Belva Lockwood

Lived:October 24, 1830—May 19, 1917 (aged 86)
Career:Attorney, politician, educator, author
Party:Equal Rights Party
Education:Genesee College
National University Law School (now George Washington University Law School)

Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood was an American attorney, politician, educator, and author. One of the first female lawyers in the United States, Lockwood successfully petitioned Congress in 1879 to be allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the first woman attorney with this privilege. She ran for president in 1884 and 1888 as the nominee for the Equal Rights Party and was the first woman to appear on official ballots.

Lockwood was born October 24, 1830, in Royalton, New York. In 1848, she married Uriah McNall, their daughter was born in 1850 and McNall died of tuberculosis in 1853. Left with no money and needing to support her family, she persuaded the administration at Genesee College to admit her, and she graduated with honors in 1857. She became the headmistress of Lockport Union School, but was paid half of what her male counterparts made. In 1861, she became principal of the Gainesville Female Seminary and soon after was selected to head a girls' seminary in Owego, New York.

After meeting Susan B. Anthony, Lockwood expanded the curriculum at her schools, adding courses that young men took. Her interest in studying law, which began as a student at Genesee College, grew and in 1866, Lockwood moved to Washington, D.C. In 1868, she married the Reverend Ezekiel Lockwood, an American Civil War veteran, Baptist minister and dentist who supported and encouraged Lockwood's desire to study law.

After being refused admission to several law schools over concerns that she would be a distraction to the male students, Lockwood was admitted to the National University Law School (now the George Washington University Law School) in 1871. She completed her coursework in May 1873, but the school would not grant her a diploma. Without a diploma, Lockwood could not gain admittance to the District of Columbia Bar. She wrote President Ulysses S. Grant, appealing to him as president ex officio of the National University Law School, and in September 1873, Lockwood received her diploma.

Although judges often used her married status to deny her access to the courts, Lockwood won some cases and became known as an advocate for women's issues. She testified before Congress in support of legislation to give married women and widows more protection under the law. She drafted an anti-discrimination bill to allow qualified women attorneys to practice in any federal court, lobbying Congress from 1874 until it was passed in 1879. On March 3, 1879, Lockwood was sworn in as the first woman member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar and in 1880, she became the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the Court.

In 1884 and 1888, Lockwood ran for president of the United States as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party, the same party that nominated Victoria Woodhull in 1872.

In addition to her efforts for women's rights, Lockwood worked on peace efforts and was a minority rights activist. In 1906, she appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Cherokee Nation and won a $5 million award.

Lockwood died on May 19, 1917, and is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.