Florence Ellinwood Allen was a woman of firsts.
Allen was the first woman to be appointed to a major criminal justice position in a United States County Office in 1919. She was the first woman elected to a U.S. judgeship in 1920. She was the first woman to hold a seat on a state Supreme Court in 1922. She was the first woman to have ever held a seat on a Federal Bench of General Jurisdiction in 1934. And, in 1959, she was the first woman to be appointed Chief Judge of a federal court.
What truly makes these feats as astonishing as they are is that Allen accomplished these historic milestones as a woman living in early 20th century America.
Born 1884 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Allen was an adamant woman suffragist who would go on to fight for – and win – a number of battles for the civil rights cause.
An active member of the YWCA, Allen fought for women’s rights and racial equality. Throughout her career, Allen also authored three books that inspired many of her fellow peers, titled This Constitution of Ours, To Do Justly and Challenges to the Citizen.
In Allen’s time, holding a position as something other than an assistant, teacher, or typist was more than difficult. Most advertisements in this time period advocated that a woman’s rightful place was in the kitchen and advised husbands to “beat your wife” if she was not complacent.
Yet in the meantime, Allen was graduating Cum Laude from New York University Law School in 1913. After having been denied work at existing firms because she was a woman, the new lawyer opened up her own legal practice.
Allen inspired not only female lawyers, but all women and feminists looking to make great changes in the early 20th century, as is written in an interview with Allen conducted by the Chicago Tribune in 1939.
“Liberty cannot be caged into a charter or handed on ready-made to the next generation,” Allen reportedly said. “Each generation must recreate liberty for its own times. Whether or not we establish freedom rests with ourselves.”
Allen broke so many barriers for women in her lifetime. With the push for equal rights still a major battle in present-day legislation and politics, Allen continues to serve as a major reminder of what it means to be a badass woman.
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