In 1882, the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors issued the first decision in the United States permitting a woman to practice law. It provided for the admittance to the Connecticut bar of Mary Hall, the first Connecticut woman, and one of the first in the country, to practice law in the 19th century. Hall was also an important suffragist and social reformer of the time.
In 1877, Mary Hall began to study law in the office of her brother Ezra, but when he died shortly thereafter, she entered the law office of John Hooker, reporter for the Connecticut Supreme Court and one of the few lawyers in the country willing to have a woman apprentice with him. In 1882, she made her application for admission to the bar. Hooker certified that she had studied with him for the required length of time and vouched for her character. She took her exam in an open courtroom and passed.
The Hartford bar recommended that she be admitted, subject to the advice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. An opinion authored by Chief Justice John D. Park was issued by the court in Hall’s favor in July of 1882. In The Connecticut State Constitution: A Reference Guide, Wesley Horton describes the opinion as one of the greatest decisions in all of Connecticut jurisprudence and states that Park was ahead of his time when he stated for the majority:
We are not to forget that all statutes are to be construed, as far as possible, in favor of equality of rights. All restrictions upon human liberty, all claims for special privileges, are to be regarded as having the presumption of law against them, and as standing upon their defense, and can be sustained, if at all by valid legislation, only by the clear expression or clear implication of the law.
After she was admitted to the bar, Hall returned to Hooker’s law office, but eventually opened her own, spending much of her time handling wills and property matters for women. Several years later, she became Connecticut’s first female notary and helped found the Hartford Woman Suffrage Club. However, the Good Will Club, a charity for boys which she had founded in 1880 and which eventually grew in membership to over 3,000 boys, continued to be her first priority and her life’s work.
For more, see:
Mary Hall: The Decision and the Lawyer, Matthew G. Berger 79 Conn. Bar J. 29 (2005)
In re Hall, 50 Conn. 131 (1882)
Stanford Law School, Women’s Legal History Biography Project, Mary Hall (1843-1927)
Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, Mary Hall
*HAT TIP to Attorney Matt Berger