Thursday, May 1, 2014

Myra Colby Bradwell First Women Attorney

Myra Colby Bradwell, a pioneer in the movement to give to women equal rights before the law and equal opportunities to labor in all vocations, demonstrated by her life work what women can do in activities heretofore monopolized by men, and was one of the most remarkable women of her generation and one who had no small share in making that generation what it is.

Myra Colby Bradwell was born in Manchester, Vermont, February 12, 1831. Her father, Eben Colby, was the son of John Colby, a Baptist minister of New Hampshire. The Colby family records show that Anthony Colby, the first of the family to settle in America, came to Boston from England in 1630. Her father's mother was a lineal descendant of Aquilla Chase, a family that gave to the world the noted divine, Bishop Philander Chase, of the Episcopal church, and Salmon P. Chase, chief justice of the United States. On her mother's side she was a descendant of Isaac Willey, who settled in Boston in 1640. Two members of the family, Albert and John Willey, served in the little army that suffered glorious defeat at Bunker Hill. In the history of her family one finds many distinguished men of varying activities in statecraft, on the field and in the domain of the professions. Never was heredity better accentuated than in this teacher, editor, lawyer. In the warp of her'nature was woven the woof of that sterling New England character which has made such an impress on our national life.

Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, ca. 1864 Reproduction of an engraving. Alonzo Chappel, engraver. Courtesy of the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

    Elijah Lovejoy November 8th 1802 – November 7th 1837

But, gentlemen, as long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, to publish whatever I please on any subject--being amenable to the laws of my country for the same." Elijah Lovejoy
In infancy she was taken to Portage, New York, where she remained until her twelfth year, when she came west with her father's family. Her family were aggressive abolitionists and stanch friends of the Lovejoys. The story of the murdered martyr, Elijah Lovejoy, as recounted by a friend of her youth, Owen Lovejoy, made a deep impression upon her mind. Thus early was implanted a hatred of slavery and injustice in the soul of one who was destined in subsequent years to bear a conspicuous part in freeing her sex from some of the conditions of vassalage in which it had stood, a champion who broke one of the strongest barriers to woman's enfranchisement, the bar, and paved theway for women into the upper halls of justice. As a student, possessed of a keen, logical mind, with the soul of a poet, she early evinced a deep love for learning and made the most of the limited educational advantages which were then deemed more than sufficient for girls. After studying in Kenosha and at a seminary in Elgin, Myra engaged in teaching. In this work she was signally successful. Endowed in a marked degree with all the attributes of a teacher, she had the abilit'y not alone to teach but to inspire.

May 18, 1852, Myra Colby was married to James B. Bradwell, and soon after her marriage she removed with her husband to Memphis, Tennessee. While there she proved herself a veritable helpmate, conducting with her husband the largest select school in the city. After two years' residence in the south, they returned to Chicago, where her husband engaged in the practice of law, and here they made their permanent home. With the ardor of a true patriot she could not remain inactive when danger threatened the government which her Revolutionary ancestors fought to establish. During the war, the soldier who helped to write the name nation above the name state, was the object of her solicitous care. The Soldiers' Fair of 1863, and the Fair of 1867, for the benefit of the families of soldiers, had no more active or efficient worker than Mrs. Bradwell. She was a member and secretary of the committee on arms, trophies and curiosities of the great Northwestern Sanitary Fair, and was the leading spirit in producing that artistic and beautiful exhibition in Bryan Hall, in 1865. When the war was over she assisted in providing a home for the scarred and maimed and dependent veterans who shouldered the musket to preserve the Union. During this period she was also very active in philanthropic work among the poor of the city, helping to establish a sewing exchange where the needy were given an opportunity to earn a livelihood.

