Belva Ann Lockwood (1830 - 1917)

Belva Ann Lockwood was born on 24th October 1830 on a farm in Royalton, Niagara County, New York as Belva A. Bennett. She went to a one-room country school and began teaching at the age of 14 for a mere $3 a week -- while male teachers were paid twice that or more. The apparent hopelessness of the women's cause aroused her to fight against the exclusion of women from the rights men enjoyed.

With the money she earned she attended the academy in her home town. At 18 she married a local farmer and sawmill operator Uriah H. McNall and one daughter was born to them. Her husband died of consumption soon after the birth of her daughter, Lura, in 1853, and Belva was left to support her family. She sold their farm and from 1854 to 1857, whilst Lura lived with her grandparents in Illinois, Belva moved to Lima, New York to study at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary followed by Genesee College, the school that would later become Syracuse University. Although higher education seems like a simple building block in Lockwood's future career, it is important to recognize how extraordinary this choice was for a woman at that time, particularly a widowed mother of a young child. Lockwood herself noted that "I was isolated from my family and friends, all of whom had strenuously objected to my taking the college course believing, as many did in that day, that college courses were for boys and young men, but not for women." Her separation from her daughter was both "a very serious trial" for Lockwood and not the kind of sacrifice women made to pursue an education.

The Belva Ann Lockwood stamp was issued on 18th June 1986

Belva Lockwood graduated in June of 1857 with honours and accepted the position of preceptress of the Lockport Union School in Lockport, New York, where her daughter soon rejoined her. It was there that Lockwood first created a stir with her feminist notions--she introduced public speaking and gymnastics courses for girls, and encouraged girls' physical activity through nature walks and ice skating in the winter, all of which was very popular among her female students much to the dismay of some local parents. Lockwood's own account of her selection for the Lockport position, "over several competitors," indicates that she had intended to pursue a law class under the guidance of a local young law professor with other graduates of her class at Genesee College." Lockwood was already developing an interest in the law and knew that her college education was a capital resource essential to achieving her ultimate goal of rivalling the great men of history.

After four years she then taught at Gainsville Seminary, and then founded in Oswego, New York, the McNall Seminary, named after her late husband.

Silver coin issued by Franklin Mint in 1972

In 1868 Belva moved to Washington, D.C. and opened a school there. Soon she met and married 65 year old Ezekiel Lockwood (1803- 1877) who was a Baptist minister and a dentist (hence he is sometimes referred to as Rev. or Dr.). In 1869 their only child, a boy called Jesse was born. About the time that she married, Belva began studying law and sought admission to the law school of Columbia College, but was refused because of her sex. It was thought that her presence at the school would distract the male students.

Two years later she received the degree of A.M. from Syracuse University, and the following year was admitted to the National University Law School, from which she graduated, She was unable to receive her diploma until she appealed to the school’s president, US President Ulysses S. Grant. Finally, she received the degree of B.L. She opened a law practice and her clients consisted mainly of women, Native Americans, and the poor. In 1870 she obtained the passage of a bill "to secure to women employees of the government equal pay with men for equal work."

A member of the American Woman Suffrage Association Lockwood played a major role in persuading Congress to pass the 1872 bill guaranteeing female government employees equal pay for equal work.

In 1872 Lockwood joined the Equal Rights Party. Although laws prohibited women from voting, there was nothing stopping women from running for office and Victoria Woodhull became the party's presidential candidate.

Lockwood now decided to become a lawyer and studied at the District of Columbia law school. She obtained her degree but was barred from practice in the Court of Claims and the United States Supreme Court. In 1873 a judge ruled that could not work as a lawyer in Maryland. He told her: "Women are not needed in the courts. Their place is in the home to wait upon their husbands, to bring up the children, to cook the meals, make beds, polish pans and dust furniture."

In 1876 Lockwood drafted a bill which would permit women to practice before the United States Supreme Court. It took her three years to persuade Congress to pass the bill and in 1879 became the first woman to be admitted to practice before the nation's highest tribunal.

In 1884, Belva accepted the nomination of the National Equal Rights Party in California and ran for president, though she was opposed by suffrage leaders. She brought in over 4,000 votes and ran again in 1888. It is often quoted that Belva Ann Lockwood was the first women to run for US president but that particular honour goes to Victoria Woodhull who ran in 1871 as a candidate for the Equal Rights Party.




The cartoon on the left appeared in the Puck magazine in 1884. The title is"The Busted Side-Show" and shows Belva Lockwood, General Benjamin Butler, Grady, Charles Dana retuning from their failed attempt for the Presidency with the Women's Rights Party.




Using her understanding of the law, she worked to secure property law reforms, equal pay for equal work, and woman suffrage.

She was the author of the congressional enactment in 1903, granting suffrage to women in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico. The most important case in which she participated was that brought against the United States by the Cherokee people for damages resulting from encroachments on their territory. Partly through her efforts, the Cherokee, in 1906, were awarded damages totalling $5 million.

Belva encouraged other women to pursue legal careers and helped open the legal profession to women. She was also a strong advocate of world peace and worked toward developing the rules for international arbitration. . She lectured widely, worked for world peace, and served on the nominating committee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She successfully campaigned for women to have equal property rights in the District of Columbia and established the International Peace Bureau. Belva Ann Lockwood died in 1917.

The above has been taken from various sources including:-

For details of books written about Belva Ann Lockwood please click here.

To read about an article that Belva Ann Lockwood wrote in 1888 called "My efforts to Become a Lawyer" click here.