The First Female Lawyer
The First Woman Lawyer
The first female attorney in the United States was Arabella Mansfield. Mansfield was admitted to the Iowa State Bar in 1869. Despite an Iowa State Law that only allowed white males over the age of the twenty one to take the bar exam, Mansfield was allowed to take the bar and passed with high marks. The same year the law was changed to allow woman admittance to the State Bar. Oddly, Mansfield never actually practiced law but instead devoted her life to teaching and the suffrage. movement.
Mansfield's Early Life
Mansfield was born in Burlington, Iowa in 1846. She was the second child of Mary Moyer and Miles Babb. When Mansfield was very young, her father left for California in search of gold and riches. Manfield’s father became the superintendent of the Bay State Mining Company and the family moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
In 1862, Mansfield began college at Iowa Weslyean College in Mount Pleasant. Mansfield studies History at Iowa Weslyean. Universities were admitting more and more woman at this time as many of the men were leaving college to fight in the Civil War. Mansfield graduated three years later as the class valedictorian. Mansfield taught at Simpson College then returned to Mount Pleasant to marry John Mansfield.
Mansfield’s husband was a professor at Iowa Mesleyan and encouraged his wife to study law. Mansfield studied law in her brother’s law office until she was ready for the bar exam in 1869.
At the time Mansfield took the bar exam, Iowa had a law that limited who was qualified to sit for the bar. The law limited admittance to the bar to white males over the age of twenty one. After Mansfield passed the exam, Iowa changed the law and became the first state in the Union to admit woman to the Bar. The law was changed at the hands of a Court case wherein the Court held that the State that woman should not be denied to the right to practice law based solely on their sex.
Although she was admitted to the bar and allowed to practice law, Mansfield never engaged in the practice of law. Instead, Mansfield taught and engaged in activist work. In 1893, Mansfield became the Dean of the School of Art at Depauw University and in 1894 she became the Dean of the School of Music.
Mansfield was also very active in the woman’s suffrage movement. In 1869, Mansfield joined the executive committee of the National Women's Suffrage Association. Mansfield chaired the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Convention in 1870 and worked closely with Susan B. Anthony on women suffrage issues. Mansfield died in 1911. In 1980, Mansfield was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2002 the Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys established the Arabella Mansfield Award to honor women lawyers in Iowa.