Admission of Women to the Bar 1873

Admission of Women to the Bar 1873

Admission of Women to the Bar 1873
Myra Bradwell, c. 1870. – Admission of Women to the Bar 1873

Bradwell v. Illinois, Myra Bradwell (1831–1894)

Myra Bradwell, née Myra Colby, was an American lawyer and editor who was engaged in numerous historic lawsuits addressing women’s legal rights. She was born February 12, 1831 in Manchester, Vermont, and died February 14, 1894 in Chicago, Illinois.

Myra Colby was born in Portage, New York, and raised in Schaumburg Township, Illinois, near Elgin, beginning in 1843. She attended schools in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Elgin, Illinois. She married James B. Bradwell, a law student, in May 1852 and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, with him, where they taught and then ran their own private school. They returned to Illinois in 1854, settling in Chicago, where James Bradwell was admitted to the law in 1855. In 1861, he was elected to the Cook County bench, and in 1873, he was elected to the state assembly.

Myra Bradwell began her illustrious career in October 1868, when she founded the weekly Chicago Legal News, for which she served as both editor and business manager. It quickly rose to prominence as the most prominent legal journal in the western United States. She and her husband were prominent in the creation of the American Woman Suffrage Association in Cleveland, and she helped arrange Chicago’s first women’s suffrage conference in 1869.

Bradwell passed the qualifying examination and petitioned to the Illinois Supreme Court for admission to the state bar in the same year; the court’s rejection, based on her gender, was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in April 1873. (For further information, see Bradwell v. State of Illinois.) In the meanwhile, the Illinois legislature opened all professions to women in 1872, and she was granted an honorary member of the state bar organization despite not renewing her application for the bar.

The Chicago Legal News’ physical facility was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871, but the paper continued to publish on a regular basis. Bradwell advocated women’s suffrage, railroad control, better judicial systems, zoning regulations, and other improvements as editor of the magazine. She developed and gained passage of a measure in 1869 that provided married women the ability to keep their own salaries and safeguarded widows’ rights, with the help of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Livermore, and others. Later, she backed her husband’s attempts to pass legislation allowing women to serve in school offices and as notaries public, as well as be equal guardians of their children.

Bradwell represented Illinois in the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, and he was instrumental in Chicago’s winning the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. On its own initiative, the Illinois Supreme Court reopened her 1869 application and admitted her to the bar in 1890, and she was permitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in March 1892. Bessie Bradwell Helmer, Bradwell’s daughter, followed her into the law and the Chicago Legal News.

Bradwell v. State – 83 U.S. 130 (1873)

RULE: There are certain advantages and immunities that only citizens of the United States have, and that no state has the authority to limit them. However, one of these is the right to be admitted to practice in a state’s courts. Citizenship in the United States has no bearing on this right.

FACTS: On appeal, the applicant asserted that a citizen of the United States had certain advantages and immunities, and that admission to a state’s bar, for a person with the required learning and character, was one of those that a state could not reject.

ISSUE/QUESTION: Does the Fourteenth Amendment preserve a woman’s freedom to work in any profession as a citizen?


CONCLUSION: The Supreme Court of the United States decided that a state could not take away a citizen’s rights to certain privileges and immunities. The Court, on the other hand, decided that admission to practice in a state’s courts was not one of these privileges and immunities, and that this right was not dependent on US citizenship in any way.


New Zealand Women’s Suffrage (1893);

Women’s Right to Vote (1919);

The Equal Rights Amendment (1972);

Women’s Admission to Private Clubs (1988).


Admission of Women to the Bar 1873

Bradwell v. State – 83 U.S. 130 (1873)

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)