Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Myra Bradwell

Born this day in 1831: Myra Bradwell (1831–1894), lawyer, publisher of the Chicago Legal News, and pioneer of legal rights for women

Bradwell passed the Chicago Bar exam in 1969, but was denied admission by the Illinois Supreme Court because she was a married women:
“…first upon the ground that inconvenience would result from permitting her to enjoy her legal rights in this, to wit, that her clients might have difficulty in enforcing the contracts they might make with her, as their attorney, because of her being a married woman; and, finally, on the ground of her sex, merely.”
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision because she was married (a married woman having “no legal existence separate from her husband”). Associate Justice Joseph P. Bradley:
“The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.… This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society… must be adapted to the general constitution of things…. and, in my opinion, in view of the peculiar characteristics, destiny, and mission of woman, it is within the province of the legislature to ordain what offices, positions, and callings shall be filled and discharged by men.”
Bradwell helped with efforts to pass an Illinois statute that eliminated gender as a basis for refusing admittance to the bar or any occupation or employment. She held out for more profound changes, however. Finally, in 1885 the Illinois Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision and directed that Bradwell be granted a license to practice law.

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