Though she may not be well remembered, Myra Bradwell is an extremely important part of Illinois history. Originally hailing from Manchester, Vermont, Myra’s Chicago story begins in 1855 when she and her husband, James Bradwell, moved to the city.
James received admission to the Illinois Bar and quickly became a successful lawyer and judge, which led to him being elected to the General Assembly. Myra started her formal law training while apprenticing as a lawyer in her husband’s office. However, during this era, married women were not allowed to practice law on the grounds that married women could not enter legal contracts, which is something lawyers often did. Although many people were vouching for Myra’s legal ability, on February 5, 1870, the Illinois Supreme Court denied her license application on the basis of sex.
Instead of being discouraged, Myra founded the Chicago Legal News, a newspaper dedicated to changing women’s status in society. She included a specific column in the paper focused on women and law entitled “Law Relating to Women.” As its editor and business manager for 20 years, she made it the most circulated legal newspaper in the nation. However, it was her fight to be a lawyer that is her greatest legacy.
After a series of appeals and court proceedings, Illinois legislature passed a law in 1872 stating, “No person shall be precluded or debarred from any occupation, profession, or employment (except the military) on account of gender.” As a means to make a right, the Illinois Supreme Court motioned to approve Myra’s original application and in 1892, she finally received her license to practice law before the United States Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, Myra Bradwell died of cancer on February 14, 1894, just two short years after receiving her license to practice law. Her daughter Bessie Bradwell Helmer and son Thomas Bradwell continued what their mother started by becoming lawyers as well.
After her death, the Myra Bradwell award was created to celebrate and honor Myra’s life. Each year, it is presented to a member of the Minnesota Women Lawyers who expresses the highest ideals of the legal profession, and who possesses the qualities exemplified by Myra Bradwell such as courage, perseverance and leadership on issues of concern to women.
Roosevelt Collection is proud to know that Myra and her family once resided in the South Loop. Their former house was located at 1428 S. Michigan Ave.
To learn more about Myra Bradwell, click here.
Roxie Ransom is a Leasing Consultant for The Lofts at Roosevelt Collection.
Photo credit: The Chicago History Journal