||During her lifetime, Myra Bradwell (1831-94) - America's "first" woman lawyer as well as publisher and editor-in-chief of a prestigious legal newspaper - did more to establish and aid the rights of women and other legally handicapped people than any other woman of her day. Her female contemporaries - Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone - are known to all; now it is time for Myra Bradwell to assume her rightful place among women's rights leaders of the nineteenth century. With author Jane Friedman's discovery of previously unpublished letters and other valuable documents, Bradwell's fascinating and compelling story can at last be told. America's First Woman Lawyer chronicles the tortuous steps Bradwell took to establish her right to practice law. In 1869, at the age of thirty-eight, she passed the Illinois bar examination with high honors, but because she was a woman, Bradwell was deemed "unfit", and barred from practicing her chosen profession - twice by the Illinois Supreme Court, and finally by the nation's highest court. Undaunted, Bradwell refused to heed the U.S. Supreme Court justices who declared that "the Law of the Creator" and the "divine ordinances" mandated that the "domestic sphere" was the proper domain of women. She immediately established the Chicago Legal News, which became the most highly respected and widely circulated legal newspaper in the nation. While at its helm, Bradwell advocated, drafted, and secured the enactment of extraordinary legal reforms in women's rights, child custody, improvement of the legal system, and treatment of the mentally ill. Many of the proposals she spearheaded were enacted by the Illinois legislature and served asprototypes for similar legislation in jurisdictions throughout the land. Bradwell's writings, and accounts of her activities published during her lifetime, make it clear that she was a leading nineteenth-century suffragist. Yet her extraordinary contributions are seldom mentioned in the standard histories of the movement. Friedman explores the internal struggles of the early women's rights movement through letters written by radical activist Susan B. Anthony to the moderate Bradwell, which underscore the tension that existed between these two feminists for over twenty years. America's First Woman Lawyer investigates one of the lesser known chapters in America's history by exposing the circumstances of the tragic commitment of Abraham Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, to an insane asylum. An abiding friendship with the president and the former First Lady and a deep sense of outrage over this grievous injustice brought Myra Bradwell and her husband to Mrs. Lincoln's aid when others abandoned her. Friedman details the ingenious strategy that Bradwell employed to secure the widowed First Lady's release from Bellevue Place Asylum, and the bitter confrontation with Robert Todd Lincoln, who committed his mother and resisted every effort to have her released. Friedman's analysis of Bradwell's life and work sets the historical record straight and demonstrates the need to add Myra Bradwell's name to the list of distinguished American social activists. "One half of the citizens of the United States are asking - Is the liberty of the pursuit of a profession ours, or are we slaves?" - Myra Bradwell (1872).
|Editors Note 1
||Bradwell (1831-1894) passed the Illinois bar exam in 1869, was barred from practicing law because of her sex, but determinedly established the Chicago Legal News through which she advocated, drafted, and secured the enactment of legal reform in many areas. Her advocacy on behalf of Mary Todd Lincoln is detailed here, along with the many other accomplishments that place Bradwell among the distinguished social activists of her day. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.