Belva Ann Lockwood

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Belva Ann Lockwood (Bennett)

Birthdate: (86)
Birthplace: Niagara County, New York, United States
Death: May 19, 1917 (86)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Place of Burial: Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Lewis Johnson Bennett and Hannah Bennett
Wife of Uriah McNall and Dr. Ezekiel Lockwood
Mother of Lura Orme
Sister of Warren Bennett and Inverno Bennett

Occupation: Attorney, Politician, Teacher, Suffragist
Managed by: Clarissa Greene
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Belva Ann Lockwood

From humble beginnings, Belva Lockwood (born 1830) forged an inspirational career that spanned decades in the nation’s capital. At a time when the Union was gripped by the reactionary conservatism that followed the the Civil War, she fought hard for the liberalization of social policy and exercisable civil rights for women.

After struggling for years against the white, male-dominated social structure, she became one of the first female attorneys in the United States. When the US Supreme Court refused to allow her to argue cases in front of them, she lobbied Congress to enact laws allowing women to enter professional fields. After the successful passage of this legislation, she became the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar, opening the door for generations of brilliant young professional women to follow.

In 1884 and 1888, in a move that angered her longtime friend and social ally, Susan B. Anthony, Lockwood ran for President of the United States. Though her campaign was the subject of much ridicule in the newspapers, she pushed women’s issues into the limelight, and gained thousands of supporters across the nation.

Despite a brilliant mind, and a career dedicated toward the expansion of women’s civil liberties, Belva Lockwood never saw universal suffrage in the United States. She died on May 19th, 1917, three years before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granted women the right to vote.

Taken from:

Belva Lockwood was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1983

Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood (October 24, 1830 – May 19, 1917) was an American attorney, politician, educator, and author. She was active in working for women's rights. The press of her day referred to her as a "suffragist," someone who believed in women's suffrage or voting rights. Lockwood overcame many social and personal obstacles related to gender restrictions. After college, she became a teacher and principal, working to equalize pay for women in education. She supported the movement for world peace, and was a proponent of temperance.

Lockwood graduated from law school in Washington, D.C. and became one of the first female lawyers in the United States. In 1879, she successfully petitioned Congress to be allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court, becoming the first woman attorney given this privilege. Lockwood ran for president in 1884 and 1888 on the ticket of the National Equal Rights Party and was the first woman to appear on official ballots.

Early life, marriage and education

She was born Belva Ann Bennett in Royalton, New York, daughter of Lewis Johnson Bennett, a farmer, and his wife Hannah Green Bennett. Though the log cabin she grew up in is gone, her aunt's house where she spent some of her childhood still stands at 5070 Griswold Street. In front of this house is a memorial to her with a plaque that gives a brief biography of her life. By 14, she was already teaching at the local elementary school. In 1848, when she was 18, she married Uriah McNall, a local farmer.

McNall died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1853, three years after their daughter Lura was born. Left with no money, Lockwood quickly realized she needed a better education to support herself and her daughter. She attended Genesee Wesleyan Seminary to prepare for study at college. Her plan, as she explained to Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, was not well-received by many of her friends and colleagues; most women did not seek higher education, and it was especially unusual for a widow to do so. Nonetheless, she was determined and persuaded the administration at Genesee College in Lima, New York to admit her.

Early career in education

Lockwood graduated with honors in 1857 and soon became the headmistress of Lockport Union School. It was a responsible position, but Lockwood found that whether she was teaching or working as an administrator, she was paid half of what her male counterparts were making. (Later Lockwood worked for pay equity for women during her legal career.) It was during her studies at Genesee College that she first became attracted to the law, although the school had no law department. Since a local law professor was offering private classes, she became one of his students. It made her want to learn more.

For the next few years, Lockwood continued to teach and also work as the principal at several local schools for young women. She stayed at Lockport until 1861, then became principal of the Gainesville Female Seminary; soon after, she was selected to head a girls' seminary in Owego, New York where she stayed for three years. Her educational philosophy was gradually changing after she met women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony.

Lockwood agreed with many of Anthony's ideas about society's restrictions on women. Anthony was concerned about the limited education girls received. Courses at most girls' schools chiefly prepared female students for domestic life and possibly for temporary work as teachers. Anthony spoke about how young women ought to be given more options, including preparation for careers in the business world, where the pay was better. Lockwood was encouraged to make changes at her schools. She expanded the curriculum and added courses typical of those which young men took, such as public speaking, botany, and gymnastics. Lockwood gradually determined to study law rather than continue teaching and to leave upstate New York.

Washington, D.C., remarriage and the law

In February 1866, Belva and her daughter Lura moved to Washington D.C., as Belva believed it was the center of power in the United States and would provide good opportunities to advance in the legal profession. She opened a coeducational private school while exploring the study of law. In the mid-1860s, coeducation was unusual; most schools were separated by gender.

In 1868, Belva remarried, this time to a man much older than she. Rev. Ezekiel Lockwood was an American Civil War veteran, Baptist minister, and practicing dentist. They had a daughter Jessie, who died before her second birthday. They also raised Belva's daughter Lura from her first marriage. Rev. Lockwood had progressive ideas about women's roles in society. He supported his wife's desire to study and encouraged her to pursue subjects that interested her.

As Belva Lockwood later told a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, about 1870 she applied to the Columbian Law School in the District of Columbia. The trustees refused to admit her as they believed she would be a distraction to male students. Lockwood finally was admitted to the new National University Law School (now the George Washington University Law School) along with several other women. Although she completed her coursework in May 1873, the law school was unwilling to grant a diploma to a woman.

