Stern reported...


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pp. 164-168
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