Phoebe Wilson Couzins was, to say the least, a trailblazer for women. She was one of the first female lawyers in the United States, the first female U.S. marshal, and, not surprising, an outspoken supporter of the suffragist movement. But temperance, not so much …
Phoebe was born on September 8, 1842 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father John E. D. Couzins was an architect, builder, and a natural leader. Traits he passed to his daughter. During the Civil War, John served as the city’s chief of police and sought to keep Missouri in the Union. Adaline, Phoebe’s mother, was a member of the Ladies’ Union Aid Society in St. Louis and volunteered as a battlefield nurse.
After the war, Phoebe, inspired by her parents, joined the St. Louis Woman Suffrage Association. The inability of a woman to vote incensed her, considering all the things a woman could do. She made a name for herself in the organization and, encouraged by a family friend, applied and was admitted to Washington University Law School in St. Louis.
In 1871, Phoebe became the first female law graduate from GWU! She practiced law for two months but the suffragette movement called her name. She began traveling across the country to give speeches in favor of women’s rights.
In 1884, Phoebe’s father was appointed U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Missouri and he swore her in as one of his deputies. When he died three years later, she served as the interim U.S. marshal, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. She was the first woman to serve in the position.
Not interested in being a lawman, though, she eventually moved to Washington, DC. She made a modest living as a writer, but maintained her involvement with the women’s rights movement. New blood entered into the suffragette arena, though, and Phoebe’s contributions, as well her Old Iron Pants attitude, tended to alienate the more politically-savvy ladies. Not to mention, Phoebe liked her high balls, and many of the suffragettes were passionate about the evils of alcohol. Hence, these last years were stormy ones for Phoebe. She hung in there, fighting the good fight, while, ironically, working as a lobbyist for a brewery.
Phoebe died in St. Louis in 1913 and was buried wearing her US marshal’s badge. Here’s to you, Phoebe!
By Heather Blanton
By Heather Blanton
Recently, many cities and towns across America held municipal elections. The turn-out is abysmally low for these. If you did not vote for your mayor or town council, Abigail Scott Duniway might just have a few choice words for you.
Abigail was the second daughter in a family of nine children. In 1852 she and her parents emigrated to Oregon from Illinois. In 1853, after teaching school for a bit, she married Benjamin Duniway. The couple would have six children.
Benjamin was a decent farmer but not much of a businessman. They sold their first farm in Clackamas County, OR and moved to a new one in Lafayette. During this time, Benjamin co-signed on a note for a friend, putting his farm up for collateral. Abigail, to say the least, was not on board with this plan. The friend defaulted and the Duniways lost their farm. In the throes of eviction, financial chaos, and finding a new place to live, Benjamin was severely disabled in a wagon accident, and upkeep of the family fell to Abigail.
She ran a boarding school and taught for a spell, and eventually opened her own business. In her attempts to keep a roof over her family’s head, Abigail was frustrated on occasion by the necessity to involve Benjamin in even simple legal decisions. Being the man in the house, his signature was often required on documents.
For five years Abigail ran a millinery. She heard countless stories there of other women disenfranchised by the legal system, powerless to fight for their rights, especially in regards to personal property. Just based on her own experiences, it’s easy to see why she thought the system was stupid. Hence, she became loudly and eloquently vocal about the injustices. Recognizing her passion, Benjamin encouraged Abigail to open a newspaper focused on women’s rights and suffrage. The Duniways knew that without the right to vote, nothing would ever change for the women of Oregon.
Interestingly, Abigail’s brother Harvey was the editor for The Oregonian and the siblings butted heads, or columns, vehemently over voting rights for women. Harvey was against them and his opposition was instrumental in seeing the motions defeated time and again.
But the women of Oregon persisted. In 1912 the state finally passed a women’s suffrage amendment. The governor himself asked Abigail to write the Equal Suffrage Proclamation sharing the news.
She was 78 years young.