Becoming deeply interested in her husband's profession, she commenced the study of law under his tutelage, at first with no thought of becoming a practicing lawyer; but subsequently she decided to make the profession her life work and applied herself diligently to its study. In 1868 she established the Chicago Legal News, the first weekly law periodical published in the west and the first paper of its kind edited by a woman in the world, and which stands to-day the best monument to her memory. Practical newspaper men and prominent lawyers at once predicted its failure, but they underestimated the ability and power of the editor. She obtained from the legislature special acts making all the laws of Illinois and the opinions of the supreme court of the state printed in her paper evidence in the courts. She made the paper a success from the start, and it was soon recognized by the bench and bar throughout the country as one of the best legal periodicals in the United States. With her sagacity, enterprise and masterful business ability she built up one of the most flourishing printing and publishing houses in the west. Two instances may be cited to show her business energy and enterprise. Since the year 1869, when she first began to publish the Illinois session laws, she has always succeeded in getting her edition out many weeks in advance of any other edition. At the Chicago fire, in common with thousands of others, she lost home and business possessions; but, undismayed by
misfortune, she stood cheery and indomitable, uttering brave prophecies of future good. Not an issue of her paper was lost; but, hastening to Milwaukee, she had the paper printed and published on the regular publication day.
She finally decided to apply for admission to the bar and to practice law. She had been permitted to work side by side with her husband as a most successful teacher; why not as a lawyer? And why not? Because, forsooth, of hoary precedent and musty precept, relics of feudal ages. In 1869 she passed a most creditable examination for the bar, but was denied admission by the supreme court of Illinois upon the ground that she was a married woman, her married state being considered a disability. She knew that the real reason had not been given. Marshaling her forces with that rare generalship so characteristic of her, she filed an additional brief which combated the position of the court with great force and compelled the court to give the true reason. In due time the court, by Chief Justice Lawrence, delivered an elaborate opinion in which it was said, upon mature deliberation, the court had concluded to refuse to admit Mrs. Bradwell upon the sole ground that she was a woman. She sued out a writ of error against the state of Illinois in the supreme court of the United States. Her case in that tribunal was argued in 1871 by Senator Matt. Carpenter. In May, 1873, the judgment of the lower court was affirmed by the United States supreme court. Chief Justice Chase, who never failed to give his powerful testimony to aid in uplifting woman from dependence and helplessness to strength and freedom, true to his principles, dissented.
Myra Bradwell; Oregon; General; Supreme; Decision; Negative Saturday, June 20, 1885 Topeka Tribune and Western Recorder (Topeka, KS) Page: 2

As has been well said, "Discussion of the Myra Bradwell case had the inevitable effect of letting sunlight through many cobwebbed windows. It is not so much by abstract reasoning as by visible examples that reformations come, and Mrs. Bradwell offered herself as a living example of the injustice of the law. A woman of learning, genius, industry and high character, editor of the first law journal in the west, forbidden by law to practice law, was too much for the public conscience, tough as that conscience is."
Although Mrs. Bradwell, with Miss Hulett, was instrumental in securing the passage of a law in Illinois granting to all persons irrespective of sex freedom in the selection of an occupation, profession or employment, she never renewed her application for admission to the bar. Twenty years after, the judges of the supreme court of Illinois, on their own motion, performed a noble act of justice and directed license to practice law to be issued to her, and March 28, 1892, upon petition of Attorney-General Miller, Mrs. Bradwell was admitted to practice before the supreme court of the United States.

A pioneer in opening the legal profession for women, Myra Bradwell's signal service to her sex has been in the field of law reform. With her, the conviction that a principle was right brought with it a sense of duty to labor for its adoption. With keen foresight she saw that the financial independence of women was the stepping-stone to their emancipation. She drafted the bill giving a married woman the right to her own earnings. A case in point, so monstrous in its injustice, gave an added impetus to her zeal. A drunkard who owed a saloon keeper for his whiskey had a wife who earned her own living as a scrub woman, and the saloon keeper garnisheed the people who owed the wife and took her earnings to pay her husband's liquor bill. It needed but an application like this for her to succeed in her efforts to pass the bill. She also secured the passage of the law giving to a widow her award in all cases. Believing thoroughly in the principle enunciated by John Stuart Mill, "of perfect equality, admitting no privilege on the one side nor disability on the other," she was an enthusiastic supporter of the bill granting to a husband the same interest in a wife's estate that the wife had in the husband's. 


