In 1873, the United States Supreme Court denied lawyer Myra Colby Bradwell a license to practice law in the state of Illinois. Justice Joseph Bradley wrote that “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life... [T]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother” (Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873)).
This was the environment faced by the next generation of women interested in the study of law—they were clearly not welcome. In 1888, Emma Baumann and Ada Baker applied for admission to the Chicago Evening Law School, the predecessor of Chicago-Kent College of Law. According to the account in the Chicago Daily Tribune titled “Girls Want To Study Law,” Judge Moran was in favor of their admission, though male students objected. In 1890, Chicago-Kent had its first female graduates: Emma Baumann and Cora Hirtzel. This exhibit highlights the accomplishments of twenty-three of the many women who have graduated from Chicago-Kent since 1888.
Through newspaper articles, items from the Library, reproductions from the Chicago History Museum, and items on generous loan from Illinois libraries, the rich and varied history of our graduates is illustrated. The exhibit documents the history of women at Chicago-Kent, from the first female graduates to the first African-American woman to earn her license; from the first female Cook County State’s Attorney to the members of the first legal sorority in the nation, the exhibit shows new features of familiar stories, and highlights lesser known stories of graduates who helped pave the way to the position that women now occupy in the legal community.
They were socialites, suffragettes, and teachers. They came from farms, from city blocks, and from across the seas. They used their legal knowledge to manage businesses, perform social work, in addition to practicing law. They went to war and to medical school, they wrote books and bills, and within them, they carried a desire to learn, a will to study, and the fire to practice that matched the fervor and talent of their male contemporaries. The work they did and the prejudices of others that they overcame contributed to the school that Chicago-Kent is today.