First U.S. female lawyer: Arabella Mansfield

First U.S. female lawyer: Arabella Mansfield

First U.S. female lawyer: Arabella Mansfield

We take law—and fighting for justice—very seriously at Bordas & Bordas.

We also like fun facts.

And here’s one for you: Arabella Mansfield was the first female lawyer in the United States. The National Association of Women Lawyers even named its most prestigious award after her: the Arabella Babb Mansfield Award.

Yet, did you know she did not practice law?

It’s true. Born in 1846 as Belle Aurelia Babb in Des Moines County, Iowa, she was educated in Mount Pleasant (where Clara Foltz, the first woman lawyer to be accepted to the bar on the West Coast, also grew up).

Afterward, she attended Iowa Wesleyan College. (As many men left to fight in the American Civil War, universities were admitting more women.) Belle began using the name “Arabella” there and graduated in three years as valedictorian.

There was a bit of a winding road then, as Arabella taught at Des Moines Conference Seminary (now Simpson College) before returning to Mount Pleasant to marry John Melvin Mansfield, according to Wikipedia.

John encouraged Arabella to follow her ambition and study law. She did so as an apprentice at her brother’s law office.

Iowa law at the time was restricted to “males over 21,” but Arabella took it in 1869 and passed with flying colors. She challenged the state law excluding her from practicing and won. Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law. She was sworn in at the Union Block building in Mount Pleasant.

Challenge met, though, Arabella decided to concentrate on teaching and work as an activist. She worked with Susan B. Anthony and the suffrage movement, chairing the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Convention in 1870.

Unfortunately, she died in 1911 before getting to see the suffrage movement’s ultimate achievement: passage of the Nineteenth Amendment which assures “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”