Myra Colby Bradwell

Myra Bradwell
Myra Bradwell

Time Period


Subject Categories

Activist, Business, Education, Equal Rights, Law

Notable Facts

First woman born in Vermont to become a lawyer. Had to take her battle to the United States Supreme Court, but the original ruling against her was upheld. Finally admitted to the Illinois State Bar in 1890. Founder of the Chicago Legal News, the first paper in Illinois devoted solely to legal news.

Personal Information

Date of Birth


Date of Death


Primary Residence




Historical Significance

Myra Colby Bradwell was the first woman born in Vermont to become a lawyer after a long battle. Starting in 1869 she took her fight from the Superior Court of Chicago to the United States Supreme Court, where the original ruling against her was upheld in 1873. In 1890, the Supreme Court reversed itself and she was finally admitted to the Illinois State Bar. Bradwell was also the founder of the Chicago Legal News, the first paper in Illinois devoted solely to legal news.

Myra Colby was born in Manchester, Vermont to Eben and Abigail Colby. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Portage, New York and then headed west to Chicago. She attended school in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the Elgin Female Seminary in Elgin, Illinois where she obtained a teaching job after graduation. In 1852, she married James Bolesworth Bradwell, and moved with him to Nashville, Tennessee, where the couple taught at their own school. James Bradwell was admitted to the Tennessee Bar and Myra started studying with him before they returned to Chicago, where James was admitted to the Illinois Bar, appointed a county probate judge and elected as a state legislator.

Bradwell launched her own career in 1868 with the weekly Chicago Legal News, the first paper in Illinois devoted solely to legal news. She served as editorial and business manager of the paper and it quickly "became the most important legal publication in the western United States." The Chicago Fire of October 1871 destroyed the Bradwell's home, their law library, and the Chicago Legal News. However, her daughter had saved the subcription book, and within a few weeks, Bradwell had the Chicago Legal News up and running again.

Bradwell had been studying the law for years with her husband, and in 1869 she passed the qualifying exam and applied to the Illinois Supreme for admission to the state bar, but was refused because she was a married woman. She appealed the case and took it to the United States Supreme Court, but in Bradwell v. Illinois (1873), the Court upheld the original ruling. In the meantime, the state of Illinois opened up all professions to women in 1872. Bradwell did not reapply for admission to the bar, but the Illinois Supreme Court took up her application again in 1890, admitted her to the bar and two years later she was given permission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

An advocate of women's rights, Bradwell helped organize Chicago's first woman suffrage convention. At this convention she argued for suffrage, women's right to own property, sit on juries, and be admitted to law school. She was also active in the founding of the American Woman Suffrage Association and was a representative of Illinois at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Bradwell was a member of the Soldiers' Home Board, the Chicago Women's Club, the Illinois Women's Press Association, served as treasurer of the South Evanston Industrial School and was a delegate to the Prison Reform Congress in St. Louis. Bradwell died in 1894.

Organizations or Movements

  • Secretary of the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association
  • American Woman Suffrage Association
  • first woman admitted to the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois Bar Association
  • National Press League


  • Teacher
  • Lawyer
  • Business owner
  • Women's Rights Actist


  • Elgin Female Seminary

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Myra Colby Bradwell. (2008). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved July 22, 2008, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Link

  • American National Biography Online Link

  • Stanford Women's Legal History Biography Project Link

  • Clifford, Deborah. "Myra Colby Bradwell." In The Vermont Encyclopedia. Edited by John Duffy. The University of New England Press, 2003.