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Bradwell v. Illinois

The Female Disability

The court was not persuaded. It ignored her Fourteenth Amendment argument and claimed only that she had too broadly interpreted the impact of the Act of 1869. Those recent changes in Illinois property law, the Chief Justice wrote, affected only a woman's individual and separate holdings. Their "common law . . . disabilities in regard to making contracts" had not been ameliorated to an extent that would have "invited them to enter, equally with men, upon those fields of trade and speculation by which property is acquired though the agency of contracts."

The court also found that a woman, solely on the grounds of gender and even without her common law legal disabilities, was unfit to practice: "[A]fter further consultation . . . we find ourselves constrained to hold that the sex of the applicant independent of coverture, is, as our law stands, a sufficient reason for not granting this license [emphasis added]." Finally, the court disagreed with Bradwell's interpretation of the revised statutes, declaring that females may be included in masculine gender words but not "where there is anything in the subject or context repugnant to such construction. This is the case in the present instance."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Bradwell v. Illinois - Significance, The Marriage Disability, The Female Disability, All Or Nothing, God's Say So