Women in the Practice of Law

Myra Bradwell

In 1870, the U.S. Census reported that there were five women lawyers in the country; one of them was certainly Myra Bradwell. Who was Myra Bradwell? In 1869, Myra Bradwell, after reading law with her husband, Judge James Bradwell, passed the test for admission to the Chicago Bar, but was denied admission by the Illinois Supreme Court on the grounds that she was married. Myra Bradwell took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Illinois decision with the remarkable words of Associate Justice Joseph P. Bradley: "The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life....The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign office of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator." [83 U.S. 130 at 141].

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision in 1885 and directed that Myra Bradwell be granted a license to practice law. Bradwell's subsequent career saw her establish The Chicago Legal News on a sound financial basis.


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