Belva Lockwood

The Woman Who Would Be President

311 pages

18 illustrations

March, 2007

ISBN: 9780814758342



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Jill Norgren is Professor Emerita of Political Science at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York. She is the author of several books, including Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America’s First Women Lawyers (NYU, 2013), and Belva Lockwood: The Women Who Would Be President (NYU, 2007). 

All books by Jill Norgren

Foreword by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President, prize-winning legal historian Jill Norgren recounts, for the first time, the life story of one of the nineteenth century’s most surprising and accomplished advocates for women’s rights. As Norgren shows, Lockwood was fearless in confronting the male establishment, commanding the attention of presidents, members of Congress, influential writers, and everyday Americans. Obscured for too long in the historical shadow of her longtime colleague, Susan B. Anthony, Lockwood steps into the limelight at last in this engaging new biography.

Born on a farm in upstate New York in 1830, Lockwood married young and reluctantly became a farmer’s wife. After her husband's premature death, however, she earned a college degree, became a teacher, and moved to Washington, DC with plans to become an attorney-an occupation all but closed to women. Not only did she become one of the first female attorneys in the U.S., but in 1879 became the first woman ever allowed to practice at the bar of the Supreme Court.

In 1884 Lockwood continued her trailblazing ways as the first woman to run a full campaign for the U.S. Presidency. She ran for President again in 1888. Although her candidacies were unsuccessful (as she knew they would be), Lockwood demonstrated that women could compete with men in the political arena. After these campaigns she worked tirelessly on behalf of the Universal Peace Union, hoping, until her death in 1917, that she, or the organization, would win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Belva Lockwood deserves to be far better known. As Norgren notes, it is likely that Lockwood would be widely recognized today as a feminist pioneer if most of her personal papers had not been destroyed after her death. Fortunately for readers, Norgren shares much of her subject’s tenacity and she has ensured Lockwood’s rightful place in history with this meticulously researched and beautifully written book.


  • “Exceptionally well-researched. Norgren’s contribution is to situate Lockwood among a generation of female activists. Norgren is successful in moving the woman who would be president to her proper standing as a pioneering lawyer who would change America.”

    —Jean Baker, American Historical Review

  • “For those interested in U.S. women’s history or the nineteenth-century practice of law, Norgen’s work is a must.”

    Law and History Review

  • “Norgren has written an engrossing and insightful book about Belva Lockwood, a woman who, through tenacity, drive and self worth, accomplished more in the 19th century than many modern women accomplish. Because Lockwood was known to few and most of her personal papers were destroyed after her death, Norgren has done an exemplary job of illuminating the life of this varied and accomplished woman.”

    The Law and Politics Book Review

  • “An engaging account of Belva Lockwood’s struggles and achievements as one of the first women to enter the legal profession in the United States in the late 19th century.”

    Canadian Journal of Law and Society

  • “Norgren eloquently and succinctly educates the reader on the story of the first woman to ever be allowed to argue before the United States Supreme Court, as well as the first woman to ever launch two full scale bids for this country’s presidency . . . Norgren’s writing is engaging and her narrative is accessible yet rich with fact.”

    Feminist Review

  • “Jill Norgren’s study of Belva Lockwood (which comes with a graceful preface by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) is a very unusual book. . . . Norgren has the great discernment to see Lockwood’s life as large and anticipatory rather than eccentric and half-realized. A legal historian of considerable skill, she ploughed through reams of records to construct an account of Lockwood’s legal career. . . . The comparison [of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi to] Belva Lockwood is illuminating, because it was Lockwood’s instinct for opportunity that took her out of women's politics, with their intact principles, into the thick of things. . . . The biographies of these women will be composed of the workaday, disenchanted materials of political lives—perseverance, competence, canniness, and, yes, a facility for the quick grab—that Belva Lockwood cultivated and prized.”

    —Christine Stansell, The New Republic

  • “Astonishingly, this is the first scholarly biography of 19th-century activist Belva Lockwood. Lawyer, lobbyist, wife, mother, and contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lockwood was among the most formidable of equal rights advocates. The first female lawyer admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, the relentlessly ambitious Lockwood ran for the U.S. presidency in 1884 and 1888 on the Equal Rights Party ticket. Later she concentrated on her work for the Universal Peace Union and her Washington, D.C., legal practice while maintaining a demanding public-speaking schedule. Her life was never easy, as she constantly fought to surmount political and legal barriers and to support her family. Although few of Lockwood's papers have survived, Norgren has delivered an able and long overdue study of Lockwood’s life, drawing on newspapers, magazines, organizational records, and the papers of Lockwood's contemporaries. Though the book emphasizes Lockwood’s career, the inclusion of information on her family and friends gives added dimension. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries; essential for women’s history collections.”

    Library Journal, starred review

  • “Many biographers would balk at the paucity of archival sources, but Norgren persisted. . . . In [Norgren’l;s] credible narrative, Lockwood emerges as a shrewd self-promoter, never hesitating to garner publicity for herself and her causes. . . . In eloquent detail, Norgren shows how Lockwood loved the law.”

    New York Sun

  • “Long before Hillary Clinton, there was Belva Lockwood: two-time presidential hopeful, Lockwood campaigned in 1884 and 1888 on a platform of women's suffrage. In the first full-length biography of this feminist pioneer, legal historian Norgren has meticulously researched what little has remained of Lockwood’s papers, most of which were destroyed after her death.”

    Publishers Weekly Annex

  • “Highly recommended.”


  • “In this thoroughly researched and beautifully written biography, Jill Norgren traces Belva Lockwood’s dogged efforts to earn a living as a lawyer in Washington while caring for her daughter and becoming a leading advocate for woman’s suffrage and the peaceful arbitration of international disputes. Norgren’s brilliant study makes clear why Lockwood—the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court (1879) and run for President (1884 and 1888)—belongs in the ranks of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frances Willard”

    —John M. Ferren, author of Salt of the Earth, Conscience of the Court: The Story of Justice Wiley Rutledge

  • “Jill Norgren beautifully weaves the personal and political ordeals of Belva Lockwood’s life into a compelling story that illuminates Lockwood's enduring contributions. This is a dramatic account of a pioneering woman whose life in the law still resonates in contemporary times.”

    —Joan Biskupic, author of Sandra Day O'Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most influenti

  • “Jill Norgren’s splendid biography of one of history’s most astonishing pioneers—first woman counsel before the Supreme Court, visionary for equal rights, international peace activist, Indian rights litigator, presidential candidate—is provocative, challenging, galvanizing! Brilliantly researched, vividly written, and profoundly discerning. Everybody concerned about justice, human rights, the future of democracy, and women’s power will rush to read, and assign, this important book.”

    —Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt

  • “Belva Lockwood lived a life of firsts as a practicing lawyer at a time when women were rare in any profession. She was the first woman admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court and twice ran for President of the United States. Jill Norgren captures the story of this forgotten heroine in a biography as fast paced and interesting as the life Lockwood led.”

    —Barbara Babcock, Judge John Crown Professor of Law, Emerita, Stanford University, and author of Clara Shortridge Foltz: Constitution Maker

  • “Jill Norgren’s biography of Belva Lockwood is a gem. Not only does she describe the amazingly full life of an important woman now practically forgotten, but she takes us into the politics of the late-nineteenth century women's reform movement in a way few other authors have done. This is a must-read book.”

    —Melvin I. Urofsky, editor of the Journal of Supreme Court History

  • “Jill Norgren has written a fascinating biography of one of the forgotten icons of nineteenth century feminism. Thanks to Norgren, [Lockwood] will become a role model for current and future women politicians.”

    Foreword Magazine