Happy Birthday Belva Lockwood!
On October 24th, 1830 Belva Ann Bennet was born in Royalton, New York. When she was a teenager Belva married Uriah McNall, together they had one daughter. Unfortunately, shortly after their marriage McNall passed away. She quickly became the only provider for her and her daughter, Lura. Belva worked as a teacher to support her family but also wanted to continue on with her education, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science in 1857 from Genessee College.
In 1865, Belva moved to Washington D.C. with a dream of becoming an attorney despite the fact that this profession was closed to women. Upon arriving in D.C. Belva began her political career lobbying for equal pay for women. She pressed for a bill that would allow female federal employees the same salaries as their male counterparts. After pushing the bill through Belva decided a career in law would be her next move.
Because of her gender Belva was turned away from several law schools. Eventually the National University Law School started to allow women to enter. In 1871 Belva enrolled in the University and graduated two years later with her law degree. The focus of her career continued to be breaking down barriers for women.
During this time women were technically not allowed to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court, an obstacle Lockwood tried twice to remove. In 1879 Congress finally passed a law that allowed her to appear before the Supreme Court.
Belva remarried later to a former dentist, Ezekiel Lockwood. At 27 years her senior Belva soon found herself in the sole provider position as his health began to fail. Belva
Used her life experience to show the importance of women being independent. She urged both men and women to support girls going to school so that they are able to not depend on others. She even would suggest that women should not get married until they could support a family on their own.
Even though Belva had her law degree many still urged her not to practice law. Belva lobbied Congress to allow her to practice law, an incredible feat. On lobbying Congress Belva herself said, “nothing was too daring for me to attempt”.
In the fight for women’s rights Belva decided to run for U.S. president in 1884. As one of the first women to run a complete campaign for presidency the country was startled. Belva thought that running for president would help women gain the right to vote. She told reporters that although she could not vote, Constitutionally nothing was barring men from voting for her. Not gaining enough votes the first time Belva ran again in 1888. After losing again Belva told reporters that she lost because men were clinging to, “old ideas, developed in the days of chivalry”.
After running for president Belva decided to focus on practicing law again. Working with lawyer Ellen S. Mussey, they were able to win equal property and guardianship rights for women. They also drafted amendments that would grant suffrage to women in newly proposed states such as, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Belva’s daughter Lura worked closely with her on many of these campaigns.
As if all of that was not enough Belva worked as a minority rights activist as well. She was a delegate to numerous peace conferences in Europe in the 1880s and ‘90s. In a famous minority rights case she appeared in front of the Supreme Court on behalf of native Cherokee Indians. The case was concerning the debt owed to Cherokees by the U.S. government. Eventually in 1906, Belva was able to secure $5 million for the Cherokee people.
Belva worked tirelessly her whole life for improving the lives of women and minority groups. As presidential candidates today continue to make headlines for their discriminatory remarks on women and people of color it is important to look back on people like Belva, a woman truly ahead of her time. Maybe our candidates today could learn a thing or two.
Happy Birthday Belva!