She never missed an opportunity to try and secure any change in the law which would enlarge the sphere of woman. With this purpose in view she applied to the governor to be appointed a notary public. Finding her womanhood a bar even to this humble office, she induced her husband, who was in the legislature, to introduce a bill making women eligible to the office of notary public, which bill became a law. The bill drafted by her husband permitting women to act as school officers and which was passed while he was in the legislature, received her hearty support. Twice Mrs. Bradwell was honored by special appointment of the governor, being appointed a delegate to the prison reform congress of St. Louis, and it was mainly by her efforts that women, after a severe contest, were allowed a representation on the list of officers, she declining to accept any office herself; subsequently she was appointed by the governor as one of the Illinois Centennial Association to represent Illinois in the centennial exhibition of 1876 and was treasurer of the woman's branch of this association. After the completion of the work several hundred dollars remained in her hands, which was voted to the Illinois Industrial School for girls at Evanston. Mrs. Bradwell was one of the founders of this school and for years a member of its executive committee, and for fifteen years its treasurer. By her individual efforts in 1869 Mrs. Bradwell obtained the signatures of all the judges of the courts in Cook county and many of the lawyers and ministers of the city to the call for the first great woman's suffrage convention to be held in Chicago. She was one of the workers in the suffrage convention held in Springfield in 1869 and for a number of years one of the executive committee of the Illinois Woman's Suffrage Association. She also took an active part in the convention at Cleveland which formed the American Woman's Suffrage Association.
A thorough Chicagoan, in the life, progress and best interests of her city she had a citizen's interest and a patriot's pride. She was untiring in her efforts to secure the World's Fair for Chicago, accompanied the commission to Washington, and rendered valuable services there in obtaining the location of the exposition in Chicago. She was appointed one of the Board of Lady Managers and was chairman of the committee on law reform of its auxiliary congress. It is interesting to note that the woman who labored so courageously, persistently and effectively to secure for women their rights was herself a representative in the first national legislature of women to be authorized by any government.

Mrs. Bradwell was the first woman who became a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois Press Association; was a charter member of the Soldiers' Home Board, the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, the Washingtonian Home and the first Masonic chapter organized for women in Illinois;was a member of the Chicago Woman's Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Grand Army Relief Corps, the National Press League and the Woman's Press Association.
A gentle and noiseless woman, her tenderness and refinement making the firmness of her character all the more effective, Mrs. Bradwell was one of those who live their creed instead of preaching it. She did not spend her days proclaiming on the rostrum the rights of women, but quietly, none the less effectively, set to work to clear away the barriers. If life is service, then truly did Myra Bradwell live, for the life of this noble woman was one of tireless activity of thought, of word and deed for the weal of humanity. A noble refutation of the ofttimes expressed belief that the entrance of women in public life tends to lessen their distinctively womanly character, she was a most devoted wife and mother, her home being ideal in its love and harmony. She was the mother of four children, two of whom survive her, Thomas and Bessie, both lawyers, and the latter the wife of a lawyer, Frank A. Helmer, of the Chicago bar. Mrs. Bradwell died February 14, 1894.

