Today, meet America's first woman presidential
candidate. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Historian Madeleine Stern
tells a remarkable tale. It begins with Belva Ann
Lockwood appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in
1880 to demand that Samuel Lowery be admitted to
practice law. It was the first time a woman pled
before our highest court.
Belva Lockwood was born in 1830 on a New York farm.
At 15 she was a school science teacher. She married
at 18, but her husband soon died of consumption. So
she sold their farm and went off to do what her
father hadn't let her do: attend college.
She finished her science degree and went on to
teaching posts in private schools. But it was the
science of government that became her focus. After
the Civil War, she left the North, moved to
Washington, and tried to enter law school.
The Columbian College told her that "the attendance
of ladies would be an injurious diversion to the
... students." Georgetown University also rejected
her, but they gave no reason.
Finally the National University Law School opened
its doors to women. She was one of 15 women who
began the program, and one of only two who
finished. Then they refused to give her a diploma.
Finally she wrote to President Ulysses S. Grant,
who, by virtue of his office, was the titular head
of the college.
"You are, are you not, the President of the
National University Law School," she said. She told
him either to grant her degree or to take his name
off the letterhead. Two weeks later she was quietly
handed a law degree bearing Grant's signature.
Belva had married Ezekiel Lockwood soon after she'd
arrived in Washington. He shared her passion for
social change, but he was also a liability. Federal
courts questioned the legality of admitting a
married woman to the bar. So Belva wrote a bill for
congress that would make it legal for a woman to
plead as high as the Supreme Court. The bill had a
rocky time, but it passed.
That's how, in 1880, Belva Lockwood took the case
of the black attorney Samuel Lowrey to the Supreme
Court and won him the right to practice law. For
years she fought for equal rights.
At the age of 75 she won five million dollars in
back interest for the Cherokee Nation. But that was
long after she'd formed the Equal Rights Party and
run against Grover Cleveland for the Office of
President of the United States.
She lost, of course. She gathered only a little
over 4000 votes. Still, she carried Indiana, whose
Electoral College members gave her the vote as a
protest. She managed that in a world where women
couldn't vote. She couldn't even vote for herself.
Today people wonder when a woman will run for
president, without even realizing that one already
did -- over a century ago.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Stern, M.B., We the Women: Career Firsts of
Nineteenth-Century America, New York:
Schulte Publishing Company, 1963, Chapter 9.
Some time after I did this program in 1996, I received an
e-mail from Deborah A. Richards, who'd found this page and
who wrote, "Belva Lockwood was the second woman to
run for president. The first was Victoria Woodhull
in 1871, as a candidate of the Equal Rights Party."
Much later, in 2007 Jill Norgren, did a full book on Lockwood,
The Woman Who Would Be President (New York University
Press, 2007; 2008 in paper). In it, BTW, she points out that
Woodhull's campaign actually imploded before election day.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.