Vote, Belva! Vote Belva!

Belva Ann Lockwood (1830-1917) was a lawyer, presidential candidate, and women’s rights activist during a time when women possessed limited rights.

By Chloe Lucchesi-Malone, Archives Digitization Technician at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
Belva Lockwood portrait, Lockwood-0003, Belva Ann Lockwood Papers, SCPC-DG-098, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Widowed at age 22 with a young daughter, Lockwood made the impressive decision to earn a college degree, becoming one of the first female lawyers in the country and the first woman allowed to practice law before the United States Supreme Court. Lockwood had to struggle for academic and professional recognition. Some law schools rejected her on the grounds that her presence “would tend to distract from their studies the attention of the young men,” and she was initially denied her diploma because “some young men in the class did not wish to graduate with women.” Despite these obstacles, she went on to establish a successful law practice in Washington, D.C. In 1884 Lockwood became the first woman to appear on an official ballot and run a full-fledged campaign for president of the United States, even though as a woman she did not have the right to vote. Nominated by the National Equal Rights Party, a small party that supported women’s rights, she won just over 4,000 votes and subsequently ran again in 1888. Lockwood was recognized as a social reformer. She participated heavily in the women’s rights and peace movements as a member of societies like the Woman Suffrage Association, Universal Peace Union, and American Woman’s Republic, and travelled both nationally and internationally to lecture for reform. By challenging society’s conventional boundaries, Lockwood paved the way for women’s expanded engagement in political and professional life.

Belva Lockwood letter to Lella Gardner (Lockwood-0019), Belva Ann Lockwood Papers, SCPC-DG-098, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

In this letter to her nephew’s wife dated August 11, 1912, Lockwood described her participation in the woman suffrage campaigning in Columbus, Ohio, where she spoke to a crowd of five thousand people and helped to organize the ”Lockwood Chapter” of the American Woman’s Republic. She noted that H. Anna Quimby, a lawyer and editor of ”The Ohio Woman,” was nominated for Governor of Ohio.