Bessie Bradwell Helmer, daughter of Myra Bradwell, was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1882, after graduating as valedictorian of her class from Union College of Law. Helmer focused her career on legal writing and editing. She assisted and then in 1907 took over from her father, James Bradwell, the editorial and management duties of the Chicago Legal News. Helmer was also the editor of Hurd's Revised Statutes of Illinois for nearly twenty years, and edited nine volumes of the Illinois Appellate Court Reports.Bessie Bradwell Helmer (1858-1927), 1927.Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
The Island Printer Volume 12 1953 
Myra Colby Bradwell, wife of Judge James B. Bradwell, and the founder and managing editor of the Chicago Legal News, died at her home in Chicago on February 14, after an illness dating back nearly a year. With her accustomed vigor Mrs. Bradwell kept at her work until September 7, when, on returning from a meeting of the World's Fair Board of Lady Managers at Jackson Park, she went immediately to bed, and from that time was confined to her room until her death.
The career of Mrs. Bradwell presents some unique features. She had the distinction of being the first woman to apply for admittance to the bar in the United States; the first woman to be admitted to membership in the Illinois Press Association, and the first woman who became a member of the Illinois State Bar Association.
Mrs. Bradwell was born in Manchester, Vermont, February 11, 1831. Her parents were Eben Colby and Abigail Willey Colby, both offshoots from solid colonial stock, which furnished good soldiers for the cause of independence. Her early training was received in a small town in western New York, her parents finally moving to Chicago when she was twelve years old. Her education was commenced at a school in Kenosha, and c o m pleted at the Elgin Seminary. As a recognition of her close application and ability she was received in the institution as a teacher. This was her calling for several years, part of the time being spent in Memphis, Tennessee.
The great turning point in her life came in 1852, when she was married to James B. Bradwell, a young lawyer with a future just dawning. Mrs. Bradwell became intensely interested in her husband's profession, and under his tutelage began the study of law. At first her studies had no other aim than of being of assistance to her husband. She became inspired later with the idea of gaining admittance to the bar. In due time she passed a most creditable examination, and filed her application. As she was a married woman, the application was rejected. The matter was carried to the Supreme Court of Illinois, again rejected, and then taken to the United States Supreme Court. Mere the case was argued in 1871 by Senator Matt Carpenter, of Wisconsin. Another adverse decision was rendered, and the case was dropped. No more attention was paid it until twenty years later, when the same court issued a certificate on the original application. The action created quite a surprise, as the court had come to this conclusion of its own volition and without argument.

In 1868 Mrs. Bradwell established the Chicago Legal News, the first paper of its kind in the West. Her editorial work soon attracted attention. A special charter was issued by the legislature for the paper, and later several acts were passed making it evidence in the courts and a valid medium for the publication of legal notices.
Mrs. Bradwell was a hard worker for woman's cause. She had much to do in securing legislative work looking toward the elevation of her sex, and took an active interest in all
societies for women. Her work did not begin and end with platform speaking, but she was always ready to make a practical application of her views on reform and philanthropy.
Before the great fire in 1871 Mrs. Bradwell helped to organize the American Woman's Suffrage Association in Cleveland. She was identified with the Illinois Centennial Association as treasurer. On the conclusion of the association's work the funds Mrs. Bradwell held were converted into the capital which was used in erecting the Illinois Industrial School for Girls at Evanston. Mrs. Bradwell was a member of the National Press League, and one of the prime movers in the Chicago Women's Club. She was a member of the Board of Lady Managers of the World's Fair and chairman of the Committee on Law Reform of its auxiliary congress.
Her last address in public was to the Women's Club last August. Her subject was "Civil Service Reform." She was hardly able to stand while speaking. Mrs. Bradwell had four children. James and Myra are now dead. Thomas and Bessie are grown up and married. Both are lawyers; the former is well known as a justice of the peace, and the latter is the wife of Attorney Frank A. Helmer.
The funeral was held on February 18 at the family residence, No. 1428 Michigan avenue. Representatives were present from the Chicago Legal News, the Cook County Equal Suffrage Association, the Soldiers' Home Association, Daughters of the American Revolution, many members of the Chicago bar also attending. Half covering the casket was a mass of white lilies and roses from Mrs. Helmer, daughter of Mrs. Bradwell. A bank of lilies was sent by Justice Thomas Bradwell and his wife. At the head of the casket was a large scroll of white roses on a background of leaves, bearing the words,"Myra from Jane." Employes of the Chicago Legal News sent an open book of roses, lilies and carnations. Masses of roses, violets, hyacinths, lilies, narcissus, and many wreaths and bouquets were sent by friends.
Bishop Samuel Fallows officiated and feelingly spoke of the life and character of Mrs. Hradwell. The interment was at Rosehill cemetery.
The honorary pallbearers were: Judge H. W. Blodgett, Judge H. M. Shepard, Dr. I)e Laskie Miller, J. Carson Smith, H. W. Bishop, J. W. Butler, Thomas B. Bryan, C. C. Bonney.
Letters and telegrams of condolence were received from Luther Lafliu Mills, Judge Tuley, Gen. John C. Smith, Judge W. L. Gross, of Springfield; Adjutant-General A. Orendorff, H. W. Warner, Judge J. N. Scott, of Bloomington, and others. Among those in attendance were: Fernando Jones, Judge IL V. Freeman, Judge Hutchinson, C. C. P. Holden, J. L. High, Judge Thomas G. Windes, John C. Richberg, Frederick A. Smith. Judge C. C. Kohlsaat, Alexander M. Sullivan, Homer B. Galpin, H. W. Jackson, Charles Cutting, K. B. Sherman, Julius Rosenthal.
From Harvard Art 

