• Refused admission to the bar and the practice of law by the Illinois Supreme Court because of her gender;
• Established the Chicago Legal News, which became a vital information service for attorneys;
• Helped Mary Lincoln fight an unjust commitment to an insane asylum;
• Assisted in securing the passage of a bill that gave women the right to retain their own wages and protected the rights of widows;
• Often cited as the first woman attorney in the United States; this is untrue. Arabella Mansfield in Iowa was the first woman in the country admitted to practice law (1869).
Myra Colby Bradwell was born in Manchester, Vermont in 1831. Her family left Vermont when Myra was quite young and they lived in western New York state for a time, eventually pushing on to Cook County, Illinois. When a sister married and moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin where there was a school Myra could attend, Myra moved to Wisconsin until moving back to Elgin, Illinois after a female seminary opened.
After graduation she became a teacher, and met James Bradwell, a poor law student. The Colby family did not approve of James, but Myra married him in 1852 and they moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where they opened a private academy. James was also studying for a career as an attorney, and Myra studied along with him. At the time there were few formal law schools, so most future attorneys learned the law by apprenticing under experienced attorneys and then petitioned to start their own practices.
By the mid-1850s, the Bradwells had relocated to Chicago, and James was granted a license to practice law. He eventually went on to be a state legislator.
The Civil War CONTINUE READING…
Life throughout the country was disrupted by the Civil War from 1861-1865. Myra and James were raising a young family at this time. James continued with his law practice, and Myra found time to work with the Northwestern Sanitary Commission, an organization that collected and distributed food, clothing, and medical supplies for the Union soldiers.