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Bradwell v. Illinois

God's Say So

The Supreme Court ruled that Illinois was entitled to restrict the practice of law--and indeed any other profession--to men. Justice Miller, delivering the Court's opinion, said that citizenship was irrelevant to one's admission to the bar and therefore not within the province of Fourteenth Amendment protection.

Justice Bradley, in his concurring opinion, offered particularly biting observations on a woman's place in American society. To agree with Bradwell's claim of Fourteenth Amendment protection, Bradley wrote, would mean " . . . that it is one of the privileges and immunities of women as citizens to engage in any and every profession, occupation or employment in civil life." Explaining his opinion of the impropriety of such a notion, he insisted that the very idea of women having a distinct career from her husband would interfere with "family harmony" not to mention that "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."

He added that "many of the special rules of law flowing from and dependent upon this cardinal principle still exist in full force in most states. One of these is that a married woman is incapable, without her husband's consent, of making contracts which shall be binding on her or him." Therefore, no woman could be an attorney--married or not--because even if there were exceptions to the general rule, society must adapt "to the general constitution of things."

Bradwell was significant in its treatment of women's feme covert status, highlighting the fact that unmarried women felt the legal impact of their wedded sisters' feme covert status. This High Court's opinion would be maintained until its 1971 decision in Reed v. Reed.

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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