BRADWELL, JAMES B.—Born at Loughborough, England, April 16 1828. BRADWELL. Son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Gutteridge) Bradwell; family left England when subject was sixteen months old; settled in Utica, N. Y., remaining there until 1833; removed to Jacksonville, Ill., and from there to Wheeling, in this county. Mr. Bradwell spent his boyhood and young manhood on the farm, doing hard outdoor work, a circumstance which amply accounts for his robust health at the age of 65. His early education was obtained in log school-houses, but later he attended Wilson's Academy in this city, and finished in Knox College, Galesburg, Ill. James B. Bradwell is a selfmade man in the highest sense of that term; earned his living by hard work evenings, Saturdays and holidays, and thus provided the money for his schooling; has worked as a journeyman at several different trades; is a natural mechanic, and has paid much attention to photography; invented a process for producing half-tones, and has the honor of having produced the first half-tone cut in Chicago, that of Chief Justice Fuller. His preparation for the legal profession was most thorough and complete, and he has been a prominent and respected lawyer since his admission to the bar, about forty years ago. Is a good speaker, a persistent worker, and has built up an excellent practice. In 1861 was elected judge of the Cook county court by a large majority, and in 1865 was reelected for four years; was sent to the legislature of Illinois in 1873, and was returned in 1875; proved to be an influential member, and secured the adoption of many measures for the benefit of his state and immediate constituency; has ever held advanced ideas regarding the rights of women, and introduced a bill making women eligible to all school offices, and secured its passage. Was ever considered a power while on the bench, and was the first judge to hold, during the war, that a marriage made during slavery was valid upon emancipation. This opinion was delivered in the case of Matt C.Jones, and has been fully endorsed by judges of note since that time. Has been president of the Chicago Bar Association, and of the Illinois State Bar Association; was one of the founders of the Union League Club of Chicago, and chairman of its first board of directors; has been president of the Press Club of Chicago, of the Chicago Soldiers' Home, and of the Chicago Rifle Club. For years Judge Bradwell was considered the best shot in Chicago. He was chairman of the committee of the World's Congress Auxiliary on Congress of Photographers. His family is one of lawyers; his wife, Myra Bradwell, is editor of the Chicago Legal News, and has been admitted to the barj his son, Thomas Bradwell, his daughter, Mrs. Bessie Bradwell Helmer, his son-inlaw, Frank A. Helmer, and his nephew, James A. Peterson, are all members of the Illinois bar. The judge is a Mason of the 33d degree, and is an honorary member of the Supreme Council; also of the ancient Ebor Preceptory at York, England. Was married in 1852 to Myra Colby, and has had four children, James and Myra, deceased, and Thomas and Bessie, both married. He has one granddaughter, Myra Bradwell Helmer and one grandson, James Barton Bradwell.
Myra Colby Bradwell 
Descendant of Allen Willey. 
Daughter of Eben Colby and Abigail Hurd Willey, his wife.
Granddaughter of Benjamin Willey and Abigail Hurd, his wife.
Gr.-granddaughter of Allen Willey and Mary Fuller, his wife.
Allen Willey was a Selectman when he served under Gen. Stark at Bennington. He responded to various alarms in Western New Hampshire.
Allen Willey, (1730-1811), held offices of trust at Lempster and served at Bennington. He was born in East Haddam, Conn., and died in Lempster, N. H. His son Allen was a minute man.
Abraham Willey, (1750-1841), served as sergeant, 1775, and as ensign, 1779, under Capt. John Isam. At the age of 87, for service in the Conn. Continental Line, he was placed on the pension roll of Cayuga county, N. Y. He was born in East Haddam, Conn., and died in Ira, New York.

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