Women’s legal history

Public domain photo of Sophonisba P. Breckenridge
Sophonisba P. Breckenridge

My record there was not distinguished, but the faculty and students were kind, and the fact that the law school like the rest of the University … accepted men and women students on equal terms was publicly settled.Sophonisba Breckinridge (J.D. 1904).

For biographical information about Ms. Breckinridge and other women in the law in the United States, check the free Women’s Legal History website at Stanford. Under the “WLH Biography Project” tab, you can search for biographies of women lawyers by name, year, race/ethnicity, law school, legal practice area, state, region, and time period.  The biographical sketches include professional facts, pioneering accomplishments, photos if available, and materials for further research. Under the same tab, you can do a bibliographic search, browse historiographical articles and other materials (such as a 2011 women’s legal history bibliography by Paul Lomio in PDF), and view related web resources.  You can also browse for bios of women lawyers by last name. The University of Chicago Law School’s first woman graduate, Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, is in the WLH database. She founded the University’s School of Social Service Administration and helped found the Chicago chapter of the NAACP. Additional bio info is available via Professor Geoffrey Stone’s 1994 Law School Record article, “In Honor of Nisba,” a 1948 article via JSTOR, and her Papers in the Library’s Special Collections Research Center. 

Another Chicagoan (and an SSAd graduate), Edith Spurlock Sampson Clayton, was the first African-American woman to be elected a judge in the United States (1962). President Truman appointed her to represent the United States as an alternate delegate to the United Nations (1950). You can find more information about her (as Edith Sampson) in the online Encyclopedia of African-American History, 1896 to the Present (Paul Finkelman ed., Oxford University Press, 2009).