Running for office before having the right to vote

The woman had chutzpah. But I suppose any woman who tried to buck societal norms had to have chutzpah. And Belva Lockwood bucked the norms. Even by today’s standards she would be a formidable woman.

She pursued higher education during a time (1850s) when women did not. She graduated with honors and became a headmistress of a school when women did not. She opened a coeducational school, when schools were not coeducational.

She decided to study law and fought to be admitted. And then she fought to be given her diploma. After writing President Grant (as in the President of the United States), she received her diploma—at age 43. And then she fought to join the bar.

She fought for a law that would allow women to practice law in any federal court. After several years the law was passed and she was finally admitted to the Supreme Court bar, ultimately becoming the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court (1880).

Lockwood worked tirelessly for rights—for women and minorities. She fought against laws that stripped women of their limited rights upon marriage. She fought for equal pay. She sponsored a fellow lawyer for admittance to the Supreme Court bar—who became the fifth black lawyer and the first to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

Her chutzpah didn’t end there. As a woman, she could not vote. Yet she ran as a candidate for president not once but twice—in 1884 and 1888. She endured ridicule and belittlement.

Interestingly, in 1888 she lost to Benjamin Harrison. It was in his house-turned-museum that I read about Lockwood.

Her life would have been impressive and inspiring if she lived during modern times. She was a pioneer, a leader, an activist who went back to school in her forties. She was a woman who went head-to-head with a university, with different legal bars, and with the Supreme Court. She was a woman who reached out to a President to demand justice, who sought equal pay and legal protection for women.

And yet she did all of this in the 1800s. And didn’t back down. Belva Lockwood was the second woman to run for president, before women had the right to vote. That took chutzpah.


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