Belva Lockwood, 1830-1917

  • Belva-Lockwood-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education, Activism & Feminism, Law, and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Author, Lawyer, Suffragist, and WDC Metro Area Women

  • HerStory

    Educator, attorney, politician, author, a champion of women’s rights, and peacemaker. One of the first female lawyers in the US and the first woman to officially run for president.

    Born as Belva Ann Bennett in Royalton, NY, the second of five children. Until age 14, she attended schoolhouses, and afterward, she taught at local schools until she got married at age 18 to Uriah McNall. Five years after the wedding, her husband died of tuberculosis, and Lockwood realized that to support herself and her daughter, she needed a better education. She returned to teaching and used the money to pay for classes at a college prep school, and at 27, she graduated with honors from Genesee College. She decided that change to women’s suffrage will happen from inside the system, by knowing the law. Since at her college, there has been no law department, she took private lessons with a local law professor.
    After graduating, she served as the headmistress of the Lockport Union School, until she found out that she was paid half of what her male colleagues were earning. She continued to teach and work as the principal at several local schools for girls. Influenced by Susan B. Anthony, Lockwood expanded the school’s curriculum, adding courses such as gymnastics and public speaking, which was customary for young boys but not for girls.
    At the age of 36, Lockwood moved with her daughter to Washington, DC, where she opened a private school and began her law studies. Two years later, she married Reverend Ezekiel Lockwood, an American Civil War veteran with progressive views. He supported Lockwood’s pursued studying law and raised her daughter as his own. She tried to enroll in various law schools, which rejected her admission applications because of her gender, like the Columbian Law School, for example, which rejected her out of fear that she would distract the male students.
    Eventually, she and 14 other women were allowed to enroll in the new National University Law School. At 43, Lockwood graduated law school, admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia, and worked as a lawyer in her own firm, arguing in cases against women discrimination, such as the right to inherit property and unequal pay. When she found out she cannot argue before the Supreme Court, she dedicated the next five years lobbying a bill that allows women to practice law before the US Supreme Court, and in 1879 she became the first woman to do so.
    In 1884, 54 years old Lockwood became the first woman to officially run for President of the United States as the candidate of the National Equal Rights Party. Though she and her running mate, Marietta Stow, polled less than 5,000 votes, they raised women’s awareness of politics and public policy. Four years later, Lockwood ran for the presidency for the second time, but the chances for her to win were low in the first place since women could not vote, alongside a lack of support from newspapers and other politicians. She continued to promote her beliefs in gender equality and world peace, writing and advocating until her last year, when she died in May 1917.

    “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents”

    “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was the first woman to use a tricycle around Washington, DC, to run her errands.
    • She was also a promoter of world peace, serving as a representative of the Universal Peace Union in various international congresses in Europe.
    • She supported and sponsored Samuel R. Lowery to the Supreme Court bar, assisting him in becoming the fifth African-American lawyer to be admitted to the bar, and the first to argue before the Supreme Court.
    • In addition to her political work, Lockwood was an active advocate for women’s rights, publishing essays supporting the suffrage movement and legal representation for all, encouraging other women to be familiar with the law and to pursue legal careers.
    • Several communities in the US are named after her.
    • A memorial to her is standing in her home town Royalton, New York.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * An honorary doctorate in Law from Syracuse University
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

    No Records Found

    Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.

    Google Map Not Loaded

    Sorry, unable to load Google Maps API.


  • Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President

    Jill Norgren, Professor Emerita, City University of New York, and former Wilson Center Fellow, author; commentators The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court; The Honorable John Ferren, Senior Judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and former Wilson Center Fellow; Wendy Williams, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law Center. (ref: DUSS 20070322)

  • Photo credit - WWP team