42. In re Bradwell, 55 Ill.535 (1869)

Background: Myra Bradwell was a women's rights activist and publisher from Chicago who in 1869 attempted to become the first woman in the United States to be licensed as an attorney. Bradwell was born in Vermont in 1831 and grew up in Elgin. In 1852, she married James Bradwell, who would have a successful career as an attorney and judge. In 1868, Myra Bradwell began publishing the Chicago Legal News, a weekly publication on legal issues and court cases that became the leading legal affairs newspaper in the Midwest.

The Document: In 1869, Bradwell passed the qualifying examination and applied to the Illinois Supreme Court for admission to the state bar. The Illinois Supreme Court denied her application because she was a married woman subject to the laws of coverture, in which a woman's legal rights were "covered" by her husband. Bradwell argued that the legislature had removed those legal restrictions, but the Illinois Supreme Court in this majority opinion affirmed its original denial. The court actually expanded its original decision by denying her application not because she was a married woman but just because she was a woman. Bradwell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the Illinois decision.

Note: Myra Bradwell never reapplied for her law license but in 1890 the Illinois Supreme Court, acting on its own, admitted Bradwell to the bar based on her 1869 application. The first female lawyer in Illinois was Alta Hulett, who passed the bar and was admitted to practice in 1873. This case file is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Supreme Court of Illinois Record Series 901.001, "Case Files."