Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President

Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President

Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President

Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President


Foreword by U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President , prize-winning legal historian Jill Norgren recounts, for the first time, the life story of one of the nineteenth century's most surprising and accomplished advocates for women's rights. As Norgren shows, Lockwood was fearless in confronting the male establishment, commanding the attention of presidents, members of Congress, influential writers, and everyday Americans. Obscured for too long in the historical shadow of her longtime colleague, Susan B. Anthony, Lockwood steps into the limelight at last in this engaging new biography.

Born on a farm in upstate New York in 1830, Lockwood married young and reluctantly became a farmer's wife. After her husband's premature death, however, she earned a college degree, became a teacher, and moved to Washington, DC with plans to become an attorney-an occupation all but closed to women. Not only did she become one of the first female attorneys in the U. S., but in 1879 became the first woman ever allowed to practice at the bar of the Supreme Court.

In 1884 Lockwood continued her trailblazing ways as the first woman to run a full campaign for the U. S. Presidency. She ran for President again in 1888. Although her candidacies were unsuccessful (as she knew they would be), Lockwood demonstrated that women could compete with men in the political arena. After these campaigns she worked tirelessly on behalf of the Universal Peace Union, hoping, until her death in 1917, that she, or the organization, would win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Belva Lockwood deserves to be far better known. As Norgren notes, it is likely that Lockwood would be widely recognized today as a feminist pioneer if most of her personal papers had not been destroyed after her death. Fortunately for readers, Norgren shares much of her subject's tenacity and she has ensured Lockwood's rightful place in history with this meticulously researched and beautifully written book.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States

In 1973, when I first appeared before the United States Supreme Court to present oral argument, nearly a century had elapsed since the Court first heard a woman’s voice at counsel’s lectern. At the start of the 1970s, law remained a dominantly male profession, but the closed door era had ended. Given the impetus of antidiscrimination legislation, women lawyers were beginning to appear in court as more than one-at-a-time curiosities. Principal among way pavers in days when women were not wanted at the bar was a brave pioneer named Belva Ann Lockwood.

In this meticulously researched and moving account, Professor Norgren has rescued Lockwood’s extraordinary story from relative obscurity. Once compared to Shakespeare’s Portia by her sister suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton [p. 74], Lockwood resembled Shakespeare’s character in this respect: Both were individuals of impressive intellect who demonstrated that women can hold their own as advocates for justice. Like Shakespeare’s Portia, Lockwood used wit, ingenuity, and sheer force of will to unsettle society’s conceptions of her sex. Portia, however, succeeded in her mission by impersonating a man. Lockwood, in contrast, used no disguise in tackling the prevailing notion that women and lawyering, no less politics, do not mix: She became the first woman admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court, and she ran twice for the office of President of the United States. Her enduring legacy, however, is the path she opened for women who later followed the tracks she made.

Her front-runner status was achieved by persistent effort. In 1869, as a mother of two approaching her thirty-ninth birthday, Lockwood gained no easy entrance into what was then a nearly all-male profession. Initially denied a legal education on the ground that her presence . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.