Belva Ann Lockwood
1830 – 1917
Today, in October of 2021, with four women sitting on the Supreme Court it seems unbelievable that until 1879 women attorneys (of which there were few) were not even permitted to present cases before the Supreme Court. Women were discouraged from becoming attorneys, since most law schools would not accept them.
But the most determined among us will always find a way. Belva Ann Lockwood was born in Royalton, NY, October 24, 1830, second of five children of Hannah and Lewis J. Bennett. She was married at 18 and widowed at 23, left with a young daughter to support. Determined to secure an education, she attended Genesee College, graduating in 1857. After college she followed the prescribed path for young women, becoming a teacher in upstate New York; she then moved to Washington DC where she opened her own school. She married Ezekiel Lockwood in 1868.
In 1871 she decided to study law, a laudable goal that was easier said than done when she discovered that no law school would admit her. She finally entered the New National University law school, graduated in 1873 and began her career as one of the first women attorneys in the nation. Belva used her newly-minted law degree to lobby Congress for legislation that favored equality for women, drafting a bill for equal pay for equal work for women in government positions, and becoming the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court.
In 1884 she was nominated to run for President under the National Equal Rights Party, despite the fact that she herself could not vote. Belva hoped that her presidential campaign would bring attention to the suffrage cause, and show that women could succeed in the “man’s world” of politics. She ran again in 1888, losing both times but running dignified campaigns that won the grudging respect of her male opponents.
Belva Lockwood strongly believed in educating girls and women, for only through education could they make their own way in the world and be self-supporting. She devoted her life to working for equality for women, including suffrage, serving in many suffrage associations. She died May 19, 1917, three years before the 19th amendment was passed, but not before she had made her mark battling for a woman’s right to enter any profession and follow any path she chose.