Fraternity Women Who Were Lawyers, 1867-1902 (When Women Could Not Vote!)

During the time frame of this study, 1867-1902, women had few legal rights.  Therefore, it is interesting to note that several of these early fraternity women became lawyers at a time when women were not yet allowed to vote.  In 1870 there were five female lawyers in the United States. A year earlier, the first woman was admitted to the Bar. (Newcomer, 1959).

In 1875, Susan Farrow, a member of the DePauw University chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma, was a lawyer in Indianapolis (“Iota roster,” 1919).

Grace Raymond Hebard was an engineering major at the University of Iowa; she was also a member of the Pi Beta Phi chapter.  In 1882, she became the first woman to receive a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa.  After graduation, she moved to Wyoming, became a draftsman in a Cheyenne surveyor’s office and worked her way up to deputy state engineer (Scharff, 1989).  Hebard was the first woman admitted to the Bar in the state of Wyoming (“Pi Phis in the public eye,” 1922, June). 

Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard

Jessie E. Wright Whitcomb, a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta chapter at the University of Vermont, graduated from Boston University Law School.  She was admitted to the Bar in Kansas.  In 1888, she married a fellow Boston Law School student and they established a private practice (“Personals,” 1889). 

Emma Eaton White, a University of Iowa Pi Beta Phi member from the class of 1884, earned her LL.D. from the University of Michigan.  She served as a legal editor from 1895 to 1900 for both West Publishing and Bobbs-Merrill and was the first woman to hold that position (Bartol-Theiss, 1919).  Eaton served as Assistant Attorney General of Indiana and was elected reporter of the Supreme Court of Indiana (“Personal,” 1925, January).  Nellie Peery, another Iowa Pi Beta Phi member, this time from Iowa State University in the 1890s, was also a lawyer (“Some women we want to know,” 1894 ).

Elva Hulburd Young who was initiated into the Cornell University chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta in the 1890s practiced law in Springfield, Massachusetts (Bell, 1902).  Alice Boarman Baldridge, a Pi Beta Phi from the Sophie Newcomb College (Tulane) class of 1893, was an attorney (Howes, 1939).

E. Jean Nelson Penfield, a DePauw University Kappa Kappa Gamma member from the class of 1893, was a suffragist, lawyer and parliamentary law expert.  From 1910 until 1912 she served as chairman of the Woman’s Suffrage Party of New York City (“Kappas known to fame,” 1913, February).  She completed her law course at New York University (“Kappas known to fame,” 1914).  She and Pi Beta Phi member Carrie Chapman Catt toured the West working for the ratification of the woman’s suffrage amendment.  Catt and Penfield helped found the League of Women Voters.  Penfield also served her fraternity as Grand President from 1900-1902.

E. Jean Nelson (Penfield)

In 1898, Barnard College Kappa Kappa Gamma Jessica B. Garretson Cosgrove earned a law degree from the New York University Law School.  She was admitted to the New York State Bar shortly thereafter (Randle, 1913; Foley, 1977).

One of the first women to graduate from the Minnesota School of Law was Marie Antoinette Palmer Bond, a University of Minnesota Pi Beta Phi.  Bond was admitted to the Minnesota Bar in 1900 (Theiss, 1906).

Ohio State University Delta Delta Delta Ivy Kellerman Reed, class of 1898, was a graduate of the Washington College of Law.  She was on the faculty of Iowa State University and chairman of the Esperanto Association of North America (Priddy, 1932).  Reed also served her fraternity as Grand Treasurer from 1900 until 1902 (Haller, 1988).  Another Delta Delta Delta member Annette Abbott Adams from the University of California – Berkeley chapter was admitted to the California Bar in 1912.  She served as a United States Assistant District Attorney and a District Attorney.  In 1920, she was the first woman appointed as Assistant Attorney General (Howes, 1939).

A University of Missouri Pi Beta Phi, Gratia E. Woodside, was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Missouri in June 1900.  At that point, she became the only woman to try a case before that body.  In 1903, Woodside opened a private practice in St. Louis and became the only female lawyer in St. Louis and only one of two female lawyers in Missouri (“Some professional Pi Phi women,” 1904).

Helen McCormick, a St. Lawrence University Delta Delta Delta member, was a prosecutor.  Appointed in 1910, she was one of the first female prosecutors in the greater New York area (Haller, 1988).

Although Alpha Omicron Pi wasn’t a founding member of NPC, one of its founders, Helen St. Clair Mullen, needs to included on this list. A Barnard College alumna, Class of 1898, she graduated at the top of her law class at New York University. She also installed the organization’s Nu Chapter at NYU. She later served on the New York Board of Education and as a Barnard Collelge Trustee.




* I only included information about members of the seven founding NPC groups since my aim was to study the growth of the system between 1867 and 1902, when the need for an umbrella organization became very evident. If there are additional women from the organizations that joined NPC after 1902, I would be happy to add their names to the post. Legendary Chi Omega Mary Love Collins is one who quickly comes to mind, but I do not think she became a lawyer prior to 1902.

Pages 173-176, Coeducation and the History of Women’s Fraternities 1867-1902, by Frances DeSimone Becque, 2002. 

© Fran Becque,

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