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Belva Ann Lockwood - A Long Way To Go

practice court courts women

Lockwood became very well known in Washington as she developed a successful law practice. She liked the practicality of getting around the city on the tall, three-wheeled tricycles that were becoming popular for men. The trikes were considered unladylike due to women's fashions at the time consisting of long skirts. Belva bought one anyway and had a special dashboard made to keep her skirts down.

Lockwood had plenty of legal cases but was not allowed to practice before any federal courts located in Washington. In April 1874 she had an important case to argue before the U.S. Court of Claims but was required to turn it over to a male attorney and the case was lost. Lockwood's appeal of the court of claims' ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1876 was rejected. Lockwood believed if women had the right to practice law, then they should be entitled to follow the case to the highest courts in the country. She lobbied Congress in a campaign to pass a bill to allow women to speak in courts. The work of Lockwood and her supporters paid off in 1877 when her bill secured a place on the congressional calendar. It passed the Senate and was signed into law by U.S. president Rutherford Hayes (1822–1893; served 1877–81) on February 15, 1879.

On March 3, 1879, Belva Lockwood became the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. On March 6 Lockwood was also admitted to practice before the U.S. Court of Claims, making her the first woman to practice in federal courts.


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