Without a diploma, Lockwood could not gain admittance to the DC bar. After a year she wrote a letter to the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, appealing to him as president ex officio of the National University Law School. She asked him for justice, stating she had passed all her courses and deserved to be awarded a diploma. In September 1873, within a week of having sent the letter, Lockwood received her diploma. She was 43 years old.

Lockwood was admitted to the DC bar, although several judges told her they had no confidence in her. This was a reaction she repeatedly had to overcome. When she tried to gain admission to the bar in Maryland, a judge lectured her and told her that God Himself had determined that women were not equal to men and never could be. When she tried to respond on her own behalf, he said she had no right to speak and had her removed from the courtroom.

In her struggle, Lockwood was going against both social practice and the limited legal standing of women. In 1873, married women did not have many legal rights. By English Common Law, Lockwood was considered a "feme covert" (English version of medieval Anglo-Norman legal term), that is, a married woman. Her status under the law was different from that of a woman who was single, as she was regarded as strictly subordinate to her husband. In many states, a married woman could not individually own or inherit property, nor did she have the right to make contracts or keep money earned unless her husband permitted it. Although Lockwood's husband encouraged her, judges used her married status to deny her access to the courts, including the bar of the US Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, Lockwood began to build a practice and won some cases. Even her detractors regarded her as competent. She became known as an advocate for women's issues; she spoke on behalf of an 1872 bill for equal pay for federal government employees. She was active in several women's suffrage organizations. She testified before Congress in support of legislation to give married women and widows more protection under the law.

Because her practice was limited in the 1870s due to social discrimination, Lockwood drafted an anti-discrimination bill to have the same access to the bar as male colleagues. From 1874 to 1879, she lobbied Congress to pass it. In 1879, Congress finally passed the law, which was signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. It allowed all qualified women attorneys to practice in any federal court. Lockwood was sworn in as the first woman member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar on March 3, 1879. Late in 1880, she became the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ezekiel Lockwood did not live to see his wife's success, as he died in late April 1877.

In July 1879 Lockwood's daughter Lura McNall married DeForest Orme, a pharmacist.

Political career

Belva Lockwood was the first woman (or second, depending on one's opinion, after Victoria Woodhull) to run for President of the United States. Lockwood ran as the candidate of the National Equal Rights Party. She ran in the presidential elections of 1884 and 1888. Her running mate was Marietta Stow in 1884. In 1888 she originally ran with Alfred H. Love, except when he was nominated he wasn't informed of it. When he found out, as the president of the Universal Peace Union and a lifelong world peace activist, he was horrified to run as vice president to the commander in chief, and dropped out of the race. Lockwood was in a scramble with no vice president, so she chose Charles Stuart Wells in the end.

Representing a third party without a broad base of support, Lockwood did not have a serious chance of winning the presidency. Notable American Women stated she received about 4,100 votes.[9] Since women could not vote, and most newspapers were opposed to her candidacy, it was unusual that she received any votes. In an 1884 article, the Atlanta Constitution referred to her as "old lady Lockwood" and warned male readers of the dangers of "petticoat rule".

On January 12, 1885, Lockwood petitioned the United States Congress to have her votes counted. She told newspapers and magazines that she had evidence of voter fraud. She asserted that supporters had seen their ballots ripped up and that she had "received one-half the electoral vote of Oregon, and a large vote in Pennsylvania, but the votes in the latter state were not counted, simply dumped into the waste basket as false votes."

Later years

Lockwood was a well-respected writer, who frequently wrote essays about women's suffrage and the need for legal equality for women. Among the publications in which she appeared in the 1880s and 1890s were Cosmopolitan (then a journal of current issues), the American Magazine of Civics, Harper's Weekly, and Lippincott's. In addition to being active in the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the Equal Rights Party, Lockwood participated in the National Women's Press Association. The organization for women journalists also advocated for equal rights for women.

Lockwood believed strongly in working for world peace. She co-edited a journal called The Peacemaker, and she belonged to the Universal Peace Union; she was one of its representatives at an exposition held in Paris in 1889. She was also a delegate to an International Peace Congress in London in 1890. She continued to speak on behalf of peace and disarmament to the year of her death. She was likely disappointed as the United States prepared to enter the war in Europe.

Belva Lockwood had a 43-year career as a lawyer. She died on 19 May 1917 and was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.


The communities of Belva, West Virginia; Lockwood, California; Lockwood, West Virginia; and the hamlet of Lockwood, New York were named in her honor. As Lockwood gained renown, mothers named their daughters after her.

At least three figureheads were carved in her likeness: for the ships Martha, Julia Lawrence, and an unnamed ship that has a full-length masthead. One of the figureheads is displayed in the museum at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. "With raised chin she gazes straight ahead as if her attention were fixed on the distant horizon."

During World War II, a merchant marine ship, the Liberty Ship USS Belva Lockwood, was named after her.

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., has a portrait of Lockwood depicted in 1908, when she received an honorary doctorate in law from Syracuse University.

In 1983 Lockwood was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. The statement about her noted:

"Using her knowledge of the law, she worked to secure woman suffrage, property law reforms, equal pay for equal work, and world peace. Thriving on publicity and partisanship, and encouraging other women to pursue legal careers, Lockwood helped to open the legal profession to women."

In 1986, she was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 17¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

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Belva Ann Lockwood's Timeline

October 24, 1830
Niagara County, New York, United States
May 19, 1917
Age 86
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Washington, District of Columbia, United States