The first female lawyer in the United States, an educator and women’s rights activist.
Born in Benton Township, Iowa, and after her father died in a mining accident in California, the family moved to Mount Pleasant, so that Arabella and her brother will get a better education.
Only 16 years old, Mansfield started her studies at Iowa Wesleyan College, where she graduated as valedictorian. After college, she taught for a year at the Des Moines Conference Seminary before returning to Mount Pleasant to get married. With the encouragement of her husband, she started law studies while working as an apprentice at her brother’s law firm.
Although Iowa law allowed only white male to take the bar exam, when she was only 23 years old, Mansfield took the test and passed it with high scores. She became the proof that women can qualify for the practice of law, and a year later the Iowa legislature opened the profession to women. By swearing-in, Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the USA.
Eventually she decided not to practice law, but to focus on her academic career and activist work. At the age of 47, she got nominated as the Dean of the School of Art at DePauw, and a year later as the Dean of the School of Music.
Mansfield was active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and gave public lectures on women’s rights, was a member of the National League of Women Lawyers, served as an officer in the Iowa Peace Society, and chaired the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Convention in 1870.
“The theory of this Government from the beginning has been perfect equality to all the people”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- Mansfield and her husband took the bar exams together; both of them passed.
- Arabella Mansfield Award to outstanding women lawyers in Iowa is named after her.
- A sculpture of her is installed at Iowa Wesleyan College.