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Myra Colby Bradwell Born in 1831 in Manchester, Vermont

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Myra Colby Bradwell Born in 1831 in Manchester, Vermont In 1852 Myra married James B. Bradwell, an Englishman who had immigrated to the United States and studied law in Memphis Tennessee.

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Myra Colby Bradwell

  • Born in 1831 in Manchester, Vermont
  • In 1852 Myra married James B. Bradwell, an Englishman who had immigrated to the United States and studied law in Memphis Tennessee.
  • In 1854, the Bradwells moved to Chicago, where James opened a law office and eventually became a judge of the Cook County Court.
  • Myra began to study law to help her husband as his assistant. She later decided to open a practice of her own
  • In 1868 Myra founded a weekly legal newspaper called the Chicago Legal News. With Bradwell servicing as both editor and business manager, the Chicago Legal News quickly became a success.
  • In 1869, after passing the state bar examination, Bradwell applied to the Illinois Supreme Court for admission to the bar. The court rejected her application on the ground that as a married woman she “would be bound neither by her express contracts nor by those implied contracts which it is the policy of the law to create between attorney and client.” She reapplied, but the court rejected her again, this time because she was a woman, regardless of her marital status.
  • She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1873 upheld the Illinois decision, saying that it could not interfere with each state’s right to regulate the granting of licenses within its borders.

Bradwell v. The State of Illinois (1873), U.S. Supreme Court

Main Point #1:

Citizenship does not give one the right, under the fourteenth amendment, to practice law in the courts of a state.

“We agree with [counsel] that there are privileges and immunities belonging to citizens of the United States, in that relation and character, and that it is these and these alone which a State is forbidden to abridge. But the right to admission to practice in the courts of a State is not one of them. This right in no sense depends on citizenship of the United States.” pp. 67-68.

Justice Bradley

Myra Bradwell


Main Point #2: Men and women are very different. Women are naturally timid and delicate and there are many occupations for which they are unfit. Man is woman’s protector and defender.

…The civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman\'s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. p. 69.

Main Point #3: Women belong to the domestic sphere, and should not adopt a career distinct and independent from that of her husband.

The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband. p. 69.

Main Point #4: God has given women the role of wives and mothers. This is a natural law to which we must adapt, and not be persuaded by exception cases.

The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society must be adapted to the general constitution of things, and cannot be based upon exceptional cases. p. 69.


Historical Significance

  • About a hundred years later, the Court began employing the Fourteenth Amendment as a way of overturning gender-discriminatory state laws. In doing so, however, it would typically use the "equal protection" clause, rather than the clause cited in Bradwell, "privileges and immunities."
  • In 1882, however, the Illinois legislature passed a law guaranteeing all persons, regardless of sex, the right to select a profession as they wished. Although Bradwell never reapplied for admission to the bar, the Illinois Supreme Court informed her that her original application had been accepted. As a result, she became the first woman member of the Illinois State Bar Association; she was also the first woman member of the Illinois Press Association. On March 28, 1892, she was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • In addition to her efforts to win admission to the bar, Bradwell played a role in the broader women\'s rights movement. She was active in the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association and helped form the American Woman Suffrage Association. She was also influential in the passage of laws by the Illinois legislature that gave married women the right to keep wages they earned and protected the rights of widows.
  • Bradwell died February 14, 1894, in Chicago, Illinois.