Women’s History Month: Arabella Mansfield – First Female Admitted to the Legal Profession in the United States

Women’s History Month: Arabella Mansfield – First Female Admitted to the Legal Profession in the United States

By Malorie A. Alverson, Esq.

In our continued mission to acknowledge the women who have broken through barriers to create pathways for our future, we commend the efforts of Arabella Mansfield.  Arabella has the distinction of being the first woman admitted to the legal profession in the United States.  Because she did not attend law school, she instead worked as an apprentice in her brother’s law office reading and studying the law.  Although by Iowa law the bar exam was restricted to “males over 21,” Arabella applied for admission to the bar in 1869.  The examiners permitted her to take the bar, and she passed with high scores.  Notably, the bar examiners stated that her examination gave “the very best rebuke possible to the imputation that ladies cannot qualify for the practice of law.”

After passing the bar exam, Arabella challenged the state law excluding women from practicing law, and won.  As a result of Arabella’s efforts, Iowa amended its licensing statute and became the first state in the union to admit women and minorities into its bar.  Arabella went on to organize the Iowa Woman Suffrage Society, teach, and work arm in arm with Susan B. Anthony to continue to advance women’s rights.