In 1873, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the Illinois Supreme Court's decision prohibiting a woman from practicing law. The Chicago woman, Myra Bradwell, had applied for a license to practice law, the first woman in Illinois to do so. However, both courts agreed that she was not guaranteed this right under the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court found that a woman did not have the right to engage in any and every profession, occupation, or employment in civil life.
Justice Bradley, in his concurring opinion, decided to elaborate why women are so unfit to practice law:
[C]ivil 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.
Justice Bradley emphasized that women properly belong to the domestic sphere, to the domain and functions of womanhood. The family institution itself is at risk if a woman adopts a distinct and independent career from that of her husband. Justice Bradley made sure to point out that English law, upon which U.S. law is based, held that a woman had no legal existence separate from her husband.
In fact, in 1873, a woman was still prohibited from making contracts without her husband's consent. Therefore, women--especially married women--were considered incapable of becoming attorneys.
Thankfully, the Illinois Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have changed course over the last 140 years (while, oddly enough, a wing of the evangelical church still espouses these gender roles...).
Today I receive my oath of office from the Supreme Court of Illinois. It is a privilege, and I'm indebted to the women who fought tirelessly to have the right simply to pursue a profession of one's choosing.
I am also indebted to my family. It is incredible to think that I, a great-granddaughter of a peanut farmer in rural Oklahoma, somehow ended up practicing law in a thirty-story courthouse with a Picasso sculpture in its plaza! My parents and grandparents ensured that I would have more opportunity than they ever dreamed of -- regardless of my gender. They never led me to believe I was limited in any way. I can't adequately express how thankful I am for their love and support.
And of course, I can't leave out my longsuffering husband! My diploma arrived last week, and I told him his name belonged on it alongside mine. A "thank you" just isn't enough.
There are many more people who have been wonderful support along the way. Much love and gratitude to you all!